The rookie looked to the veteran for guidance about his new terrain. Then came a sound the rookie knew well—a gunshot headed possibly in his direction.
Ryan Macuirzynski (at left in photo) got used to gunshots coming at him as a Marine serving in Fallujah, Iraq.
Now Macuirzynski has started patrolling New Haven, Connecticut, as a police officer. On the beat, he has made a point of watching and grilling cops more familiar with the city’s terrain.
On the beat the other night in the Farnam Courts housing project, that more experienced cop working alongside Macuirzynski was Derek Gartner (at right). Five minutes into an extra-duty joint shift the pair found themselves chasing an armed man down a maze of dark byways.
Before it ended, it was Gartner, not Macuirzynski, who had a first-time experience: Reacting to a gunshot. Wondering where it came from. Wondering if it had his name on it.
The two escaped injury. They made an arrest, recovered a loaded a Hi-Point 9mm Luger.
And Macuirzynski did end up learning something new from his partner.
A Hot Spot
The pair was assigned an extra-duty shift patrolling Farnam Courts early last Thursday starting at midnight. The housing complex has proved a battleground for cops lately. In May Detectives Craig Alston and Billy White, Jr. burst into an apartment to stop a gunman from murdering a 14-year-old girl after he had already shot another person nearly to death. This summer Officers Martin Feliciano and Lou DeCrescenzo had a couple of harrowing confrontations with gunmen there.
The complex draws more than its share of armed drug dealers. Most of them don’t even live there, Gartner said. He and other cops assigned to the Fair Haven district have made a point of attending community meetings at the complex—to figure out who does belong there, as well as to develop relationships with neighbors.
He knows that late at night the troublemakers tend to congregate in one outdoor passageway along some of the apartments. The passageway gives them a clear view of both Franklin Street and Grand Avenue. So they can see well in advance when cops drive up, and scram.
So when they started the patrol last week, Gartner and Macuirzynski pulled into the other end of the complex, hard by the highway on Franklin Street, with their lights off. They walked a circuitous route toward the hot spot. The point wasn’t to startle people hanging out there; it was to approach them gradually before they had time to scram.
Gartner, who’s 27 with five and a half years on the job, and Macuirzynski don’t always patrol together. Macuirzynski has worked with a bunch of different cops from the district. After a five-year stint with the Marines, Macuirzynski, the 29-year-old son and nephew of retired Stamford cops, wanted to join New Haven’s force, but there were no openings. He joined the force in the sleepy town of Monroe instead. He switched over to New Haven as soon as a spot opened. Six months ago he started field training, three months ago began working a full-fledged beat. New Haven is a world apart from Monroe, so, Macuirzynski said, he has made a point of watching how his colleagues navigate the terrain, of pumping them with questions after an incident to see what he could have done better. “He learns from the guys,” observed his supervisor, top Fair Haven cop Sgt. Anthony Zona. “He pays attention. He takes criticism well.”
In Farnam Courts, Macuirzynski and Gartner found 10 young men hanging out along the passageway, a “no trespassing” zone.
Gartner immediately spotted two men sitting in a stairway. One nudged the other, who wore his hair in braids and had a grey sweatshirt hung over over shoulder. That man looked up at the cops with a “deer in the headlights” look.
“Hey guys,” Gartner asked the group, “does anyone live here?”
As he spoke, he kept his eye on the man with the braids.
That man immediately stood up and took off running, clutching his waistband.
Gartner took off after the man in the braids. Macuirzynski took off after Gartner for back up.
As Gartner closed the gap, Macuirzynski radioed for back-up.
The man ran into a courtyard, closing a steel gate behind him. Gartner opened it, kept running, The chase wove through the complex.
As Gartner got closer, he saw the man make a throwing motion with his left hand.
Then he heard a gunshot go off. It was loud. “I heard something hit brick,” he recalled.
“I didn’t know if this guy was shooting at us. Or if somebody was shooting out the windows.” He had heard about that happening to other cops.
His mind racing, he had to process information fast and make a decision: Should he shoot back at someone?
He kept running so as not lose ground. And he immediately noticed a gun on the ground. The man had apparently tossed it; it had probably hit a brick wall, then landed on the grass. No need to shoot.
Macuirzynski was close behind. His mind was racing, too. “I’ve been shot at before,” while patrolling in Fallujah, he said. “It’s a scary feeling.”
The fleeing man followed a loop practically back to where the chase had begun. He lost steam, collapsed on the ground. Gartner and a fleet-footed cop who had just arrived, Paul Finch, grabbed him and put him in handcuffs, meeting no resistance. (Click here to read about another time Finch chased and caught a suspect; and click here to read about a horrifying experience he’d had just three nights before the Farnam Courts chase, when he watched a wanted man shoot himself in the head in a soccer field.)
Gartner radioed Macuirzynski, who was running toward the scene, to return to grab the tossed gun. It turned out to be a Hi-Point 9mm Luger. The handguard had broken from being tossed; that toss had apparently caused the gun to misfire. The cops found a spent shell casing nearby.
The gun landed below an open window. Before wrapping up the case, Gartner and Macuirzynski knocked on nearby doors; everyone was OK.
“We were ecstatic,” Gartner said. “It’s one of the best things you can as a police officer—take a firearm off the street that didn’t harm anyone.”
He knows about that: Gartner has a reputation for catching gunmen and confiscating guns, even if he hadn’t previously been shot at in the line of duty. He confiscated 10 guns in one three-month stretch. (Read about that here in a story entitled “Gun Grabs 101.”)
“They don’t have eyes, the bullet,” Gartner said of the round that misfired in Farnam Courts. “It could have had my name on it the other night. It didn’t.”
After they finished the job, Macuirzynski’s mind kept racing. He replayed the incident in his head to see what he had learned.
One thing he did right: Radioing promptly and clearly for help while backing up Gartner on the chase.
One thing he saw Gartner do right: Instantly picking up on non-verbal cues. Gartner had zeroed in on the man with the braids getting the nudges, then acting suspicious.
“Derek had the jump on the guy,” Macuirzynski said. “He saw it this time. I’m not going to miss it” next time.
As usual, Macuirzynski asked Gartner, “What could I have done better?”
You did just right, Gartner replied.
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
• 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
• 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
• 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
• Holly Wasilewski
• Alan Wenk
• Stephanija VanWilgen
• Michael Wuchek
• David Zannelli
• David Zaweski