“See that car?” Osvaldo Garcia said, peering into the darkness at an idling black Acura. “Somebody’s in that car.”
It was late on an overtime, post-midnight weekend shift in the Hill. Garcia (at right in above photo) was talking to fellow New Haven cop Keron Bryce (at left). They were beginning a new working relationship; Garcia had recently convinced his boss to make a trade to “draft” Bryce from the downtown policing district to become Garcia’s new patrol partner in the Hill.
Following up on Garcia’s instinct, the pair ended up finding not just a person in that Acura, but a mini-retail store’s worth of packaged cocaine as well as an illegally possessed, loaded gun. Then two weeks later, Bryce tracked down two young alleged shooters, and brought home another loaded weapon.
First two weeks of the new beat, two deadly weapons taken off the streets. Word spread about the new duo. “A great example,” patrol supervisor Lt. Jeff Hoffman said of the two arrests, “of some younger officers who are really hitting their stride, honing their senses, getting great arrests and making the neighborhoods safer.”
“I told them, ‘Now I’m expecting this once a week,’” said top Hill South cop Lt. Nick Marcusio, the boss Garcia convinced to make the two friends the district’s newest patrol team. “They’re already doing it.”
The pair, who began walking a beat a little more than a year and a half ago, had not officially yet started as a patrol team when they checked out the Acura shortly after midnight on July 12. They were on an overtime shift.
Bryce was finishing up his tour in the downtown district at the time. Each officer had worked a regular 4 p.m.-midnight that day, Bryce downtown, Garcia in the Hill. They signed up a second four-hour overnight overtime shift together in the Hill as part of a Summer Anti-Violence Initiative (SAVI) that helped keep city streets relatively quiet in June and July.
En route to the neighborhood following the midnight line-up, they stopped at the Dunkin Donuts at the Mobil mini-mart on Sargent Drive. Bryce ordered a bacon-egg-and-cheese to refuel for the last third of what would be a 12-hour workday. Garcia, a self-described “health freak,” earlier had gradually eaten a couple of Gourmet Heaven chicken salads during the 4 p.m.-midnight shift; he prefers not to eat too much at once, lest “I become sluggish.” At the Mobil Dunkin Donuts, he ordered an iced coffee.
Back in the cruiser, Bryce promptly finished his sandwich. Garcia had taken a sip of his iced coffee when Bryce, who was behind the wheel, pulled onto Hallock Avenue.
From past encounters, Garcia knew that trouble tends to find its way onto Hallock. So when he saw the black Acura parked without headlights but with tail lights on, he figured it made sense to check it out.
As they passed, they noticed the car’s engine running. They noticed the windows were darkly tinted.
Bryce pulled a U-turn to check out the car.
As they neared, the driver emerged from the car. He started walking. He wore a T-shirt, jeans, and flip-flops.
Garcia popped out of the cruiser.
“Hey, what’s going on?” he recalled asking the man.
“I’m visiting a girlfriend.”
Garcia asked to see the driver’s license. The man didn’t have one. He produced an official Connecticut-issued ID card instead.
Garcia asked if he had “anything I should know about” in the car.
“A little bit of marijuana,” the man responded.
“Do you mind if I check?” Unfazed, the man said it was fine by him.
Inside the car, Garcia found the little bit of pot in the cup-holder of the front console. It was clearly less than the half-ounce to merit more than a ticket under Connecticut’s decriminalization law.
As he kept searching, Bryce chatted with the driver. He asked the driver his girlfriend’s name. It turned out Bryce knew the woman; they used to work together as banquet servers in Yale’s dining halls.
Meanwhile, Garcia poked his head under the driver’s seat—and found himself staring at a silver handgun.
He left the car, walked up to the driver, and placed him in handcuffs. He didn’t know whether the man, upon the officer’s discovery of the gun, might try to fight or flee.
Instead, the driver stayed calm.
“Whose gun is under the driver’s seat?” Garcia asked.
“I don’t know,” the driver responded.
He was asked again.
“Oh, my brother has a gun permit,” he responded this time. “It might be his gun.”
At this point, Garcia recalled, “I know he’s lying.”
Bryce called the shift supervisor, Lt. Makiem Miller, to inform him of the unfolding case. Garcia returned to the car. He found “a big bundle of crack cocaine” inside the console. He also found what looked like a sock; he picked it up, to find it was a folded-up black nylon mask with seven bullets, six of them hollow-point bullets, inside.
