The investigation had reached a dead end; Detective Chris Perrone needed a break. He looked at the 17-year-old boy sitting in the interview room, another potential eyewitness who claimed he saw nothing. Perrone reached for a long-shot trick—and hoped it would crack open the case.
For over 14 months Perrone had been leading the investigation into a 2009 murder that took place inside the downtown Sinergy Bar & Grille during a DJ dance party. A 21-year-old man named Bambaata Carr had lost his life after being stabbed 13 times during a brawl inside the club’s lower level. Three hundred or more people had been inside the club at the time. Plenty of people had participated in the brawl; many more saw it.
Perrone’s team had zeroed in early on several brawlers who may have plunged blades into Carr. But they had no physical evidence. And no one would admit to having seen it happen.
For now, the 17-year-old boy in the interrogation room wouldn’t admit to having seen it happen, either. He wouldn’t even admit to having been inside the club.
Perrone had a hunch the kid had in fact been present that night. He had a hunch the kid might talk. He seemed different from the dozens of other potential witnesses his team had interviewed. He said “yes, sir” and “no, sir.” He seemed to have a sense of right and wrong.
“I know you were there,” Perrone told the kid. “We have video surveillance of you going in with these guys.”
In fact, Perrone had no video surveillance. The club’s video system had been broken the night of the murder. But the kid didn’t know that.
By the time the interview ended, Perrone had an extensive eyewitness account of the murder, including a firsthand identification of the alleged murderer, backed up by photo identification.
Soon after, Perrone had an arrest warrant affidavit drawn up. A judge signed it. And on Thursday morning police arrested the 21-year-old man the kid identified as the alleged murderer—producing results in a case that had been given up as lost. Appearing in an orange jumpsuit, his hands and ankles cuffed, the alleged murderer was arraigned in Superior Court on Elm Street mid-day Thursday; his bond was set at $1 million.
Perrone, who learned as a high-school decathlon champ how to “keep going” amid setbacks, never gave up on the case. Even when it seemed no one would talk. Even when the cops came under public criticism for not doing enough.
The victim’s uncle, Dennis Carr, praised Perrone and the other detectives after Thursday morning’s arrest.
“They did a wonderful job. It was a wonderful job,” Carr said. He noted that the case involved the “Howard Avenue Boys,” a Hill-based gang. “It’s a blessing that the police were able to get this far. That gang ran themselves like a terrorist group—if you talk, you die.”
“This is what the public never sees,” said Perrone’s supervisor, Asst. Chief John Velleca. “This is what major crime detectives do on a daily basis in the pursuit of justice.”
What they do isn’t heroic, Perrone, a 39-year-old Massachusetts native, insisted in an interview in the third-floor investigative services division at police headquarters. They do their job, he said—and keep doing it, even when the trail turns cold.
“I Poked Him Up”
Perrone was only an hour finished with his shift when he got the call around 1 a.m. on Nov. 28, 2009. Mayhem had broken out at Club Sinergy, one of the downtown bars responsible for an outbreak of violence in the Crown Street entertainment district.
Perrone headed back into New Haven, to the scene. As a major crimes detective, he relies on patrol officers to lead him to potential witnesses and evidence when he arrives at a scene. At Sinergy he discovered quickly that he would get no immediate breakthroughs in this investigation: No video. No bouncers or bartenders or patrons who admitted to seeing who carried out the attacks. Cops found some bloody shirts that patrons had discarded before club security had shooed them from the downstairs room where the brawl took place. They also found a .25-caliber shell casing. Carr wasn’t around to report who had stabbed him 13 times. He had been taken by ambulance to Yale-New Haven Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 1:33 a.m.
After about a half an hour, Perrone and fellow detective Joseph Petola retired to police headquarters. They ran the names of the victims through databases. Carr had no criminal background, they discovered. He had a job at a not-for-profit agency helping the disabled.
Detectives in the Major Crimes Unit are assigned lead positions on investigations on a rotating basis. It was Perrone’s turn to take the helm of this case. Petola worked alongside him.
They left the department later that morning tired “but not defeated,” Perrone said. “Every detective wants to get that lead off the bat. When you don’t get it, you know you’re in for the long haul. We always try to stay optimistic. We knew there were 300, 350 people in the club. Now it was a matter of seeing who was there, who had an opportunity to see something.”
That who-was-there list started growing after Perrone and his team returned from a few hours sleep. They gathered at the Hamden home of Dennis Carr, the uncle who raised Bambaata. (Bambaata’s mother was dead, his father “not in the picture.”) The detectives learned the names of friends who had accompanied Bambaata to Sinergy. They also learned from the family the names of people being circulated on the street as possibly responsible for the killing.
