Cop of the Week

by Paul Bass | February 10, 2006 12:33 PM | | Comments (1)

Patrol officer Dan Hartnett tracked down two wanted men in the past few weeks. They weren’t big-time crooks; these weren’t glamorous cases. But Hartnett’s persistence filled an important, often overlooked gap in the effort to keep neighborhoods safe.

Hartnett, 34, is a beat cop, a six-foot-three five-year veteran of the force with dark hair and an easy smile. He studied sociology in college, then became a cop because he couldn’t see himself sitting behind a desk all day. He currently patrols Newhallville on the 3-11 p.m. B shift.

New Haven used to have a special squad to look for people with outstanding warrants. Budget cuts have led the department to disband the unit so it could have more officers on the street, according to spokeswoman Bonnie Winchester. That has left the department with some 5,000 outstanding warrants, according to Assistant Chief Bryan Norwood. And that has left it up to beat cops like Hartnett, while they respond to daily calls for help, to try to keep track of people wanted for all but the highest-profile cases. Doing so requires an extra ability to focus, a trait Hartnett developed in a previous gig as a state trooper when he was assigned 20 fugitive cases.

Many of the charges facing New Haveners with outstanding warrants are minor, misdemeanors. “The detectives have more serious issues than to be loaded up with these domestic cases or simple assaults,” Officer Hartnett said. But neglecting to follow up on these cases can contribute to deteriorating quality of life in city neighborhoods. It can keep at large people who, it sometimes turns out, are up to more serious mayhem.

As Hartnett discovered in the first of two recent cases he solved.

It involved Jason, a man in his mid-20s who got in a fight with his former roommate.

Over a Jersey

Hartnett responded to a call from that former roommate during his shift one evening two months ago. The roommate was in the hospital to have his jaw checked out. He said Jason had socked him in the jaw in an argument over a jersey.

Hartnett went to look for Jason at his new residence, a Newhall Street apartment where his two sons and the children’s mother live. No one was there.

Hartnett researched Jason’s record. He discovered Jason was in the feds’ “TimeZup” program, which keeps track of people with convictions for gun-related crimes. Hartnett filled out an arrest warrant application. He checked in with Jason’s probation officer and discovered Jason had been failing to show up for required meetings.

At that point, a case like this becomes the province of the officer who took the original complaint. It’s up to him or her to keep tabs on the missing person.

So Hartnett kept an eye on the Newhall Street apartment on his rounds. For weeks he’d stop in, to find no sign of Jason. “I knew he was over there. It was just a matter of time.” He spoke to people in the neighborhood; they claimed Jason was dealing crack out of the apartment.

Then, one evening two weeks ago, Hartnett received a call from Jason’s father, who lives elsewhere in town. The dad reported that he’d seen Jason with a handgun. He was concerned about his son’s safety, and about trouble he might get into. He asked Hartnett to find him.

So Hartnett headed over to Newhall Street with three other officers. One of them went to the back yard; wanted men often try to escape out the back, Hartnett said.

Hartnett knocked on the door. The children’s mother responded. “I haven’t seen him in two weeks,” she said.

Can we look in the apartment? Hartnett asked.

“Go ahead.”

As soon as the three cops entered the apartment, the other officer’s voice came on the radio: “I have him out back. I have him out back.”

Hartnett and his colleagues raced outside to find Jason on the ground, handcuffed. Jason had obeyed the backyard officer’s order to hit the ground without resisting. On the way to the ground, he’d tossed to the side a .25 caliber Browning. It was loaded.

Though that was the only time he met the man he’d been tracking, Hartnett refers to him as “Jason” like someone he knows. “Jason did the right thing,” he said, “by not forcing our hand.”

Which is more than he can say for Sean, the next wanted men he caught up with.

Thinking of His Son

Hartnett first encountered Sean on the phone the night Hartnett responded to a call from the mother of Sean’s daughter. The mom had called 911, said Sean, a man in his mid-20s, had assaulted her. Hartnett responded and learned the two had been arguing; the woman followed Sean outside, where he struck her and ripped her shirt. She wasn’t injured, but she was filing a complaint.