Then Garcia opened the passenger door. “I see plastic and something white inside the plastic” at the juncture of the console and the carpet by the passenger-seat floor. The white powder turned out to be 12 packages of cocaine.
“Maybe he hid something on the driver’s side,” Garcia figured. So he returned there and found more crack.
Both Garcia and Bryce were struck by the man’s demeanor as this all unfolded.
Garcia: “To see how calm the guy was ...”
Bryce: “... It was like he had no worries in the world.”
Garcia: “Most people would freak out or find some kind of excuse.”
Bryce: “Some even try to fight or run away. He was mellow all the way through.”
Lt. Miller showed up, took the gun from the car. It was a Cobra .380 pistol, loaded. The three cops put all the drugs and bullets as well as the gun and the mask on the back of the cruiser. They took out a testing kit, which confirmed the bags contained a total of 45 grams of cocaine.
Conducting checks from the computer in his car, Bryce learned that the driver’s license had been suspended; that he had no permit for the pistol; and that he had a misdemeanor conviction that disqualified him from having a gun. The gun was not stolen.
The officers drove to 1 Union Ave. to write reports and to deliver the suspect to detention. Garcia finally returned to his iced coffee. The ice had melted, the water separated from the coffee. Too late.
Garcia (pictured recently responding to a landlord-tenant dispute in the Hill) had seized illegal guns before. It was Bryce’s first gun arrest; he was excited. He had wanted to move from downtown to the Hill to make gun arrests, to have time to be more “proactive.” That was why he became a cop.
“That gun could have been used in a robbery,” he said of the SAVI incident. That could have been used in a murder. We could have prevented multiple robberies or a shooting that night.”
Garcia, who’s now 32, decided to apply to the New Haven police force after he lost his electrician’s job when his employer went out of business. He had always been interested in police work since seeing cops around the “tough” Waterbury neighborhood where he grew up.
Bryce, whose family moved to Hamden when he was 15 (he’s now 24), originally went to Gateway to study to become a graphic designer. His twin brother Akeem was studying the same subject there, too. (“We’re twins for sure; we both have Audis.”) Bryce was restless; he wanted more “hands-on” work: “I’m a young guy, full of adrenaline, ready to go.” Akeem mentioned he planned to seek to become a cop. Bryce decided he would, too. He beat Akeem to it, winning a spot in New Haven. (Akeem soon got hired by Norwalk’s force.)
Garcia and Bryce met as members of the training academy class that graduated in December 2012. They found they clicked, started hanging out. Though they were assigned to different districts, they continued socializing, including a trip this year to Atlantic City.
Recently Garcia’s Hill walking-beat partner got promoted. Lt. Marcusio asked Garcia to suggest a new partner. Garcia mentioned Bryce. Bryce, meanwhile, told his boss, top downtown cop Sgt. Tammi Means, that he’d like to transfer to the Hill. In a process the cops likened to a professional sports draft, their coaches negotiated a transfer.
Bryce had his coveted new assignment.
“I couldn’t let him down,” Bryce said of Marcusio. “I had to let him know I’m the right pick.”
The duo officially began their beat two weeks after their SAVI gun-grab. The first week, on July 29, reports of shots fired came into the department. This time, Bryce would take the lead.
“Somebody Was Shooting!”
The call came around 9 p.m.
Bryce and Garcia had temporarily separated; Garcia was called to a two-hour stint guarding a prisoner at Yale-New Haven Hospital.
Bryce was scheduled to relieve him at the hospital at 9:30. In the meantime, he patrolled with another officer, John Barbetti. Along with other on-duty officers, they headed to the site of the reported gunshots, Carlisle Street by Liberty in the Hill’s Trowbridge Square section.
They had been to the spot earlier in the evening on a report of a fight. Some 40 people were on the street; a birthday party was taking place. At the time the scene had turned calm; people denied any fighting had occurred.
Now the scene had changed.
“Everyone was screaming, ‘Oh my God! Somebody was shooting!’” Bryce recalled.
The officers calmed people down, started asking questions. Bryce discovered an adult who had witnessed the whole scene. He learned that two teens, one with dyed-blonde hair and white shirt, had fired the shots into the air, then fled. The witness pointed to a house; they ran up to the second floor there, the witness said.