“There are always two investigations,” Perrone said: the official one, run by the cops; and the unofficial one, conducted by the family. The cops hope to learn as much as they can from the family.
In this case, they learned that two fights had taken place that night in Sinergy. One happened on the first floor. The second, which ended in Bambaata Carr’s death, took place in the basement level. Both fights pitted young men from the Hill against young men, like Carr, from the Newhallville area straddling the New Haven-Hamden border. Both brawls apparently involved Carr and three or four Hill men, one of them nicknamed “Rash.” It was unclear what started the fights; the two neighborhood groups had an ongoing beef.
Perrone’s team of four detectives drew up a picture board of the suspects. They set about tracking down members of the two neighborhood groups. Over the next few months they brought them, one at a time, to the detective division for interviews. They held off on interviewing Rash until they could compile more evidence.
Their interviewees admitted in many cases to being present at the club. Some admitted seeing a fight. None admitted seeing who stabbed Carr. The detectives obtained a few firsthand and secondhand accounts of Rash allegedly taking responsibility; he supposedly showed one person a “silver Swiss Army style knife with a three to four inch blade” with which he had “poked [Carr] up.”
One person who admitted hanging with Carr that night agreed to give Perrone a statement on Nov. 29, the day after the murder. Before Perrone turned on a recording machine, the detective would later write in an arrest warrant affidavit, the witness “stated several times that if he tells us who was responsible for the homicide it would not matter because things will get taken care of in the streets anyway.” This witness did admit seeing the fight up close. He saw “individuals punching Bambaata Carr all over his body.” But weapons? He insisted he didn’t see any weapons.
By Feb. 9, 2010, Perrone decided it was time to try to talk to Rash, the prime suspect. He contacted a counselor at Manson Youth Institution in Cheshire, where Rash was locked up on an unrelated charge. He put in a request to interview Rash. A counselor called back last week with Rash’s response: Not talking.
Throughout the investigation, Perrone stayed in touch with Dennis Carr, three to four times a week in the early stages. Carr, a Christian minister, was always polite with the detectives. But he was also frustrated. He wanted to see an arrest made.
A prominent fellow clergyman, Rev. Boise Kimber, brought Carr to City Hall on Dec. 17 to communicate Carr’s concerns directly to the mayor and police chief, who in turn assured them they were taking the investigation seriously. Carr left reassured. (Read about that here.)
By the following July, family members went public with their frustrations that the case still hadn’t been solved in a story in the Register, although Dennis Carr made a point of praising Perrone’s dedication.
For his part, Perrone couldn’t divulge all the details of the case to the family for fear of jeopardizing the investigation. He tried to keep family in the loop, to know the case remained active. He said he understands how without specific facts, family members can grow frustrated with police when an investigation drags on.
“I would feel the same way,” he said.
And he was frustrated.
“You don’t want to put the case away,” he recalled thinking. “We know it’s a solvable case. This isn’t like a body you find in the woods. We know there are a lot of eyes on this incident. We knew we had the right group of guys. We just didn’t know who did it. It’s a matter of time.”
Still, as the months dragged on, the trail was growing colder.
The Big Break
Until Feb. 5, 2011.
As he arrived to start his 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift, Perrone checked the day’s arrest log at the main desk in the detective bureau, to see who had been brought into the lock-up. He did that every day. When he had a hunch someone might know about the Sinergy murder, he would bring him upstairs for an interview.
He had that hunch on this day. Police had arrested a group of young men the day before in a narcotics raid on Button Street in the Hill. Perrone recognized one of the names, of a suspect believed to have been at Sinergy the night of the murder. Perrone’s crew had previously interviewed this suspect. “He had already told us to pound sand.” Perrone didn’t see the point of bringing the suspect upstairs for another interview.
Rather, he decided to try a 17-year-old boy who had been in the same room as the suspect in the Button Street raid. He didn’t recognize the name; the kid hadn’t been in trouble before.
“If you’re with him on a search warrant [case], in a location with guns and drugs, you’ve got to be pretty close to each other to be trusted with this stuff around,” Perrone reasoned. “These guys all talk when they do shootings. It gives them status in the street.”
Perrone and Officer Joseph Aurora brought the boy upstairs. Perrone read him his Miranda rights. Then he asked him if he knew who committed the Sinergy murder.
