Finally, when the 6-foot-2 16-year-old who threatened to shoot him was safely behind bars, John Kaczor got behind the wheel of his cruiser. He turned to his partner in the passenger seat, Alex Morgillo. The two could finally relax. They could start joking as usual as they headed back to the night-time streets.
Only the past six and a half hours hadn’t been funny.
“Whew,” Kaczor said with a hint of a smile. “Long day.”
That would have to do. It got a chuckle. Believe it or not, it was a punch line of sorts—the kind of joke only two people who spend eight hours a day fighting crime together might understand.
Kaczor (at right in above photo) and Morgillo (left) have been patrolling Fair Haven Heights as a team for the past year or so; they previously teamed up earlier in their careers. They anticipate each other’s interrogation lines at domestic calls. Like concert duos they avoid stepping over each other’s lines when calling in information from a crime scene. They get each other’s punch lines—and unspoken cues when the scene turns dead serious.
The way it did the Friday before last.
They didn’t know the scene would turn dead serious when they decided to pull into the parking lot at the Sunoco gas station at Route 80 and Quinnipiac Avenue. They did have a hunch something might be up.
They patrol that hectic stretch of New Haven’s east side every day. They recognize people who usually hang out there. They didn’t recognize the two boys who walked toward the gas station’s convenience store.
“They were looking back at us,” Kaczor recalled. That added to the cops’ suspicions.
They had no idea what to expect as they watched the teens enter the store.
“They kind of walked from the front of the store and back, not doing anything,” Morgillo said, picking up the story.
“One looked out the window to see if we were still there,” Kaczor continued.
They were still there. They had clear view of the store through the glass doors. They didn’t see any customers. Just a man working the cashier. And the two increasingly suspicious teens.
They didn’t know both were teens, not yet. He was well over six feet. It would turn out that he weighed around 250 pounds.
Morgillo: “We thought he was at least 30 years old ...”
Kaczor: ” ... Kid’s got a beard. Fully tattooed.”
Looking Out For Each Other
Morgillo and Kaczor teamed up on the east side right out of the police academy after graduating together in 2008. They’d become friends in training. They both liked to work out; they’d shoot hoops or go to the In Shape gym in North Haven to pump iron at day’s end. Kaczor, who’s 26, calls Morgillo (29) “old man.” They both call each other “bald,” though choices of hairstyle seem to have as much to do with that as the aging process. “I’m bald by choice,” Morgillo insists.
Kaczor left the team to work drug cases with the department’s Street Interdiction Unit. Then he returned to the East Shore district last year. The top cop there, Sgt. Vincent Anastasio, immediately put them back together. They’ve been together ever since.
“They made two arrests right away [the first day]. I said, ‘That’s what I need,’” Anastasio recalled.
“They’re like Starsky & Hutch; they’re a good team. They feed off each other; they look out for each other. It’s like any team: One’s a little more aggressive. [That’s Kaczor.] One [Morgillo] plays it low-key”
The roles don’t always shake out that way. Kaczor’s not always the first out of the car or the first in the door.
At the Sunoco the Friday before last, they both got out.
One of the boys, the shorter and skinnier one, peeked at the officers from inside the store’s door, to see if they were still there. Moments later he walked out. His companion stayed behind.
Morgillo got out of the passenger side to stop and question him.
Kaczor entered the store. “I just wanted to talk to the kid. Why he didn’t come out. Why he was standing there.”
The cashier was to Kaczor’s left as the officer entered. The bearded boy was standing in aisle, looking over the shelves right at Kaczor. Kaczor could see his chest and his face. The aisle concealed his lower body. And his hands.
“Gun! Gun! Gun! He’s got a gun!” the cashier yelled.
Kaczor pulled his own gun. He pointed it at the boy. “Get your hands up!” he ordered.
“There was nowhere for me to go for any cover,” Kaczor recalled. So he backed out of the door. He stood outside it, closed, still pointing the gun.
Meanwhile, Morgillo had handcuffed the other buy, put him in the cruiser. And he kept watching the store through the glass. He saw the bearded boy run toward the cashier, then to a storage area to the right. Another worker was back there stocking a vending machine. The boy asked the worker if he could get out of the building there. The worker pointed him to a back door elsewhere in the store. “Push it open,” he said.