Bryce informed the other officers. They surrounded the house, checked the apartment. No sign of the alleged shooters.
That took a while. Bryce returned to the scene, found the witness again. The witness pointed a few blocks toward Putnam Street. “That’s them! That’s them right there!”
Bryce ran—not toward the suspects, who might have both been armed, but to his colleagues.
“We’ve got to go get these kids!” he said. He hopped into a cruiser; Barbetti was behind the wheel. Officer Jeremy Cordero followed in another car.
They headed down Spring toward Union Avenue. Bryce spotted two teens who matched the witness’s description, walking on the sidewalk across the street.
The officers drove past, turned back, stopped the cruisers, put on the lights. They hopped out, Bryce running in the lead, with his gun drawn.
“Get on the ground! Get on the ground now!” he commanded as he reached them.
Fortunately, neither had a gun in his hand. The teens—one 16, the other 18—complied with Bryce’s order.
A pat-down revealed a .22 caliber pistol loaded with two bullets hiding in the pocket of basketball shorts one of the teens had on under his jeans. Bryce’s witness, brought to the scene, positively identified the suspects. Officers subsequently found three .22 caliber bullets at the scene on Carlisle.
Garcia was left to listen to the scene unfold from his sentry spot at the hospital. “I’m missing out on this,” he lamented.
Bryce had reports to write. He never did spell Garcia at the hospital that night. Still, plenty of nights together back on the street lay ahead.
Read other installments in the Independent’s “Cop of the Week” series:
• Shafiq Abdussabur
• Craig Alston & Billy White Jr.
• James Baker
• Lloyd Barrett
• Manmeet Bhagtana (Colon)
• Paul Bicki
• Paul Bicki (2)
• Sheree Biros
• Scott Branfuhr
• Dennis Burgh
• Anthony Campbell
• Darryl Cargill & Matt Wynne
• Elizabeth Chomka & Becky Fowler
• Rob Clark & Joe Roberts
• Sydney Collier
• Carlos Conceicao
• Carlos Conceicao (2)
• Carlos Conceicao and Josh Kyle
• David Coppola
• Mike Criscuolo
• Roy Davis
• Joe Dease
• Milton DeJesus
• Milton DeJesus (2)
• Brian Donnelly
• Anthony Duff
• Robert DuPont
• Jeremie Elliott and Scott Shumway
• Jeremie Elliott (2)
• Jose Escobar Sr.
• Bertram Ettienne
• Bertram Ettienne (2)
• Martin Feliciano & Lou DeCrescenzo
• Paul Finch
• Jeffrey Fletcher
• Renee Forte
• Marco Francia
• Michael Fumiatti
• William Gargone
• William Gargone & Mike Torre
• Derek Gartner
• Derek Gartner & Ryan Macuirzynski
• Tom Glynn & Matt Williams
• Jon Haddad & Daniela Rodriguez
• Michael Haines & Brendan Borer
• Michael Haines & Brendan Borer (2)
• 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
• Jillian Knox
• Peter Krause
• Peter Krause (2)
• Amanda Leyda
• Rob Levy
• Anthony Maio
• Dana Martin
• Reggie McGlotten
• Steve McMorris
• Juan Monzon
• Chris Perrone
• Ron Perry
• Joe Pettola
• Diego Quintero and Elvin Rivera
• Ryan Przybylski
• Stephanie Redding
• Tony Reyes
• David Rivera
• Luis & David Rivera
• Luis Rivera (2)
• Salvador Rodriguez
• Salvador Rodriguez (2)
• Brett Runlett
• David Runlett
• Betsy Segui & Manmeet Colon
• Allen Smith
• Marcus Tavares
• Martin Tchakirides
• David Totino
• Stephan Torquati
• Gene Trotman Jr.
• Kelly Turner
• Lars Vallin (& Xander)
• Dave Vega & Rafael Ramirez
• Earl Reed
• Arpad Tolnay
• John Velleca
• Manuella Vensel
• Holly Wasilewski
• Holly Wasilewski (2)
• Alan Wenk
• Stephanija VanWilgen
• Elizabeth White & Allyn Wright
• Matt Williams
• Michael Wuchek
• Michael Wuchek (2)
• David Zannelli
• Cailtin Zerella
• Caitlin Zerella, Derek Huelsman, David Diaz, Derek Werner, Nicholas Katz, and Paul Mandel
• David Zaweski