Rivera Looks To The Left

Paul Bass PhotoThe other cops checked out potential suspects at the basketball courts where a shoot-out had just occurred. Arriving in an unmarked car, Officer David Rivera focused on a man down the street—who kept looking over his shoulder.

Rivera knew that look.

He had a hunch. He followed it.

That hunch would lead him to a nearby hotel room, up a ladder to a rooftop, and to a Smith & Wesson and five “eight balls” of crack.

Rivera ended up two days later in the chief’s office, receiving personal congratulations for helping make an arrest possible. He got it for performing the kind of split-second task cops are trained to do as a matter of course, the kind of small maneuver that doesn’t make it into police blotter reports but does help make cases.

He checked the periphery. Looking away from the action, it turned out, proved as important as scoping the scene itself.

“It’s something an experienced cop knows to do,” said Rivera’s boss in the department’s Narcotics Unit, Lt. Jeff Hoffman. “And he did it well.”

Rivera did it around 4:45 p.m. on Monday.

He was sitting in an unmarked car on Whalley Avenue at the time, doing surveillance on a possible murder and/or drug-dealing suspect. A call came over the radio from an officer at the McConaughy Terrace projects in West Hills: it looked like a fight was brewing.

Rivera put the car in gear, headed to West Hills. On the way a dispatcher reported that gunfire had broken out.

It turned out men had gotten out of two cars right at the South Genessee Street basketball courts and playground and fired some 20 shots. Right in front of little kids.

When he arrived on scene, in about three minutes, Rivera didn’t know all that yet. He did know that officers in uniform were already in the middle of the action, seeing if anyone still there matched descriptions of the shooters, making sure the kids were safe.

So Rivera looked elsewhere as he cruised by in his unmarked car. He looked to the left.

“I spot a guy, as he’s walking away, keeps looking of his shoulder toward where the gunfire took place,” Rivera recalled in an interview Thursday. He tried to hit one of the side roads.”

Rivera took a quick look, registered a description in case he lost him: Male teen, African-American, in tan khaki pants, white T-shirt, turquoise blue baseball cap.

Rivera kept driving away, then turned around. He was pretty sure the teen—who by now had turned onto Victory Drive—hadn’t recognized his car. “You’re going to burn that car” if you jump out, Rivera said. “If you jump out of a car, they know if they see that car, there’s a cop” inside. Like other undercover officers, Rivera switches cars from a rental agency once the cover’s blown. He had just turned one in. He was trying Monday not to blow the cover on this one yet.

Turning onto Valley Street, Rivera spotted the teen again. Still walking fast. Still turning his head back, over and over again, looking for cops. Rivera kept his cruising speed, didn’t slow down, lest he tip off the teen. He called for uniformed cops to come stop and question the man.

A motorcycle cop came toward the intersection of Valley and Pond Lily. The teen noticed him, sped up, made it to the Econolodge across the street. Now double-parked at the corner, Rivera watched him climb an exterior staircase to the second level. Rivera noticed which room the teen entered.

Soon Rivera and other officers were knocking at the door.

A young man named Hajee responded. Two young men were with them, including the fleeing teen. Hajee said the room was his. He signed a form allowing the cops to search inside.

Rivera’s radar worked again. He headed to the bathroom window. He pulled aside the curtain, saw bars that would prevent someone from walking out onto the roof—but wouldn’t prevent someone from reaching arms through. Rivera spotted a .38 Smith & Wesson and the five eight-balls of crack base insdide plastic bags, each worth $100 to $125 for sale, then $10 for each of the 20 to 25 bags sold on the street once it’s cut up and sold.

If it makes it to the street. This stuff didn’t. The officers handcuffed the suspects, booked them on drug charges. (The gun wasn’t reported stolen.) Rivera went outside and, with a boost from two fellow officers, climbed onto the roof and walked over to the evidence to guard them until members of the department’s Bureau of Identification showed up.

Officers also found spent shell casings and live ammunition in the room. Someone had been shooting the gun. It’s unclear whether the police will be able to tie the gun to the shooting earlier on the basketball courts; an investigation is ongoing.

Rivera, who’s 44, has been on the job 15 years; he’s one of three Rivera brothers on the force. (Read about the others here and here.) They grew up in Fair Haven. Dave learned from his father how to fish when he was 10. He still fishes in New Haven Harbor on his off time, when he’s not fishing for suspected criminals fleeing in his peripheral vision.

Like the teen he caught up with Monday. When Rivera was done, that teen and his two companions at the motel, who have other drug and weapons charges pending against them, were locked up. A gun that could have hurt somebody was off the streets. That felt good, Rivera said. It’s why he does his job.

Plus, he didn’t have to return his car to the rental agency.

Read other installments in the Independent’s “Cop of the Week” series:

Shafiq Abdussabur
James Baker
Lloyd Barrett
Maneet Bhagtana
Sheree Biros
Paul Bicki
Scott Branfuhr
Dennis Burgh
Rob Clark & Joe Roberts
Sydney Collier
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
Peter Krause
Peter Krause (2)
Amanda Leyda
Rob Levy
Anthony Maio
Steve McMorris
Juan Monzon
Chris Perrone
Diego Quintero and Elvin Rivera
Stephanie Redding
Tony Reyes
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

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posted by: HhE on March 23, 2012  5:37pm

My friend on the Hartford PD was right:  cops and teachers have the same job.  Only bad students monitor teachers monitoring them, good students are too busy doing their work. 

Good hunting Officer Rivera, and thank you.