Right Place, Right Time—& Sharp Eyes
by Paul Bass | Jul 24, 2014 3:47 pm
Posted to: Legal Writes, Downtown, Cop of the Week
Officer Arpad Tolnay said he “got lucky” and ended up catching two alleged carjackers believed to have attacked a Yale doctor.
He was stopping at Dunkin Donuts at Chapel and Park Street for his routine mid-afternoon cup of coffee (“light with a ton of sugar”).
He just happened to spot two teens with hooded sweatshirts crossing the street. He just happened to match their appearances with that of two suspects he’d been looking for. He just happened to stop them and discover a trail of evidence, based at first on a sports insignia on a key chain, that allegedly tied them to the attack and carjacking days earlier.
At least that’s how Tolnay (pictured above) described his actions Thursday in a conversation over—yes, turbo-sweetened coffee.
He was at the right time at the right place, he insisted. He benefited from some fortuitous breaks.
“Listen. Honest to God. Everybody is like ‘great job!’ Did I get extremely lucky? Yes. I can’t imagine that there isn’t another officer who wouldn’t have done the same thing.”
Tolnay’s superiors disagree that he simply got lucky. They say that his apprehension—as well as another collar he made a day earlier of an alleged rapist—demonstrate a keen combination of observation powers, “street sense,” and dot-connecting that Tolnay has honed in his 16 years as a New Haven patrol officer.
The alleged carjacker’s apprehension took place last Thursday. Hear out Tolnay’s description of how he followed the trail, then decide for yourself who’s right.
The trail began at the University Towers apartments on York Street at 9 a.m. Thursday.
Earlier that morning, upon coming to work, a manager there had noticed a male and a female teenager hanging out by the George Street parking lot the complex shares with the Madison Towers apartments. It was a hot summer morning. Yet they were dressed in hooded sweatshirts, walking up and down the block. Three days earlier, shortly before 11 p.m., a pair of young people had attacked the doctor in the two-level parking garage next to Walgreens directly across George Street from the towers. The attackers stole his car keys and made off with his blue 2007 Honda; Yale police later recovered the car, but not the keys to the car, elsewhere in town. (The doctor was not injured.)
The University Towers manager asked employees to keep an eye, and a camera, on the pair.
When Tolnay arrived two hours later, he reviewed a 15-minute security video. It showed the pair pacing, eying the block. It showed a woman driving a sedan into the two-story garage. It showed the male suddenly run into the garage after her. It showed the female teen follow, stop at the ramp, look around, then follow.
An apartment complex employee followed the pair, asked them to leave the area. Which they did.
Tolnay got a good look at the pair from the video. He reasoned that they might have indeed been the same teens who committed the earlier incident. He wondered whether they were following the car not to make a random attack but because they believed the car was the same one they’d previously hijacked. Perhaps they’d previously ditched the car out of fear of being caught and now, keys still in hand, sought to reclaim it.
It was a theory anyway.
The rest of the day, Tolnay kept an eye out for the pair. He made the spot around 2 p.m. as he pulled up to the Dunkin Donuts. (For the record, he emphasized, he does not order a doughnut on that daily caffeine run.)
“I see a hood up. I see a kid. He’s got a grey hoodie and black sweatpants,” just as in the video, Tolnay recalled. “He’s holding a female’s hand who’s wearing a black hooded sweatshirt and yoga pants,” just as in the video.
He turned right on Chapel, parked, called for backup, then exited his cruiser.
“Excuse me. Can you come here for just a second?” Tolnay recalled asking.
He immediately noticed the boy’s hair was unkempt. He had no shirt under his sweatshirt. And he looked quite young.
“Are you guys runaways? Are you homeless?” he asked.
“Listen. You guys match a description of people who were hanging out a parking garage,” Tolnay continued.
“Oh yeah. We were there because my father was there,” the male teen responded.
“OK. Listen,” Tolnay persisted. “I saw the video. You were running up behind a car into the garage.”
“I just wanted to see what the car looked like,” the young man insisted.
Tolnay checked his ID with the police records division. The last name and birth date (with a different first name) matched those of a 16-year-old from North Carolina reported missing in the New Haven area. Tolnay asked the teen about that.
“Yeah. That’s my grandmother. She put me out there. I’m staying with my father” on Garden Street.
Police procedure requires taking into custody a teen reported missing. Before Tolnay did that, he asked the teen if he had anything in his pocket. He produce a key fob for an “expensive Honda.” It had the insignia of a sports team. Tolnay instantly recognized it as the insignia of the New York Islanders—a hockey team he and his parents ardently rooted for during Tolnay’s childhood.
“You’re a big hockey fan? New York Islanders fan? From North Carolina?” Tolnay asked.
“Yeah! Oh yeah!”
Just then, Tolnay happened to see a Yale cop drive by. He flagged the officers down. He asked the officer for help in obtaining information about the Yale police’s recovery of the stolen Honda.
The officer made a call, reported that the car had New York plates. And hockey equipment stolen from it.
