It’s not unusual to see public safety officers at red-carpet events. They’re typically providing security, though. They’re not generally the ones holding microphones and posing for pictures.
But that was the case at the Regal Atlantic Station theater Monday night, at an advance screening of “Broken City.”
The crime thriller stars Russell Crowe as the powerful and manipulative mayor of New York and Mark Wahlberg, who attended Monday’s event, as a detective who’s not always sure just what he’s investigating. An eager audience packed the theater to see the movie ahead of its Jan. 18 release date and to see Wahlberg, who’s also one of the film’s producers.
“This is my town. I love Atlanta,” said the genial actor, who posed for photos with fans and obliged a few with hugs. “This is a good, God-loving, God-fearing town.”
Although the crowd was eating him up, Wahlberg said the night wasn’t all about him. Rather, he said he was pleased “to be here tonight to recognize the real heroes.” With that, he handed things over to Patrick Apoian, who joined the Atlanta Police Department in 2002 and in 2010 started Humble Heroes, a non-profit organization that provides moral and financial support to public safety officers who are ill or injured.
“Maybe I’ll get to play you in a movie some day,” Wahlberg said.
“They’ll have to ugly you up first,” Apoian quipped.
A New York native with a cousin and uncle in blue, he was always drawn to a career serving others. Working as a police officer and then starting the foundation felt like a calling, not just a job.
“I always wanted to do something to make a difference for people,” Apoian said. “Humble Heroes helps wounded police officers. We help out what we call the brotherhood.”
Less than a year after Humble Heroes was incorporated, Apoian said he found himself “on the other side of what we do.” He was seriously injured in a July 2011 hit-and-run incident while investigating a robbery. He’s still out on disability, having gone through seven surgeries and facing at least one more. Throughout his recovery Apoian has remained active in helping his foundation help others. He was humbled to take center stage on Monday night.
“It’s an honor and a pleasure to be here tonight,” he said.
Former Atlanta Falcons player Warrick Dunn, now a minority-share owner of the team, also was honored Monday night. Dunn’s mother, Betty Smothers, was a Baton Rouge, La. police officer killed during an armed robbery when Dunn was 18. His foundation, which provides homes to single parents and offers a children’s bereavement program, honors her memory.
“Any time I meet a police officer I say ‘thank you,’” Dunn said. “I always tell them, ‘be safe.’ I lost my mom. I’m sure they have families they want to go home to.”
Like Wahlberg, he directed the spotlight back to Apoian. Following the presentation of a plaque saluting Humble Heroes, Dunn made a surprise presentation of his own.
“The Falcons are playing the Seahawks this Sunday,” he told Apoian, handing over an envelope containing tickets to Sunday’s NFC divisional playoff game. “We want you to help us rise up.”