Everybody knows who did that, the boy responded. The word’s on the street. But, he insisted, he didn’t see it himself. He wasn’t at the club that night.
“Here we go again. No eyewitnesses,” Perrone thought.
But he wasn’t sure. Something about this kid seemed different from the 35 to 40 other possible eyewitnesses he’d interviewed. He was polite. He didn’t display “your typical street attitude. He was different; you could tell by talking to him. He waited to hear us out. I was surprised he was with these guys.”
So Perrone decided to “go out on a limb” and bluff. “I had no one else. This case was going on so long. I had no witnesses. I’m going to pull out all the stops.”
“I know you were there,” Perrone told the kid. “We have video surveillance of you going in with these guys.”
Unlike when testifying in court, when they’re under oath, or writing an arrest warrant, detectives are allowed to use such ploys in interviews, Perrone said.
“The kid kind of sunk down in his chair, took a deep breath, and said, ‘OK, I saw it,’” Perrone recalled.
Inside, the detective was buoyed. Outwardly, he remained straight-faced, businesslike. “I was happy. But on the other hand, I knew this kid was here on pending charges I didn’t want to jump out of my seat yet. I don’t want to show any emotion. Maybe he’s telling me stuff to tell me stuff.”
“OK,” Perrone told the teen. “Let’s start from the beginning. Tell me what happened that night.”
The boy was just 15 the night of the murder. He got into the club by slipping the bouncers at the door an extra $10 or $15. Inside, he saw the first fight erupt; he named the key participants. Afterwards he heard a member of Rash’s group declare, “It’s on after this.”
The kid estimated he was 10 feet away from Carr and Rash during the second fight, in the dimly lit club basement, illuminated by the flash of a strobe. He said Carr “was getting the best” of Rash. He said he saw Rash holding a “folding style knife,” about “four ‘fingers’” long, in his right hand. And he said he “observed [Rash] stab Carr approximately five to six times before Carr fell to the floor.”
He said all this while the detectives recorded him.
Afterwards he picked out Rash’s picture from among eight photos in an array.
The teen agreed to testify about what he saw, Perrone said. He said he offered him no deal on his other charges. At one point in the interview, Perrone said, the boy made a remark to the effect of: No one deserves to die. It doesn’t matter what neighborhood you come from.
Job’s Not Done
In his leaner days as a student in Taunton, Mass., when he went by the nickname “Gazelle” for his speed, Chris Perrone was the state high school decathlon champ. He placed second in a national competition in Kansas.
The decathlon’s 10 events stretch over two days in such competitions. Each day can last eight to 11 hours. He learned to take a long view in those competitions, Perrone said: “When you have a bad event, you’ve got to keep going to the next one.”
Perrone’s still had some “next” tasks to complete after obtaining the 17-year-old’s statement in the Sinergy murder. He spent a few more weeks chasing loose ends, about Rash, about other suspects. On April 7 he submitted an arrest warrant application for Rash on murder and reckless endangerment charges. Judge Roland Fasano signed the warrant on April 8. Rash is still locked up; he was served with the warrant on Thursday.
Perrone had another visit to pay: to Dennis Carr’s house in Hamden. A bible was open on a table as he arrived to deliver the news of the pending arrest to Bambaata’s uncle and other relatives. They were relieved to hear the news.
Perrone’s work is still not done. He has to follow the case through to trial, if there is one. The alleged murderer did not speak in court during his appearance Thursday. His public defender, Sanford Bruce, argued that while the arrest warrant contains lots of witness statements about aspects of the incident, “A lot of what each has to say contradicts the other. THere is a lot of hearsay.”
The investigation hasn’t ended; more arrests may follow. The detectives still don’t know who fired the gunshot during the fight. They don’t know for sure who else stabbed Carr. Perrone continues to hope to find out.
Meanwhile, Perrone’s working three other murder cases. Two others, a killing outside Gotham Citi and one on Munson Street, are in the post-arrest phase. One remains open: last May’s shooting of Troy Perry at the Church Street South housing complex.
“It’s going to be broken down the same way this [the Sinergy case] was,” Perrone vowed.
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
• Robert Hayden
• Robin Higgins
• Ronnell Higgins
• William Hurley & Eddie Morrone
• Racheal Inconiglios
• Paul Kenney
• Hilda Kilpatrick
• Peter Krause
• Peter Krause (2)
• Amanda Leyda
• Anthony Maio
• Steve McMorris
• Juan Monzon
• 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
• Michael Wuchek
• David Zannelli
• David Zaweski
(To suggest an officer to be featured, contact us here.)