A murder did not take place on Hamilton Street last weekend.
Thank Carlos Conceicao for that. He lived to tell the tale.
The murder that didn’t happen didn’t happen on Saturday around 1 a.m.
Conceicao followed up on a fight involving four young men ejected from the Van Dome nightclub. He crept up a 17-year-old ejectee who had a loaded .45 pointed directly at man with whom he was arguing. With no back-up at first, Conceicao chased the gunman down the street. In the end, police arrested the boy and recovered the gun.
And Conceicao had yet another dramatic arrest to add to an impressive roster. In under five years on the force, he has stood out for his successful foot chases and problem-solving approaches, earning commendations and an award from the Exchange Club. He has also cultivated valuable relationships with everyday citizens as well as persistent lawbreakers, accumulating information that helped police solve a vicious beating on Norton Street, for instance, and the daylight shooting of a 16-month-old baby on Kensington Street.
Conceicao, a Portugal-born 32-year-old electrician-turned-cop, has developed most of those relationships walking the beat in the Dwight-Kensington neighborhood.
These days he’s patrolling the neighbor in a cruiser along with Paul Prusinski, one of the 40 rookies about to start walking beats. Conceicao’s training him.
On Saturday, they ended their shift at 4 p.m. “I’m working the bars tonight,” Conceicao told the rookie. “I’ll have a crazy story for you tomorrow.”
He was headed for an extra-duty job outside VanDome nightclub on Hamilton Street. Conceicao generally works at least one such extra-duty job each week outside a bar. He usually ends up breaking up a fight.
This gig would prove no different. Shortly before 1 a.m., Conceicao and Officer Sean Maher were trying to keep warm outside the rear of the club when the door opened. A bouncer informed them a fight had started.
The officers went inside to find two pairs of young men separated by bouncers. They had apparently started arguing after someone bumped into somebody else. A friend of the bumpee felt he had to protect his pal’s honor. Punches flew. One young man had a cut on his face.
Conceicao and Maher brought the two pairs outside, kept them separate. The man with the cut face did not wish to press charges.
Dealing with drunken ejected patrons, Conceicao said, he tries to remain both firm and friendly. “Guys, do me a favor,” he recalled telling one of the pairs. “Call it a night. Go relax.”
The pair agreed to leave Van Dome. They headed north on Hamilton to the parking lot a block away by Ferraro’s market, where many Van Dome patrons leave their cars.
The officers waited a few moments. Then they asked the other pair to go home, too. Their car was parked right in the Van Dome lot.
“Aw, officer, can we go back inside?” one asked.
No, they couldn’t.
So the pair got in the car and drove off.
They didn’t go far.
Conceicao walked to the front of the club to check on their departure. He saw the driver of the car park in the mouth of the driveway to the Key Club, a strip joint less than a block away, a rowdy joint where Conceicao had recently confiscated a gun and 60 grams of crack from a convicted felon and Maher had separately arrested a gunman angered over being tossed out.
The pair of ejected VanDome patrons got out of the car after parking in the driveway.
“At least he didn’t double-park and block traffic,” Conceicao said.
They walked into the middle of the road and met up with the other pair of ejected patrons. They shouted angrily at each other, resuming their argument.
Conceicao decided to check it out. He hunched over as he ran toward them; parked cars lined Hamilton and blocked him from view.
When he was about 75 feet away, he noticed that one of the young men was holding a gun in his right hand. It would later turn out that he is 17 years old.
Conceicao called into the microphone on his lapel for back-up.
“He’s holding [the gun] low,” he said of the gun-wielder. “Then he brought it up.”
Conceico drew his own department-issued Glock .40-caliber handgun out of his holster. He had a decision to make. Should he keep jogging toward them before back-up arrived?
On the one hand, that would risk his own life.
On the other hand, the shouting was heated. The 17-year-old had the gun pointed right at one of his antagonists.
“Is he going to shoot these two kids?” Conceicao remembered thinking. “My judgement call is to make sure that kid doesn’t kill anybody.
“You just do it.”
So he kept running toward them. Still bending over forward to keep concealed by the cars. Otherwise, “if I pop out 70 feet away, it would very hard for me to catch him and recover the gun” if the kid ran and “threw it in a garbage can or a ditch.”
He popped out just as the kid started walking closer to his antagonists, his gun still pointed straight at them. Everyone was yelling.
