Real Housewives episodes piled up on Detective Manuella Vensel’s DVR this week. She was too busy hunting down the shooters of a 16-month-old baby to come home to watch.
When somebody shot the baby, in daylight on a busy public street, most of New Haven’s detectives were too busy taking a sergeant’s promotional exam to assume the lead of the investigation.
Vensel had decided not to take the exam. Like the teacher who wants to stay in the classroom, not get kicked upstairs, Detective Vensel wants to stay in the street working cases. So instead of taking a test she suddenly found herself in charge of a case that had New Haven riveted and clamoring for justice.
“I like being a detective. I don’t like being a boss,” said Vensel [pitcuted]. “I like talking to people. You kind of lose that a little” if you get kicked upstairs.
As a result she commenced a dizzying week of morning-to-past-midnight shifts that concluded Thursday with a remarkable stream of accomplishments in which Vensel played an important role:
• With Vensel serving as lead detective, cops tracked down and arrested the two gang-bangers alleged to have shot 16-month-old Tramire Miller on his Kensington Street front porch.
• Police arrested an alleged heroin user accused of robbing three downtown banks. Vensel served as lead detective on two of those three cases, too.
• And a months-long investigation ended with two men arrested for allegedly committing a string of eight robberies of bodegas, mostly in the Hill neighborhood. Vensel didn’t lead that investigation, but she was part of the team that cracked it.
Vensel’s cats didn’t see much of her over the past week. And she didn’t get time for her favorite unwinding pastime: watching reality TV shows. Fortunately, the DVR did its job: she never knows when she’ll need to work around the clock, so she keeps it programmed and running.
Since April, Vensel has primarily worked thefts, assigned to the detective bureau’s burglary and robbery unit. That means juggling at lot of cases at once; she currently serves as the lead on about 30.
But when a major shooting occurs, like the 2:31 p.m. Kensington Street drive-by Oct. 10 that ripped a hole in 16-month-old Tramire Miller’s torso, everyone pitches in. New Haven hadn’t had a case like Tramire’s since 1994, when a drug dealer sprayed an Orchard Street living room and killed a baby girl named Danielle Taft. (Tramire survived his shooting.)
Because some cops were tied up in the sergeant’s exam, Vensel and other burglary cops were already helping out with shootings when the call about Tramire came in. They were on Stevens Street in the Hill at the scene of another shooting.
The department’s shooting task force was on Stevens Street too, and had the scene covered. So she and Detective Mike Torre headed over to Kensington.
En route, she checked in with her supervisor, Sgt. Brendan Hosey. It turned out she and Torre were the closest detectives to the emergency room at Yale-New Haven Hospital’s St. Raphael campus, where Tramire’s father had taken him. Hosey directed the pair there.
The operating room was jammed with doctors and nurses seeking to save Tramire’s life. (They succeeded; fortunately, the bullet had somehow missed vital organs as it ripped through the boy’s back and out the front.)
“It was sad. It’s not a normal thing we do here [working cases of babies getting shot], thank God,” Vensel recalled thinking. “We need to get the person who did this; this is a baby who didn’t do anything to anybody.”
Vensel could hear people crying. She learned that Tramire’s aunt Laquanna was nearby. Vensel approached her.
Laquanna was distraught, of course. “But she was holding it together,” Vensel recalled. Vensel slipped into a role she plays daily, has played pretty much since she joined the force in 2002. “You have to relax them as much as possible. You have to get them to understand our role at that point and how we want to help them.”
Laquanna told Vensel how she’d been on the porch taking care of Tramire when the shooting started. Laquanna ran into the house with the baby, still hearing shots. She saw blood on her sweatshirt. Then she saw she hadn’t been hit; Tramire had. Tramire’s father emerged from the bathroom, swooped up Tramire, rushed hm around the corner to the emergency room.
One interview down. Countless more to go.
Vensel, who’s 32, has a knack for talking to people. “I’ve always been a talker,” she said, since her school days growing up in Seymour. When Vensel’s father, a machine operator who raised her, attended parent-teacher conferences, “the biggest complaint was I talked too much.”
