Cop of the Week

by Paul Bass | February 17, 2006 11:26 AM | | Comments (3)

Early one morning Det. Michael Wuchek grabbed a cup of coffee (milk, no sugar) at Starbucks en route to investigating a fresh murder case. He wouldn’t consume another calorie until long after dark — nor would he notice. The episode offers a hint to how Wuchek came to be known as “Stickboy” on the street. It also offers a hint to how Wuchek and his allies managed to wrap up the case and make an arrest in a stunning 13 hours.

Rarely do murders get solved that quickly. Sometimes a combination of perseverance, teamwork and luck leads to quick closure for the cops and the families involved.

The way it did on Friday, Feb. 10, when Wuchek was the lead detective in the investigation of the murder of 39-year-old Edwin Woolfolk.

The day started early for Wuchek. The 34-year-old, eight-year veteran of the city force was asleep in his North Haven home around 4:30 a.m. when the phone awoke him. He had to come to headquarters. There’d been a serious shooting.

Wuchek showered, put on his shirt and tie, left for 1 Union Ave. Wuchek doesn’t get these calls often. When he gets them, he said, he doesn’t mind. He loves being a cop. “It’s the best job in the world. It’s never the same thing; every day is different.” Wuchek stands 5-foot-7 and weighs just 125; that’s why people he encounters in his investigations more often know him as “Stickboy” or “Stick” than know his real name. He wears a crew cut and a seemingly semi-permanent wry half-smile. He wanted to be a cop ever since he was growing up in Stratford. His dad was a constable there; Wuchek loved and looked up to his father.


The Key First Hours

Not long after stopping into the detective bureau, Wuchek went to the site of the shooting, a five-story brick building at Chapel and Winthrop called The Winthrop, a place where shootings and drug-dealing are all too common. There was blood in the front hallway, where a man had shot at Woolfolk five times, striking him twice, in the chest and leg.

The department assigns detectives to take the lead on investigations on a rotating basis. This was Wuchek’s turn. “The whole job,” he said, “depends on how it’s run from the start” — when crucial evidence can be preserved or lost, when people’s memories are freshest and some of the best information can be obtained.

Wuchek made sure the site was secured, the lobby’s front entrance closed off. He checked in with the officers on the scene. One of them, Michelle Dobson, had managed to speak with the victim while emergency techs worked on him in the hallway before transporting him to the hospital. The victim told her he’d been shot by a man in the building with whom he’d been feuding since that Monday. He didn’t know the man’s name. He did know the apartment where he stayed, apartment 503. The victim himself didn’t live in the building; his girlfriend and children did. He’d been leaving their apartment when he ran into the shooter in the front hallway.

Lots of people in the building heard the shots. No one apparently saw the shooting itself.

Word came from officers at the hospital that Woolfolk had died; the shot to the chest had done it. Meanwhile, Wuchek and Sgt. Marc Califiore went up to apartment 503. They interviewed the people there, including the suspected shooter, a man around 20 with a pending drug case. The four young men in the apartment agreed to come to headquarters to be interviewed. Though it was barely dawn, the building already buzzed with cops and wakened tenants. “There was too much chaos,” Wuchek said, to conduct the interviews on site.

At headquarters, he and the other cops separated the four men, placed them in interview rooms and some offices in the third-floor detective bureau. The idea, Wuchek said, is to prevent witnesses from comparing notes on what they remembered and arriving, even unwittingly, at a combined single version that may omit or shade crucial details.

Wuchek conducted the interviews along with Det. Reggie Sutton. It’s important to have the same people conduct all the interviews, he said, in order to build on information from one conversation to another. Also, it made sense to wait to interview the suspect until gathering information from everyone else.

It took hours. The interviews don’t begin with questions central to the case, Wuchek said. “You get to know them first.” The cops ask if the interviewees need anything to drink or eat. Where did you grow up? Where did you go to school? In this case, the interviewees were forthcoming; they showed no hostility. Or as Wuchek put it, “They weren’t assholes. They were pleasant.” He said they admitted being involved in the drug trade. They said the suspect, a native of Jamaica who crashed in the apartment regularly and whose mother lives in West Haven, entered the apartment shortly after the shooting. He had a gun with him. He left the gun somewhere in the kitchen.