Including, now, Conceicao.
“Stop and drop the gun on the ground now!” he remembered shouting. “Show me your hands! Show me your hands! Show me your hands!”
Waving his weapon, the gun-wielder spun 90 degrees toward Conceicao.
He kept spinning—and sprinted north down Hamilton.
Conceicao followed, neither losing ground nor closing the gap. He followed the kid into the parking lot of Elm City Seafood and Grille restaurant, breathlessly barking updates into the microphone about the location of the chase.
“All I’m thinking is: I’m hoping my backup gets there as soon as possible to surround him.”
He heard sirens growing louder, closer: “It was a very comforting feeling.”
During the chase, Conceicao recalled, “I’m paying attention to him. I’m paying attention to my surroundings. And I’m preparing myself to protect my life so I don’t leave my dad with his son dead.”
The kid ran onto the grounds of Tortilleria La Michoacana restaurant, which faces onto Grand Avenue. Conceicao followed. He saw the kid stumble to the ground. The kid fell hard. Then he sprang back up with the gun in hand, and kept running.
Conceicao lost sight of the kid for a moment as he turned a corner. So Conceicao slowed down, lest he race into an ambush.
Instead of an ambush, he saw the kid toss the gun under a picnic table then hop a fence.
Officers Phil McKnight and David Totino pulled up to the scene.
“That’s him! That’s him! That’s him! Get him!” Conceicao screamed.
The officers raced after the kid—and caught him.
Conceicao went for the gun; he worried someone else would pick it up.
He proceeded to Hamilton and Grand to discover that the officers had caught the kid.
They met with other officers back up the block on Hamilton where the chase had begun. The other three ejected club-goers were still there. The cops arrested them, too.
Conceicao could now relax. He was safe.
He took a look at the recovered gun. The hammer of the gun was cocked. The gun had three bullets in the magazine—and one in the chamber, ready to be fired.
“That bullet could have had my name on it. It could have had the other two guys’ name on it,” Conceicao realized. “It could have been my last day today.”
It was a big gun: a .45-caliber gold-plated M1911A1 handgun, a commemorative World War II weapon. The serial numbers had been scratched off.
Sgt. Rob Criscuolo, Conceicao’s supervisor in the Dwight neighborhood, was at the scene. He served one of the ejected patrons with a summons.
“Do you realize he [Conceicao] stopped you from being shot?” Criscuolo asked the young man, who’s in his early 20s.
The man turned and walked away without a word.
Conceicao, Criscuolo said later, may “have prevented the first murder of the year.”
Conceicao admits he felt afraid during the chase. In a way, it made him feel “alive,” he said.
“Being scared makes you feel alive. It’s kind of a roller-coaster ride, like the Superman ride at Six Flags,” he observed. “Things are building up.” He likened his approach of the gun-wielder to the ride’s “first drop.” Then you’re off on a wild ride.
Conceicao spent the rest of the night filing reports. He didn’t get out until 7 a.m. He went home and slept five hours. He returned to work at 3 p.m. for another shift with Officer-In-Training Prusinski.
He had a crazy story to tell him.
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
• Paul Bicki
• Paul Bicki (2)
• Sheree Biros
• Scott Branfuhr
• Dennis Burgh
• Anthony Campbell
• 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
• Jeremie Elliott and Scott Shumway
• Bertram Etienne
• Martin Feliciano & Lou DeCrescenzo
• Paul Finch
• Jeffrey Fletcher
• Renee Forte
• Marco Francia
• William Gargone
• William Gargone & Mike Torre
• Derek Gartner
• Derek Gartner & Ryan Macuirzynski
• 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
• Jillian Knox
• Peter Krause
• Peter Krause (2)
• Amanda Leyda
• Rob Levy
• Anthony Maio
• Dana Martin
• 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
• Salvador Rodriguez (2)
• Brett Runlett
• David Runlett
• Allen Smith
• Marcus Tavares
• Martin Tchakirides
• Stephan Torquati
Gene Trotman Jr.
• Kelly Turner
• Lars Vallin (& Xander)
• John Velleca
• Manuella Vensel
• Holly Wasilewski
• Alan Wenk
• Stephanija VanWilgen
• Matt Williams
• Michael Wuchek
• David Zannelli
• David Zaweski