As Hartnett discussed the case with her, her sister, who was also there, received a call from Sean on her cell phone. He handed Hartnett the phone.

“Listen,” Hartnett told him, “I need to speak with you. If I don’t get a chance to speak with you tonight, I’m going to get a warrant.” Sean said he’d turn himself in at the police station by midnight.

He didn’t show. Hartnett asked the West Haven cops to check out Sean’s mom house there. No sign of him.

So Hartnett filed for the warrant, checked Sean’s car registration, and kept an eye on the West Division Street house where the baby daughter and the mother lived in a second-floor apartment. Sean had prior narcotics-related arrests but wasn’t currently on probation.

For a few weeks Sean’s car wasn’t outside when Hartnett checked the house. “I know he’s going to be back over there. His daughter’s there. His child’s mother’s there.” Sean had a job at Yale, but Hartnett decided not to “embarrass” him by going there to arrest him. Instead, he’d wait for Sean to show up on West Division.

One night he saw Sean’s Dodge Caravan outside the house. He called two officers to accompany him. Again, one of them, Jason Minardi, stationed himself by the back door. Hartnett knocked on the front door.

He saw two males, a young man and a boy maybe 10 or 11, come to the landing and hesitate.

“Who is it?” the man asked.

“The police.”

Hartnett said they hesitated five minutes before coming to open the door. “I’m pretty sure he’s up there and they’re thinking what they’re going to say, where he’s going to hide.”

The young man identified himself as Sean’s cousin when he answered. “Sean’s not here,” he said. At that moment the sound of a slamming door issued from upstairs, then the sound of footsteps. Hartnett and a fellow officer raced upstairs. They heard Minardi on the radio. “He’s out the back door.” The cops raced back downstairs to help.

Minardi had grabbed Sean, but Sean resisted, according to Hartnett. The two struggled as Sean moved up the driveway. The other cops helped wrestle him to the ground. They handcuffed him and put him in a cruiser.

Hartnett returned to the apartment to talk to the “cousin.” He encountered the overpowering smell of marijuana. “The whole house,” he said, “smelled like a bong.” He found two boys there, aged 6 and 11.

He entered a bedroom on the third floor. (The apartment has two floors.) He found some three ounces of pot spread across a bed along with packaging equipment and about $2,000 in small bills.

Also in the room was Sean’s daughter. Alone.

Hartnett was shocked. And, his mind flashing to his 19-month-old son at home in Prospect, he was outraged.

“I’m thinking, ‘You’ve got a 2 year-old here. He [Sean] ran out and left all these kids in the apartment. Now I have all these drugs on the bed.I have three juveniles unattended. We have an issue with DCF [the state Department of Families] now.

“You think of your own kid. This girl was left alone in this bedroom.”

Sean admitted the drugs were his, Hartnett said. His parents, alerted by someone nearby, arrived from West Haven. They took custody of the kids. (The daughter was Sean’s; the boys had the same mother but a different father.) The children’s mother was at work, and on her way home. The cops confiscated the pot and contacted DCF, Hartnett said.

Looking back on the episode, Hartnett keeps returning to the fact that Sean tried to escape rather than just greet the cops at the door and turn himself in.

“He was more concerned about getting away from us than the kids,” Hartnett recalled, shaking his head, sounding as though he were still trying to convince Sean to make a different choice. “That night I gave him a chance to turn himself in. If he turned himself in, none of this would have happened.”

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Posted by: Steve McMorris | February 11, 2006 8:57 PM

Its always a pleasure to see positive stories of everyday issues that police officers encounter here in New Haven. Ofc. Hartnett's dedication and good work ethics have shown that on a daily basis we (Police Officers)can make positive quality of life differences in the lives of New Haven residents. Congrats to Ofc. Hartnett for his actions and good community policing efforts which netted him (no pun intended) your Cop of the week distinction.

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