It was back in school that Vensel already knew she wanted to become a cop. She didn’t really know cops besides one friend of her grandfather. She doesn’t know what gave her the bug. She does know that in sixth grade at Chatfield School she “lied” when the teacher asked students to declare their career ambitions. “I said I wanted to be a teacher. I thought it was the girl thing to say.” Three boys said they wanted to become cops. “I got mad at them. I was like: ‘Them?’”
Despite what she told her teachers, Vensel never wavered from her true goal. She got her undergraduate degree in criminal science at University of New Haven; while there she interned in New Haven police’s detective division. She graduated in May 2002 and got right on the force.
And quickly carved expertise as an investigator who knew how to talk to people and follow through on cases. As a patrol officer, she spent two years assigned to the detective division’s robbery unit. She returned a year later after making detective, spending years working shootings and homicides, then narcotics. Then this spring she returned to the robbery unit.
After she finished interviewing Aunt Laquanna, Vensel received both a text message and a cell phone call. One came from Sgt. Hosey, the other from Sgt. Al Vazquez, head of the detective bureau’s major crime unit. They told her she was now the lead detective on the Tramire shooting.
Vazquez said he made that call not just because of the dearth of available detectives who usually work shootings but also because of Vensel’s background. He knew she had worked homicides and shootings in the past. And “she’s very good at keeping track of all the cases we’re doing. She’s a pro at being able to manage cases and triage cases.”
Then there’s the verbal agility: “She’s articulate. She can speak to people, different witnesses, perpetrators. She does a good job of soliciting confessions and getting adversarial witnesses to cooperate with us. I think it’s her natural personality. She’s just a natural talker.”
After getting the assignment as lead detective, Vensel spent the rest of the afternoon talking and watching.
She started talking with Tramire’s father Timothy at the hospital. He was too upset; she’d catch up with him later. Now that she was the lead detective, she would be a point person for the parents during the investigation.
Vensel headed to the scene to check in with the Bureau of Identification cops collecting evidence, to scan the surroundings for a visual context.
She spoke to the manager of a market down the block where the Kensington Street shooting incident had begun. It turned out that Kensington Street-based Tre Bloods members had traveled to the Hill earlier in the day allegedly to shoot at members of the Hill-based Grape Street Crips gang on Stevens Street. Now Crips had driven to the Kensington area allegedly seeking revenge. They spotted a Blood at the market. The Blood raced through the store, out the back, through back yards toward Kenginston. The Crips drove to Kensington, spotted two Bloods, started firing (hitting Tramire instead).
In those crucial first three hours, Vensel and other detectives talked to relatives and witnesses who got them started on the trail of known gang members and other witnesses crucial to the investigation.
That night, everyone gathered in the police department’s third-floor detective division to compare information. Vensel wasn’t “in charge.” She wasn’t “the boss.” Sgt. Vazquez was. Vensel’s job was keeping track—of who was learning what about the case, who was taking care of what.
She made lists. The most important list, complete with photos, came from patrol cops from the Dwight neighborhood who, thanks to a new emphasis on walking beat-style community policing, personally knew local players, their nicknames, where they hang out. Dwight walking cop Carlos Conceicao in particular has been a font of such info for detectives in the past; he was assigned to work with the detectives on this case. He and Dwight District Manager Sgt. Rob Criscuolo provided Vensel with a veritable who’s who’s directory by the time everyone gathered again in the detective division Thursday morning.
Vensel caught three and a half hours of sleep between that meeting and going home earlier in the morning. She’d worked straight since 8 a.m. Wednesday.
Armed with the info, she and the other detectives fanned out across the city to conduct interviews, follow leads, or hole up in the detective division at 1 Union Ave. with key players brought in by patrol. Vensel’s interviewing chops were put to the test. She would end up working 16-hour shifts Thursday and Friday, even longer on Saturday, from 8 a.m. to 3 a.m.
That’s because Saturday was a big night: Police arrested one of the two alleged shooters and found an gun allegedly used in the shooting at his home—near the Tramire’s porch. Which was ironic, since he allegedly belongs to the Hill-based Crips, in another neighborhood.
