Duty Called—After Extra-Duty

Paul Bass Photo It seemed like a quiet night as Officer Luis Rivera headed home from a shift at Wal-Mart. He turned on the police radio in his car, just in case.

Rivera was working an extra-duty job that day. He works a lot of extra-duty jobs; he tries to get one every week or so on his days off. Especially as the holidays approach.

Even when he leaves an extra-duty shift, his work isn’t completely done. As this evening would prove.

“Like they always say: ‘24 hours a day, you’re always a police officer,’” he said. “You never know what’s happening in the city. You leave on the radio to make sure.”

The voice of fellow Officer Thomas Bendetto came over the radio moments after Rivera pulled out of the Wal-Mart lot. It was around 11 p.m. Poor reception made the voice sound scratchy. Rivera could make out a report about Benedetto needing a green Ford pick-up stopped.

Benedetto was calling from Wooster Square. Driving south on Quinnipiac Avenue, Rivera figured he wouldn’t become involved. He kept his eyes on his passing vehicles just in case.

Another report came over the radio. A passenger in the pick-up Benedetto was pursuing had apparently threatened to shoot him. (According to a subsequent police report, the pick-up’s occupant had become impatient when stopped behind Benedetto’s car while he was on a successful surveillance mission to catch car break-in artists; the driver honked his horn, then pulled away as his passenger allegedly yelled “I’ll shoot you!” at Benedetto. Soon after, while being chased, the driver momentarily stopped and the passenger stood out on the running board, “level[ing] a black shot gun and point[ing] it at us for a second” before returning to the car.)

Now Rivera was on alert. “It goes through your mind when you hear someone pulls a shotgun on a police officers, your senses come in,” Rivera recalled of the Nov. 16 incident in interview during a break this week from another off-duty job, this one at a UI construction site. “Since I’m on my way home, I’m just making sure—if he comes a certain way, I’ll assist.”

A green Ford pick-up did come his way. Rivera saw it speed east on Forbes Avenue at the intersection of Woodward Avenue.

But there was no sign of Benedetto following. Rivera, driving his personal car, pulled behind the pick-up. “I’m listening to Tommy [Benedetto on the radio]. I thought he was still behind the vehicle.”

Rivera called in a description of the pick-up to the dispatcher. He learned that Benedetto had lost the pick-up. This could be the one. Rivera pulled closer to read the license plate number. The driver didn’t appear to realize that he was being followed.

Crossing the East Haven town line on Main Street, the pick-up’s driver slowed down a bit. “Stay with the vehicle,” the dispatcher commanded.

Rivera called in an update as the driver pulled into the parking lot of an East Haven apartment complex called Green Garden Court. Rivera stopped by the entrance; he figured following into an unfamiliar lot could prove a mistake. He noticed an East Haven patrol car and a New Haven cruiser pulling up. He reached his arm out of his window and pointed the drivers into the complex. Then he followed.

The driver and passenger were still in the now-parked pick-up. The New Haven and East Haven officers approached; Rivera and fellow New Haven Officer Steven Silk headed to the driver’s side. Silk noticed a shotgun “leaning upright, positioned between the driver and passenger seats,” according to a report he later filed.

New Haven cops don’t have to reach far back to remember the danger of encountering people on the road waving guns at them. In 2006 that happened to Officer Paul Kenney. A bicyclist shot at Kenney; Kenney was lucky to avoid serious injury and remain on the beat.

But Rivera wasn’t thinking about that as he pursued and then approached the pick-up.

“You get in a situation like that, you don’t have time to be scared. You’re just trying to get the people responsible for pointing a gun at another officer,” he said. “You let your training kick in.”

Training dictated that Rivera and Silk “watch [the driver’s] hands,” see if he was listening to their commands, then “make sure you get them detained.” The driver obeyed orders. Rivera reached into the car to handcuff him. Then he and Silk placed the suspect on the ground outside the car to search him. The driver and passenger were arrested on weapons, threatening, and reckless driving charges.

Rivera returned to his car, drove home. Now he was truly off-duty. “I took a shower, went to bed—and started all over in the morning.”

Brothers On Patrol

That next morning found him back on regular duty patrolling the Hill North district. Rivera, who’s 41, has spent most of his 16 years as a city cop assigned to patrol there.

His most memorable moment on the force occurred on another extra-duty job. He was working alongside his brother Dave that night in the Church Street South project. A third Rivera brother, Elvin, is also on the force. The family grew up in Fair Haven. (Luis was the youngest of six children.) That night, Friday the 13th of October 2006, the pair heard what sounded like an explosion at the complex. They came upon a car in flames; a person was trapped inside. Luis broke the window to the locked driver’s door. The pair pulled the passenger to safety moments before the car exploded. Read about that incident here.

“Police,” Rivera said, “are never off the clock.”

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

Shafiq Abdussabur
Lloyd Barrett
Maneet Bhagtana
Paul Bicki
Scott Branfuhr
Dennis Burgh
Sydney Collier
David Coppola
Roy Davis
Joe Dease
Milton DeJesus
Brian Donnelly
Anthony Duff
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
Robin Higgins
Ronnell Higgins
Racheal Inconiglios
Paul Kenney
Hilda Kilpatrick
Peter Krause
Amanda Leyda
Anthony Maio
Steve McMorris
Juan Monzon
Stephanie Redding
Tony Reyes
Luis & David Rivera
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
Michael Wuchek
David Zannelli
David Zaweski

(To suggest an officer to be featured, contact us here.)

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posted by: pd093 on November 26, 2010  1:12pm

Nice job, but if you know the Rivera’s then this is nothing out of the normal for any of them.

posted by: fairhaven on November 29, 2010  2:22pm

Yes you are right all of the Riveras’ are top notch police officers’ keep up the good work Luis.

posted by: Ex-NHPD on November 29, 2010  7:18pm

Nice job, Luis.  Knowing the type of Cop and person you are, I was not surprised to hear that it was you who stepped up there.  And for the NHI Readers who like to pile on the NHPD when unprofessional NHPD activity occurs, and want to lump all NHPD members into the group of those who do wrong, be assured that Luis is just one of the majority of NHPD Officers who are dedicated, professional, hard working GOOD Cops.

Editorial Note for the author—In the Officer Paul Kenney incident that was cited in this article, Officer Kenney’s Attacker was not in a Motor Vehicle, nor did he shoot Officer Kenney.  The attacker was on a bicycle and he shot at, but did not hit, Officer Kenney.

[Thanks: Correctin made.]

posted by: anon on December 20, 2010  1:32am

a lot of these cops do heroic things during extra duty or off duty but it never gets noticed….. during the summer one cop caught a bank robber downtown working extra duty… ofc rivera and his brother saved a person from a fire… another officer years back was off duty and stopped person trying to beat another with a bat.. another police officer stopped a stabbing during a domestic in front of the train station. these are some of the many incidents we miss… a polioce officers is on duty 24/7 but never get credit…. good work officer rivera.