Down the block, a driver stopped short when he saw Juan Ingles’ cop car. Ingles couldn’t see the driver well; the driver couldn’t see him. Fatefully, each guessed the other’s thoughts and plotted their next moves.
Ingles (pictured above during an interview Thursday), a Fair Haven beat cop, had stopped by Poplar Street near Clay to drop off a tow slip for a fellow officer who had run out of them while on a motor vehicle detail.
It was a little after 6 p.m. when Ingles returned to his car after handing the cop the slip. He noticed the two-door grey Nissan Sentra turning left onto Poplar from Grand Avenue. Then he noticed the Sentra’s driver slam the brakes.
“That,” Ingles recalled “was suspicious to me.”
Ingles knew the driver faced a dilemma. He didn’t want to drive by the cops. But he didn’t want to arouse further suspicion. Poplar is one-way. Turning around to avoid the police would arouse suspicion.
Ingles was parked mid-block. He checked out who was inside the Nissan. He couldn’t make out too many details from that distance. But he did see two young black men, one in a white shirt, one in a dark shirt. That fit the basic outlines of the descriptions of two men whom Fair Haven’s cops had been looking for. They were believed to have committed four armed robberies in four days.
Ingles had “reasonable suspicion” to stop the car and talk to the driver and passenger, he said. But he didn’t have probable cause.
Then he noticed the Nissan’s front license plate was missing. That’s against the law. Now he had probable cause.
But “that wasn’t enough for me,” he said. “I wanted them to come closer. I wanted a better look before I stopped them.”
In part, that was because he wanted a better sense if the stop could indeed prove dangerous, whether he would need to radio for back-up.
So instead of approaching the Nissan, Ingles backed his car into a nearby driveway. “I wanted them to think they could drive freely by me.”
The Nissan’s driver responded as Ingles hoped; he drove slowly by. The driver waved at Ingles; his front-seat passenger hid his head.
“Thank you very much,” Ingles recalled thinking: Not only did he get a better look at the driver’s face. He got his rear license plate number. He ran it quickly on his car’s mobile data terminal. It came back as belonging to another car.
Now Ingles had a second violation constituting probable cause for a stop—and, unlike the missing marker infraction, an arrestable offense.
He turns on his lights, pulled out of the driveway and behind the Nissan.
The driver didn’t heed the lights. He kept driving.
“Now [he’s] disobeying an officer’s signal,” Ingles noted. “And adding to my suspicion.”
The Door-Slamming Ruse
The Nissan driver reached the intersection of Poplar and Lombard. Ingles believed he knew what the driver was thinking. He believed the driver wanted him to get out of his car.
“In my rookie years I made the mistake of getting out my car right away. They leave the area. They have speed, time and distance” on their side in that case.
Ingles, a Marine vet who’s 42, now has 11 years on the job. He doesn’t make the mistake anymore.
He did open his door on Poplar Street. “I slammed it real hard so they could hear it [and believe Ingles was exiting the cruiser]. Half the times that works.”
This was one of those times. The Nissan driver took off, turned right onto Lombard. He didn’t speed; he turned left onto Ferry with Ingles right behind him, calling in for back-up. The chase continued north on I-91.
Where the guessing game and strategizing continued.
“They don’t want to stay too long on the highway” for risk for attracting state police to the chase, Ingles remembered thinking. They approached Exit 8, Middletown Avenue. Ingles figured they’d get off there. They didn’t.
Next he figured they’d get off soon after, in North Haven, perhaps because they know the street grid there. Ingles didn’t like that idea. He doesn’t know North Haven’s streets, so he’d be at a disadvantage.
Suddenly the Nissan driver tricked him. He slammed on the brakes right on the highway, at a highway entrance ramp near Exit 8. Then he drove the wrong way on the entrance ramp, off the highway, back onto Middletown Avenue. Luckily, no one was driving onto the highway at that moment.
Ingles followed, continuing to call in updates on the cruiser’s microphone.
Help was coming: cop cars with lights flashing headed toward them north on Middletown Avenue. Ingles watched to see what the Nissan driver would do next.