The kid did. Without needing to consult each other, Kaczor and Morgillo ran to the back from different sides.
Too late. The kid had hopped the fence. He ran straight back through two back yards.
Morgillo headed to a Burger King lot next to the Sunoco. Kaczor ran in the other direction parallel to the yards on Route 80, toward Quinnipiac Avenue. He radioed for back-up.
Two drivers stopped at the traffic light at Quinnipiac and Route 80 had watched the bearded kid flee.
“He just ran back there,” one of them called to Kaczor, pointing to an apartment complex on Quinnipiac right past the two yards.
“In the back of the yards,” added the other.
Kaczor followed, radioing updates. Morgillo returned to the cruiser to guard the skinny kid. Five officers met Kaczor at the apartment complex. No sight of the kid.
Kaczor made eye contact with a woman looking out an apartment window. She pointed to one of five rear common doors. “He just went in there,” she said.
The door was locked. Some soon passed by who had a key. He gave it to Kaczor. Kaczor opened the door. He had no idea if gunshots awaited.
The vestibule’s first floor was empty. From the second floor came the sound of breathing.
“Come down with your hands up!” Kaczor commanded. The kid emerged, and complied. He was handcuffed, arrested. He had no gun on him.
The officers returned to the store, checked out the video. It captured the whole scene—including the kid having his gun at the ready in the aisle when Kaczor had walked in; and the kid leaving through the back door with his gun still in hand.
The officers now checked the backyards and quickly found a discarded .38 revolver. The brand name was rubbed off, along with the serial number.
Then they learned something from the cashier: When Kaczor had been approaching the door to the store, the kid had pointed the gun at the cashier. “If you open that door,” the kid had allegedly said, “I’m going to shoot you—and the cop.”
“Close call,” Kaczor said upon learning of the threat.
“It could have been worse,” Morgillo observed. “He could have fired. John could have fired. Someone might not have made it out of there.”
Kaczor and Morgillo spent hours with the arrestees, processing their arrests at 1 Union Ave., finally driving them to a juvenile detention facility in Bridgeport. They were only 16, it turned out. The bearded kid already had a pending armed robbery charge. He will be tried as an adult on these new charges.
Around 11 they headed back to New Haven. Their shift was ending. But they weren’t done; they’d signed up for four hours of overtime.
A week later, reliving the episode in an interview, they still didn’t have any jokes about it. They’d experienced some dangerous cases together before; this was the first time they had someone ready for them holding a gun.
They did find reason to laugh about what eventually happened to their joint workouts at the gym. Morgillo still works out at the North Haven gym, since renamed Planet Fitness. Kaczor has graduated to Gold’s Gym in New Haven.
“He had to go to a big boy’s gym,” Morgillo quipped, heading for their cruiser. “He likes all the mirrors there.”
“He stays at the little gym,” Kaczor retorted. “I have no idea what’s he up to now. I’m sure it’s at least six or seven pounds.” Kaczor’s tattooed I-beam-sized bicep settled any argument about who was pumping more iron these days.
Nor is there any argument about who drives; they take turns, day by day. They don’t ask whose day it is, who wants to sit behind the wheel this time. They’re partners. They know.
Read other installments in the Independent’s “Cop of the Week” series:
• Shafiq Abdussabur
• James Baker
• Lloyd Barrett
• Maneet Bhagtana
• Sheree Biros
• Paul Bicki
• Scott Branfuhr
• Dennis Burgh
• Rob Clark & Joe Roberts
• Sydney Collier
• David Coppola
• Roy Davis
• Joe Dease
• Milton DeJesus
• Brian Donnelly
• Anthony Duff
• Robert DuPont
• 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
• Juan Ingles
• Paul Kenney
• Hilda Kilpatrick
• Herb Johnson
• Peter Krause
• Peter Krause (2)
• Amanda Leyda
• Rob Levy
• Anthony Maio
• Steve McMorris
• Juan Monzon
• Chris Perrone
• Diego Quintero and Elvin Rivera
• Stephanie Redding
• Tony Reyes
• David Rivera
• 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
• Stephanija VanWilgen
• Michael Wuchek
• David Zannelli
• David Zaweski