It was 1 in the morning, and Officer Martin Feliciano was running as fast as he could through Farnam Courts’ labyrinth of alleyways.
The man he was chasing turned a corner. Feliciano had seconds to think. Should he stop and risk losing the suspect? Or go ahead and risk finding a gun in his face?
He went for it. Minutes later, the suspect was on the ground—and Feliciano (at right in above photo) had in his hand a Magnum .44 with a 10-inch barrel.
For someone not used to chases in the dark, that moment could have proved terrifying. For Feliciano and his partner Lou DeCrescenzo (at left in photo), it was just another night on the job.
Paying For The Holidays
The moment came early this Tuesday.
The night had begun uneventfully. After finishing their Fair Haven walking beat, the cops were doing overtime at Farnam Courts, the isolated and crime-ridden housing project by I-91 which the housing authority has scheduled for demolition. The police are trying to post walking cops on duty there nightly.
Feliciano had just come back from a two-week holiday with his family, which he spent horseback riding and eating well. He welcomed the opportunity to make some extra money on the beat Monday night.
“I have a lot of debt now!” Feliciano said with a laugh. “I need to pay back all the bills for what I spent over two weeks. So when I got a call from the Sgt. [Anthony Zona, Fair Haven’s top cop] asking me if I wanted to work Farnam Courts, I said sure.”
It was around 12:50 a.m. Feliciano and DeCrescenzo were driving around Grand Avenue when they saw a Honda heading north on Hamilton Street, in Farnam Courts.
Something about the car looked off. It was heading towards a dead end. With the lights off. At high speed. It screamed “suspicious.” So the cops decided to stop it.
It turned out that the driver did have something to hide—a half ounce of marijuana. The officers wrote him an infraction ticket and let him go.
Then the night got interesting.
The officers were driving back towards Grand Avenue when they saw two men they hadn’t seen before. Someone else might not have given it a second thought. DeCrescenzo and Feliciano have been trained to pay attention to the slightest anomalies.
Policing a housing project is not easy, the cops explained. You need to become familiar with the community, sort out the people who live there from those who may have other, darker business in the complex. It’s a matter of instinct, they said, a kind of sixth sense.
The cops’ instincts proved right. As soon as they parked by the strangers, one of the men panicked.
“He went all deer in the head lights,” said Feliciano. “He opened his eyes real wide. So we got out of the car, and then he grabbed his waistband and started running.”
All of the sudden the situation had become dangerous.
“The last thing you want anybody to do is grab their waistband,” DeCrescenzo said.
That 90-Degree Blind Spot
The officers knew exactly what to do—which served them well, because there wasn’t any time to think. Since Feliciano’s door was closer to the sidewalk. He became “the lead.”
“The lead is the first guy who gets out of the car, and he just runs,” DeCrescenzo explained. “He doesn’t stop for anything. So my job was to get on the radio and notify dispatching and everyone else where we were, where we were going, and who we were chasing.”
While his partner stayed behind asking for backup, Feliciano followed the suspect into the concrete maze that is Farnam Courts. They ran through courtyard after courtyard, crossing basketball courts, down alleyways and into backyards. The yellow light of the street lamps made every shadow fall sharply.
Then came the nightmare of any cop involved in a foot chase: a 90-degree turn around a corner.
A corner creates a blind spot in the officer’s field of vision. If there’s enough space between him and the suspect, that gives the latter a moment to catch a breath, a place to take cover, and—most dangerously—the element of surprise.
“If you cut a corner and he’s way ahead of you, it’s a risky issue, ‘cause you don’t know if he’s holding the gun,” said Feliciano. “The closer you are during the foot chase, the better.”
How do you know if you are close enough? Training and experience can help, sure, but in the end the decision is a gamble made in a fraction of a second.
Feliciano made his mental coin flip—and decided to follow the suspect.
Yet again his instinct proved right. The man crossed a small door into one of the side courtyards. He fell face-first on the concrete floor, with Feliciano’s weight holding him down.
An Eternal Minute
By then, DeCrescenzo had caught up with his partner. Feliciano was struggling to subdue the suspect, who just wouldn’t give his hands.
“He fell down face first. He had his hand inside his waistband,” Feliciano said. “So I didn’t know if he was going to pull out the gun or whatever it is. Then is when you need to use a little bit of force to make him comply.”
When the cops finally managed to subdue the suspect, they pulled a gun from his waistband. No surprises there. Except that it wasn’t the nine millimeters they were expecting. It was a Magnum .44—a gun powerful enough to shoot and kill a polar bear or even an elephant.
The cops laid the gun on the grass, a long metal snake, and began documenting the scene with photographs.