The driver took a quick left onto Barnes Avenue. He led his cop pursuers past Ross Woodward School to the T intersection where Barnes ends at busy Quinnipiac Avenue—and where the driver faced another decision which Ingles hoped to anticipate.
“I’m calling [in] saying he’s probably going left.” That direction heads to North Haven, possibly promising territory for eluding New Haven cops, Turning right would lead to the traffic light at the busy Route 80 intersection. “That light,” Ingles noted, “takes forever to change.”
He called it right. The Nissan driver turned left.
Bitang Hits Taco Bell
He was burning rubber now. Ingles worried again about losing the advantage: “I’m thinking, back to North Haven. He knows North Haven!”
Instead, the Nissan driver swerved right onto Foxon Hill Road. That road eventually runs into East Haven. Was the Nissan headed there?
Nope. The driver looped around a commercial building, then returned to Quinnipiac Avenue.
“Now he does something that boggles me,” Ingles recalls: He turned left onto Quinnipiac and toward trouble—that crowded, slow Route 80 intersection.
The decision boggled Ingles’ mind because he—and presumably the driver—could see cops cars coming toward them on Quinnipiac.
“Now I’m thinking, not [whether he’s] dumb or dangerous. He’s just dangerous. No one’s going to that length because he didn’t have a [front license] plate. You’re going to that length because you have something in this car or you did something or you were about to do something put somebody in danger. There’s a gun in that car.”
And there’s a Taco Bell at that Route 80 intersection. The Nissan driver tried to swerve into the restaurant’s parking lot. He was driving too fast to make the turn; he hit the curb, popped a tire, and leaped out of the car, into the lot.
Ingles drove into the lot, watching the man run. The man climbed onto the side of a Dumpster. he reached to his waist, pulled an object, thrust it above his head. It was a semiautomatic handgun. (A .40 caliber Smith and Wesson, it would turn out.) He thrust the gun into the Dumpster, which was piled high with trash. Then he leaped off the Dumpster and resumed running.
By this time Ingles was on foot too. Back-up officers had arrived on scene. He directed one to stand by the Dumpster to make sure no one touches the contents. Then Ingles and two officers followed the fleeing suspect across Quinnipiac Avenue.
The suspect ran behind a house—straight to a “mountain” of discarded tree stumps and brush. He was cornered.
The three officers converged on him. For some reason, he reached for his waistband again, according to Ingles. At which point Ingles drew his Taser and immobilized him.
The three officers searched the suspect; he did not have another gun on him. They tried to handcuff him; the shock from the Taser wore off, and the man proceeded “to try to bite me,” Ingles said. Ingles Tased him again. The officers cuffed him, stood him up, brought him to a cruiser.
“Why did you run?” Ingles asked him.
“I don’t have a gun,” he recalled the man responded. Ingles hadn’t asked him if he had a gun.
Back in the parking lot, officers had also caught the Nissan’s passenger. And the police department’s gun-sniffing German Shepherd Bitang was already in the Dumpster, leading Officer Eddie DeJesus to the buried Smith & Wesson. The serial number had been scratched out.
The cops charged the Nissan driver, who’s 22, with 19 offenses, including altering/removing identifying marks on a firearm, failure to register a motor vehicle, driving to endanger a passenger, disobeying the cops, carrying a pistol without a permit, and operating a vehicle on the wrong side of the road. The cops also arrested the Nissan passenger.
Twelve days after the chase, the Smith & Weston was up at the state police lab.
The Nissan driver had not confessed to committing the string of robberies.
But this much was clear: Not only did Ingles get an illegal gun off the street. He got a felon with a history of robbery—the Nissan driver—off the street. As well as the Nissan’s passenger, who’s on probation for burglary.
And, Ingles reported, Fair Haven’s string of two-man armed robberies had come to an abrupt end.
Read other installments in the Independent’s “Cop of the Week” series:
• Shafiq Abdussabur
• Lloyd Barrett
• Maneet Bhagtana
• Paul Bicki
• Scott Branfuhr
• Dennis Burgh
• Rob Clark & Joe Roberts
• 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
• Herb Johnson
• Peter Krause
• Peter Krause (2)
• Amanda Leyda
• Rob Levy
• Anthony Maio
• Steve McMorris
• Juan Monzon
• Chris Perrone
• 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