It didn’t take a genius, Tolnay said, to wonder what a “16-year-old kid who looks homeless” was doing at that moment with a Honda key on a hockey key chain.
“Outstanding” Police Work
Officers took the pair to headquarters for questioning. (Police had recently arrested the same teens for alleged shoplifting at the Whalley Avenue Stop & Shop.) Meanwhile, a detective took the Honda key to the stolen car (which was still impounded). Voila: It was indeed the key to the car.
Thanks to Tolnay’s work, detectives are in the midst of putting together an arrest warrant for the pair in connection with the carjacking, according to Sgt. Manmeet Colon of the department’s investigative division.
It turns out that the day before spotting the teens, Tolnay had another “lucky” break. He was responding to a sexual assault complaint in a building by the corner of Ella Grasso Boulevard and Chapel Street. A man had allegedly demanded sex from his girlfriend, then beat and raped her when she refused. He had since left the complex. At one point Tolnay stood outside the complex amid a group of people who had gathered there. He noticed a woman walking by, speaking into a cell phone. He heard her make a remark about somebody “lying about what happened. Tolnay wondered if the woman might be speaking with the suspect. He asked the woman if that was so—and it was indeed the case. The woman agreed to put Tolnay on the phone with the suspect. Tolnay told the suspect that he’d been hearing all sorts of versions of what happened; he asked the suspect to return to the scene to tell his side of the story, so Tolnay would not have to file a report based on just one side. The man agreed. He showed up, told his side. The story didn’t add up, Tolnay said; police ended up charging the man with the rape.
“Pure luck,” Tolnay said of his work that day. Just as in the case of the alleged carjackers.
No. It was “outstanding” police work, argued Tolnay’s boss, top Dwight cop Sgt. Stephan Torquati. In both cases.
Torquati spoke of the way Tolnay “talks to folks.” “Some officers might not have put two and two together seeing the New York Islanders key chain,” he said. “Different officers bring different approaches. Arp’s got this uncanny ability to communicate on many levels. He speaks multiple languages. He’s got his own street sense.”
“Clearly,” Torquati added, “he pays attention.”
Read other installments in the Independent’s “Cop of the Week” series:
• Shafiq Abdussabur
• Craig Alston & Billy White Jr.
• James Baker
• Lloyd Barrett
• Manmeet Bhagtana (Colon)
• Paul Bicki
• Paul Bicki (2)
• Sheree Biros
• Scott Branfuhr
• Dennis Burgh
• Anthony Campbell
• Darryl Cargill & Matt Wynne
• Elizabeth Chomka & Becky Fowler
• Rob Clark & Joe Roberts
• Sydney Collier
• Carlos Conceicao
• Carlos Conceicao (2)
• Carlos Conceicao and Josh Kyle
• David Coppola
• Mike Criscuolo
• Roy Davis
• Joe Dease
• Milton DeJesus
• Milton DeJesus (2)
• Brian Donnelly
• Anthony Duff
• Robert DuPont
• Jeremie Elliott and Scott Shumway
• Jeremie Elliott (2)
• Jose Escobar Sr.
• Bertram Ettienne
• Bertram Ettienne (2)
• Martin Feliciano & Lou DeCrescenzo
• Paul Finch
• Jeffrey Fletcher
• Renee Forte
• Marco Francia
• Michael Fumiatti
• William Gargone
• William Gargone & Mike Torre
• Derek Gartner
• Derek Gartner & Ryan Macuirzynski
• Tom Glynn & Matt Williams
• Jon Haddad & Daniela Rodriguez
• Michael Haines & Brendan Borer
• Michael Haines & Brendan Borer (2)
• 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
• Jillian Knox
• Peter Krause
• Peter Krause (2)
• Amanda Leyda
• Rob Levy
• Anthony Maio
• Dana Martin
• Reggie McGlotten
• Steve McMorris
• Juan Monzon
• Chris Perrone
• Ron Perry
• Joe Pettola
• Diego Quintero and Elvin Rivera
• Ryan Przybylski
• Stephanie Redding
• Tony Reyes
• David Rivera
• Luis & David Rivera
• Luis Rivera (2)
• Salvador Rodriguez
• Salvador Rodriguez (2)
• Brett Runlett
• David Runlett
• Betsy Segui & Manmeet Colon
• Allen Smith
• Marcus Tavares
• Martin Tchakirides
• David Totino
• Stephan Torquati
• Gene Trotman Jr.
• Kelly Turner
• Lars Vallin (& Xander)
• Dave Vega & Rafael Ramirez
• Earl Reed
• John Velleca
• Manuella Vensel
• Holly Wasilewski
• Holly Wasilewski (2)
• Alan Wenk
• Stephanija VanWilgen
• Elizabeth White & Allyn Wright
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• Michael Wuchek (2)
• David Zannelli
• Cailtin Zerella
• Caitlin Zerella, Derek Huelsman, David Diaz, Derek Werner, Nicholas Katz, and Paul Mandel
• David Zaweski