Then they looked up and noticed 30 pairs of less-than-friendly eyes staring right at them.
“It’s not a pretty picture,” Feliciano said of the crowd. “Anything could go wrong. There might be one gun; there might be several guns. They are either going to come and try to take the arrestee from you, or they’re going to try to hurt you. So at that point we requested backup.”
The situation grew tense. The seconds grew longer. The crowd kept coming closer to the officers, yelling at them, threatening and insulting, according to Feliciano and DeCrecenzo.
Then, finally, came a welcome sound—a police siren. The first unit of backup arrived.
Less than a minute had gone by. It felt like an eternity.
“It was only one minute, but one minute in that kind of high stress feels like forever,” said Feliciano.
The mix of fear of and hostility to the cops that exists in the projects was out in the open Wednesday afternoon. As they returned to the housing complex to recreate the events of two evenings earlier, they were received with yells from the residents.
“Run!” somebody yelled in the next court as the officers stepped forward. “Cops!”
The Glory Of A Magnum—& The Homeward Imperative
Feliciano and DeCrescenzo took the arrested man into custody, and left the housing complex unharmed. The arrestee, who was born in 1981, faces seven felony and misdemeanor charges. He has previously been convicted five times on narcotics and assault and interfering charges since 2003, according to the state’s judicial website.
“He thought he was Dirty Harry,” Sgt. Zona said of the suspect. “He ran into the wrong cops.”
The officers called Monday night/Tuesday morning a good shift—a night that brought them “glory.” Not every cop gets to take a Magnum off the streets every week.
“Me and Martin, we are in for the drugs and the guns,” said DeCrescenzo. “It is the little things that help the community, but what gives us the most satisfaction is the big stuff.”
Feliciano and DeCrescenzo have had their share of “glory.” Among many achievements in their respective four and three years in the force, the pair has snatched a Mac 11 sub-machine-gun from the hands of a gangster. Feliciano also participated in the largest federal sweep in Connecticut’s history, Operation Bloodline.
Feliciano is not easily intimidated. He cut his policing teeth in the mean streets of San Juan, Puerto Rico, where he served for three years. If you thought New Haven has a lot of crime, he said, you clearly have never been an officer in the island.
“People there just don’t give a shit,” said Feliciano.
Yet the awareness of danger never goes away. With every point they score against the Dwight-Kensington walking beat team, with whom they have a friendly rivalry, the Fair Haven cops put their lives on the line. In the end, coming home is more important than the glory.
“I personally know that there’s big guns in the housing complex,” said Feliciano, his face turning suddenly serious. “Whomever is reaching into his waistband or his pockets—it doesn’t matter. I’m going home at the end of the night, no matter what.”
Read other installments in the Independent’s “Cop of the Week” series:
• Shafiq Abdussabur
• Craig Alston & Billy White Jr.
• James Baker
• Lloyd Barrett
• Maneet Bhagtana
• Sheree Biros
• Paul Bicki
• Scott Branfuhr
• Dennis Burgh
• Rob Clark & Joe Roberts
• Sydney Collier
• Carlos Conceicao and Josh Kyle
• David Coppola
• Roy Davis
• Joe Dease
• Milton DeJesus
• Brian Donnelly
• Anthony Duff
• Robert DuPont
• Bertram Etienne
• Paul Finch
• Jeffrey Fletcher
• Renee Forte
• Marco Francia
• William Gargone
• William Gargone & Mike Torre
• Derek Gartner
• Jon Haddad & Daniela Rodriguez
• Dan Hartnett
• Ray Hassett
• Robert Hayden
• Robin Higgins
• Ronnell Higgins
• William Hurley & Eddie Morrone
• Racheal Inconiglios
• Juan Ingles
• Paul Kenney
• Hilda Kilpatrick
• Herb Johnson
• John Kaczor & Alex Morgillo
• Peter Krause
• Peter Krause (2)
• Amanda Leyda
• Rob Levy
• Anthony Maio
• Steve McMorris
• Juan Monzon
• Chris Perrone
• Ron Perry
• Joe Pettola
• Diego Quintero and Elvin Rivera
• Stephanie Redding
• Tony Reyes
• David Rivera
• Luis & David Rivera
• Luis Rivera (2)
• Salvador Rodriguez
• Brett Runlett
• David Runlett
• Marcus Tavares
• Martin Tchakirides
• Stephan Torquati
• Gene Trotman Jr.
• Kelly Turner
• Lars Vallin (& Xander)
• John Velleca
• Holly Wasilewski
• Alan Wenk
• Stephanija VanWilgen
• Michael Wuchek
• David Zannelli
• David Zaweski