Officer Matt Williams got one of the biggest rewards that can come from doing his job right: two words from a 67-year-old woman who’d been traumatized outside the front door of her apartment by a gun-wielding PCP head.
“Thank you,” Helen Abney told Williams.
Abney (at right in photo with Williams) spoke those words the other day two hours after a man followed her to her door at the Prescott Bush senior public-housing complex on County Street, put a gun to her head, and made off with her pocketbook.
She spoke the words after Williams and two fellow officers made quick work of tracking down her attacker and put him in handcuffs.
Williams, a Dixwell neighborhood patrol officer who’s 29 and grew up wanting to be a cop like his state trooper stepdad, is known for his speed. In his first four years on the force, he has already made a reputation for chasing after younger troublemakers—and catching up to them. “He’s the fastest officer I’ve seen in years. He can run his tail off,” remarked his boss, top Dixwell cop Sgt. Donnie Harrison. (“Usually when I chase someone, I catch them,” Williams himself allowed.)
And Williams has had his hand in some successful higher-profile cases, including an arrest the other day in a kidnapping.
In the case that elicited Abney’s two words, Williams didn’t run after anybody. He didn’t outsmart a hijacker or find himself at the center of a case made for the 11 o’clock news.
He worked fast, as the lead investigator along with two colleagues, on the kind of call that often doesn’t lead to an easy resolution or land in the headlines. The officers did their job the way they were trained to do it, with the benefit of knowing the people in the community they police.
To Helen Abney, that made all the difference.
The call came in at 3:21 p.m. Williams had just left line-up to begin his shift. He headed right to Abney’s apartment.
A retired folder (American Linen, Monarch Laundry) and Rockbestos factory worker, and the grandmother of seven, Abney had enjoyed a quiet life at Prescott Bush. Until this encounter. Never before had someone put a gun to her head.
When Williams arrived, she was shaken. “So I waited a couple of minutes” before asking her questions, Williams recalled. “In a situation like that I want to be as calm as possible.” Fellow Dixwell Officer Robert Hayden was with him. (Read about Hayden here.)
“I was very upset,” Abney recalled. “They were very polite and patient with me.”
Still, time was of the essence. Abney told the officers what happened: She was returning from the corner store. She passed the security desk at the front door and went upstairs to her apartment. A heavy-set man with close-cropped hair and a red shirt and blue jeans followed her upstairs.
“Grandma! Grandma!” the man kept calling to Abney.
She ignored him. She figured he was visiting his grandmother somewhere in the building.
She made it to her front door. Before she got inside, he brandished a black handgun. He put it to her head. He demanded the purse she was carrying. He pulled the purse from her, ran off. The purse had $300 in it plus her checkbook.
Williams asked Abney if she’d be able to identify the man. Yes, she said.
Next Williams spoke with the security guard on duty. She showed him the log: The intruder had signed in as “Robert Staton,” said he was visiting a woman on the first floor. He got through.
The security guard said she, too, could identify the man.
The complex has security cameras. The security manager showed the officers footage from the grounds and the lobby from the time of the man’s entrance. There he was—and Williams recognized him. He and other Dixwell cops encounter the man regularly on the street, usually strung out on PCP or other substances, causing disturbances. He’s 32 years old. His name’s not Robert Staton. He’s been convicted of offenses ranging from burglary to assault to breach of peace at least five times since 2004. His most recent arrest, for second-degree larceny and breach of peace, was on Aug. 8. Williams concluded he mugged Abney in the hopes of scoring money for drugs.
Hayden knew where the man lives nearby in Dixwell. So he and Williams went there first. No luck. They have often encountered him hanging out at Dixwell and Divison, so they headed there next. No sign of him.
They contacted Officer Christopher Cameron with the suspect’s description, asked him to keep out an eye. Sure enough, Cameron soon found a man who matched the description outside the Canterbury Gardens complex a block from Hillhouse High School on Sherman Parkway.
Williams returned to Helen Abney’s apartment. He asked her and the security guard to accompany him to Sherman Parkway to see if the cops had the right guy. Williams knew that could unnerve Abney.
“I was afraid,” Abney recalled. “I though he might come after me.”
“For us to arrest him,” Williams explained to her, “we have to make a positive identification.”
Abney sat in the front passenger seat of Williams’ cruiser, the security guard in back, on the way to Canterbury Gardens.
Dusk was falling. Williams stopped close enough for his passengers to view the suspect in double handcuffs on the sidewalk. He flipped on his “takedowns,” white lights that would block the suspect from being able to peer inside to see the passengers.
“Do you recognize him?” Williams asked Abney.
“Yes I do,” she responded.
“Where do you recognize him from?”
“He’s the man that robbed me.”
The security guard, too, made a positive identification. They didn’t have to get out of the car; Williams drove them back to Prescott.
The man in the red T-shirt and blue jeans was charged with first-degree robbery and second-degree larceny (felonies) as well as criminal trespass. He hasn’t entered a plea yet; his next scheduled court date. He remains behind bars on a $100,000 bond.
Back at Prescott, Williams walked Abney to her room. He asked her to fill out a victim account statement. She did.
Before leaving, he asked if she had other questions.
“Thank you,” she told Williams. “For everything.”
Police did not recover Abney’s purse or money. They did make a priceless recovery: her sense of safety.
“I was surprised and overwhelmed, and happy,” Abney said Thursday about the suspect’s speedy arrest and the way Williams and his colleagues dealt with her. “They should be commended.”
Twenty years from now, the prompt arrest of the man who called himself Robert Staton may not be the episode Matt Williams mentions first if someone asks him about his most dramatic or memorable case.
But, Williams noted, it’s not every day that you find someone right away after he terrifies an older woman. “This was exciting,” he said. “It was a good day. It makes [the job] worth it. I wouldn’t rather be doing anything else.”
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
• 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
• Michael Wuchek
• David Zannelli
• David Zaweski