“You’ve Got to Be Smarter and Luckier”

Armed with that information, Wuchek drew up a search warrant for the apartment. He went to the state courthouse, found a prosecutor; then they got in to see a judge to sign the warrant. The suspect remained in the interview room at headquarters, waiting.

Wuchek and Califiore returned to The Winthrop and apartment 503. They knew to look in the kitchen, but they didn’t know where in the kitchen. From his experience with the state narcotics task force, Wuchek knew it could take a while to find the gun. “The drug dealers and the people in that industry are ingenious. They hide things in places you’d never guess,” Wuchek said. “They’re smart. You’ve got to be smarter and luckier.” One time years ago he was searching a place for an hour before discovering a cache hidden in a three-inch by three-inch hole behind some wood baseboard moulding in the corner of a closet.

In the kitchen at the Winthrop, Wuchek and Califiore tried the cabinets, the refrigerator, the closets, then the less obvious places. After about 20 minutes, Califiore called out, “I got it.” He’d removed a ceiling panel to discover the 9 mm handgun as well as bags of crack packaged for sale.

They contacted the department’s identification bureau to come handle the evidence, and returned to headquarters. It was around 1 p.m. The suspect was still sitting alone, doing nothing, in the interview room, going on seven hours. The whole time, according to Wuchek, the suspect had been patient, not complaining. Wuchek hadn’t eaten a bite since waking up. It didn’t occur to him he was hungry. The clock on the case was ticking without interruption.

Wuchek finally went in to see the suspect along with Detective Sutton. They read the suspect his rights; the suspect signed a form waiving his right to have a lawyer present.

The cops leveled with him, according to Wuchek: They had the gun. They knew the story. (They’d heard two versions of what the argument was over. One version: the shooter began arguing with Woolfolk on Monday over an argument Woolfolk had been having with his girlfriend. The other version: They were arguing about drugs.)

“He told us he was a drug dealer. He told us he did the shooting,” Wuchek said of the suspect. “He didn’t know the other person’s name. He said he was having a fight with him and he feared for his safety.”

Sutton and Wuchek taped the confession; then Wuchek prepared an arrest warrant. By now, court was closed. So they called a judge and visited him at home to have him sign the warrant. The judge set bond at $1 million. The detectives returned to the station and arrested the suspect. He was booked and held in the lock-up.

Most of the time when someone’s murdered, it can take weeks or months, or years, to complete an investigation. Rarely are there cases like this which take little more than half a day.

Though it was an intense half day. At 6:30, “I finally took a break,” Wuchek said. There was still work to do. He spent a couple of more hours collecting reports, checking in to make sure other cops had prepared their supplemental reports, ensuring the evidence had been collected and preserved.

“Everything just fell into place,” he said. “Everybody did textbook, did a great job.” His job as lead investigator wasn’t to do the hardest or most important tasks, he said. It was “to take everybody’s good work and put it together. I am just the extension of everybody’s good work.” The greatest satisfaction in making such a quick arrest, he said, was the knowledge that the families involved “get closure.”

By 9, Wuchek was back home in North Haven with his wife Stacy and 7 year-old daughter Shelby. Stacy took a look at him.

“Are you hungry?” she asked.

“I didn’t eat all day.”

She made him a favorite meal: two grilled cheese sandwiches. “White bread. Regular cheese, American cheese.” Yes, Stickboy realized, he’d been hungry.

(To read other installments in the Independent’s “Cop of the Week” series, click here, here, here, here, and here.

(To suggest an officer to be featured, click here.)







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Comments

Posted by: Sandi | February 17, 2006 2:18 PM

You go Stickboy!

Posted by: Chellsey | February 18, 2006 9:30 AM

That is my cousin....
Mike I Love you

Posted by: TONY WUCHEK | February 20, 2006 9:45 AM

DID STACY CUT THE CRUST OFF YOUR GRILLED CHEESE?

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