Hiking Through Snow, Cops Subdue Suicidal Man

Paul Bass PhotoThe man had a gun to his head. He threatened to pull the trigger. Police rushed to the scene—until the snow blocked their path.

That tense episode took place early Sunday.

It ended with everyone safe.

Police got the call at 12:10 a.m.: A man in his 40s was visiting his parents in the Westville Manor public-housing complex. He ripped the phone out of the wall, started tearing up the apartment. He was out of control.

At one point he grabbed his parents’ 9-millimeter Smith & Wesson pistol. Pointing it at his head, he said he was going to pull the trigger.

Six cops headed over. About a quarter mile from the complex they couldn’t drive any farther, thanks to Winter Storm Nemo. The snow was too high.

They got out of their cruisers, hurried over on foot. They set up a perimeter outside the apartment.

They sent a text message to the parents’ cell phone in the hopes he would answer. It turned out the man making the threats is deaf and mute; no one answered the phone

Sgt. Derek Gartner (a two-time Independent cop of the week) and Officer Francisco Ortiz positioned themselves a couple of doors down, maybe 25 feet, to stay out of sight but within reach. They were concerned he might fire if he still had the gun in his hand, according to Gartner.

“it was a crazy scene, especially with all the snow,” Gartner recalled later.

The disturbed man came outside, looked around, didn’t see anyone.

“He made a moaning sound, maybe trying to talk,” Gartner said. “We saw him and heard him.”

The man started to walk back inside.

At that point Gartner and Ortiz rushed after him. The man started closing the door; before it shut, the officers grabbed him, subdued him without incident. The gun was nearby, not in his hand.

The police didn’t arrest the man. Instead they decided to have him committed for psychological examination at Yale-New Haven Hospital.

But they had to get him there.

“The biggest nightmare was trying to get him out of there,” Gartner said.

Earlier in the day the man had left the house after arguing with his mother and stayed out in the snow for six hours. Now he indicated he may have had frostbite. He indicated his foot hurt; he couldn’t walk. The man used sign language to let his mother know that information; the mother communicated that to the officers.

“We were going to try to carry him through the snow. But it was impossible,” Gartner said.

An ambulance crew arrived on foot. Its members couldn’t carry him, either.

Finally firefighters walked up with a stretcher. The firefighters and ambulance workers were able to carry the stretcher the quarter-mile and transport him to the hospital.

Police also took custody of the gun.

Four Hours Later ... Police seized another gun around 4:30 a.m. Sunday. They were called to the Church Street South housing project on a report of a dangerous man with gun inside an apartment. The man fled before the police arrived. But officers en route saw the man and arrested him on various charges, including violation of probation, according to Lt. Jeff Hoffman. They also found the handgun he’d been brandishing nearby; its serial numbers had been obliterated.

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posted by: Claudia Herrera on February 11, 2013  10:16am

Thank you very much Sgt. Derek and officer Francisco for your effort and hard job.

Some of us we are frustrating and complaining about we can not go to work (including me) because of the mountains of snow and here you are literally run extra miles doing your job.

posted by: Gretchen Pritchard on February 11, 2013  10:31am

I wonder if it’s possible to imprint serial numbers on a gun in such a way that they can’t be obliterated without disabling the gun.

Oh, never mind; the NRA will probably make it illegal even if it is possible.

posted by: jim1 on February 11, 2013  11:06am

#1 who owned the 9mm and who was the deaf mute?  How did he tell you his foot hurt?

#2 Serial # obliterated is a Federal Crime, bet he walks on this.

[Bass: Great questions! Thanks. I updated the story above.]

posted by: Fair and Honest on February 11, 2013  5:11pm

Bravo Garner and Ortiz!  Bravery, perseverance, and ingenuity in the face of a triple threat (storm, weapon, and a potentially imbalanced man unable to communicate).

Hats off to you both!