As a mental health clinician itching for a new career, he applied to police department on a friendly bet. Thirteen years later, Officer Jeffrey Fletcher found himself in detectives’ shoes, hot on the trail of a city contractor suspected of stealing computers out of City Hall.
Fletcher, who’s 49 and hails from the town of Colchester, got assigned the case as part of a 180-day stint with the detective bureau. Unlike the assignments in his prior career at the Connecticut Mental Health Center, this case didn’t require a deep psychological probe. It took some common sense, a few City Hall cameras, and a trail of footprints left on eBay.
The case began with a call from the city comptroller’s office. Computers had been disappearing left and right. Staff had pegged a suspect—a reclusive technician who commuted from a small town 35 miles away to work with the city on a one-year contract.
Hearing the technician had been carting off computers out of City Hall, Fletcher turned to the watching eyes inside City Hall; there are 15 to 20 surveillance cameras in and around the building, he recalled. He searched through the tapes from the past couple months, stopping around the times the employee came and left the office.
The suspect came and went alone. Coworkers had described him to Fletcher as “a little strange.” “There wasn’t a lot of fraternization going on.”
Cameras showed the man walking in empty-handed around 9 a.m. At the end of the workday, he’d leave the office, this time hauling boxes “emblazoned with HP,” the logo for the Hewlett Packard computer company.
Suspicious? For Sure. But grounds for arrest? “It was still not enough.”
“Lo And Behold”
Luckily for Fletcher, the employee’s computer was city property—fair game to be searched without warrant, said the officer.
“I turned his computer on. Lo and behold, eBay comes up.” The employee had apparently been selling the stolen goods on the online auction site, eBay, right from his desk at City Hall. The footprints were as large as Godzilla’s.
“Stevie Wonder and Helen Keller could’ve figured this one out,” said Fletcher, recounting the episode months later at a desk in the detective unit. A former University of New Haven basketball star and psych major, once on his way to medical school, he speaks modestly of his endeavors.
The eBay ID, he said, came from the employee’s home—Terryville, Conn. The account showed several computers had been sold, matching the unique serial numbers of the computers stolen from City Hall.
“At that point, we had an arrest.”
For the theft of eight computers totaling $6,000 to $7,000, the 36-year-old Terryville resident was arrested on Jan. 17 on charges of larceny, punishable by up to two years in jail. The suspect, who could not be reached, has denied the charges. The case is still pending in court, and eBay has been notified.
At stake in cracking the case? “The number one issue was principle, not the computer values,” Fletcher said. The employee had landed a city job on a recommendation, then “betrayed the person who recommended him for the job” by using the position to steal city goods. Fletcher credited the well-kept records of the comptroller’s office for making it easy to follow the suspect’s tracks.
In other cases, when police work gets more fraught and dramatic, Fletcher doesn’t usually deal with the same level of psychosis—patients diagnosed with both substance abuse and mental illness—as he did in his prior career. But mental health training “helps me put in perspective the people I work with every day.” It helps him “cope” with daily drama and walk away at the end of the day, leaving the baggage behind.
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