“That happens a lot,” Vensel observed. “These kids can’t control where their families move.” (Indeed, such a move from Kensington to the Hill began a series of attacks that led to the May murder of Tyrell Trimble, according to his dad. Police believe that ongoing feud was also at the root of the drive-by shooting that caught Tramire in the crossfire last week.)
While she was pleased about the first arrest, “you can’t say you were relieved,” Vensel said. “There’s still more work to be done. There’s still more people to talk to” to support the arrest, to support the arrest of a second suspect (who was already in jail on an unrelated charge), and to track down more suspects.
And, as lead detective on the case, she had data to prepare. Mountains of it She ended up spending 10 hours Sunday pulling together the case incident report due in court Monday for the first arrestee. She left work after midnight again. With no time to catch up on her reality shows; she had to be back in at 8 a.m. Monday.
A Bravo Break
She appeared, in the background, during a Monday press conference announcing the arrests. She stood amid of phalanx of cops to the right of the podium (pictured) where the bosses and Tramire’s parents addressed the cameras.
Holding his baby, dad Tim Miller thanked the police for, basically, “protecting” him from seeking revenge while they took care of business.
Then Vensel got back to work on the case.
She was following up around 4 p.m. Tuesday when a call came over the radio about an unrelated case: Someone held up the First Niagara bank at Church and Elm Streets.
That got Vensel wondering. She had recently served as lead detective on the case of a man who had held up two other bank branches within a block of that branch. She had succeeded in convincing some key people to talk in that case, too, according to the arrest warrant affidavit filed in that case; she had obtained photos of the suspect, gotten a background on his alleged drug habit, learned he had fled to New Jersey, where U.S. marshals were looking for him.
I wonder, Vensel thought, if he’s back. Did he just rob First Niagara?
The next day detectives showed her surveillance video stills from the incident. Yep, that was he. No doubt. A day later, marshals caught up with the suspect in a closet on Orchard Street.
Meanwhile, the police arrested the two men allegedly responsible for the string of bodega robberies. That meant Vensel had another press conference to attend on Friday morning.
But then came Thursday, a day like none other for the past week. Thursday was a day off.
The DVR was full. New Haven’s real Cop of the Week caught up with those missed episodes of Real Housewives of New Jersey, Real Housewives of New York, and Real Housewives of Miami. On Bravo.
Read other installments in the Independent’s “Cop of the Week” series:
• Shafiq Abdussabur
• Craig Alston & Billy White Jr.
• James Baker
• Lloyd Barrett
• Maneet Bhagtana
• Paul Bicki
• Paul Bicki (2)
• Sheree Biros
• Scott Branfuhr
• Dennis Burgh
• Anthony Campbell
• Rob Clark & Joe Roberts
• Sydney Collier
• Carlos Conceicao and Josh Kyle
• David Coppola
• Roy Davis
• Joe Dease
• Milton DeJesus
• Brian Donnelly
• Anthony Duff
• Robert DuPont
• Jeremie Elliott and Scott Shumway
• Bertram Etienne
• Martin Feliciano & Lou DeCrescenzo
• Paul Finch
• Jeffrey Fletcher
• Renee Forte
• Marco Francia
• William Gargone
• William Gargone & Mike Torre
• Derek Gartner
• Derek Gartner & Ryan Macuirzynski
• 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
• John Kaczor & Alex Morgillo
• Peter Krause
• Peter Krause (2)
• Amanda Leyda
• Rob Levy
• Anthony Maio
• Steve McMorris
• Juan Monzon
• Chris Perrone
• Ron Perry
• Joe Pettola
• Diego Quintero and Elvin Rivera
• Stephanie Redding
• Tony Reyes
• David Rivera
• Luis & David Rivera
• Luis Rivera (2)
• Salvador Rodriguez
• Salvador Rodriguez (2)
• Brett Runlett
• David Runlett
• Allen Smith
• Marcus Tavares
• Martin Tchakirides
• Stephan Torquati
• Gene Trotman Jr.
• Kelly Turner
• Lars Vallin (& Xander)
• John Velleca
• Holly Wasilewski
• Alan Wenk
• Stephanija VanWilgen
• Matt Williams
• Michael Wuchek
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