The Perp Wore Black

Paul Bass Photocopoftheweek_logo.jpgSubject One wore an unzipped gray sweatshirt. Blue jeans with a rip in the left knee. Black Nikes. A blue Superman cap with a frayed rim.

Subject Two? She had a gray sweatshirt, too. Thin build. Black hair. She was typing on a computer.

Subject Two sat behind Subject One in a downtown coffee shop. Subject One was facing away from her. But he could still rattle off the details of her appearance.

He had made a point of noticing the details. He always does. Just in case something happens.

Why does Subject One do that? The clue could be found in the design partly concealed by his gray sweatshirt: a New Haven Police Department insignia.

Subject One is a patrol officer named Milton DeJesus (pictured above). He was sitting in the Starbucks at High and Chapel discussing two sharp-eyed spots he made in recent weeks that led to arrests of alleged thieves.

He made them because he has trained to pay attention to details as a matter of routine. Whether or not he’s punching the clock.

“You have to be an officer,” DeJesus said, “24 hours a day. You have to be focused.”

DeJesus was technically off-duty shortly after midnight on Feb. 22 when he spotted a man placing a bulky item on the handlebars of his 10-speed bicycle by the corner of East and State streets.

DeJesus was driving home from police headquarters, where he’d been lifting weights. (The Gando Drive Gold’s Gym was closed.) At first he noticed only that this man was carrying something bulky on the street after midnight, and was putting it atop his bike. DeJesus wasn’t sure what the object was. But it looked fishy enough, so he stopped his unmarked Crown Vic (his personal car, former property of the Wallingford PD) to investigate.

It turned out to be a cash register. It would also turn out that the register came from Gloria’s Grocery, right at that corner, where the window was broken. A trail of register tape followed the man down the sidewalk like bread crumbs in the woods.

The alleged thief fled with the register. (He left behind the bike.) DeJesus radioed in the report, then gave chase. He didn’t have his bulletproof vest on him; in fact, in the cold night, he had on just shorts and T-shirt; thorns scratched his skin as he raced through overgrown brush.

“In a matter of seconds,” DeJesus recalled, city, Yale and state cops (including a canine) arrived. They set up a boundary on surrounding blocks, as officers pursued the man in the backyards of dark, I-91-bisected Mill River Street and the industrial banks of the Mill River.

At one point, DeJesus heard rustling in the brush. He spotted the fleeing man, who disappeared again—into the icy river. A Yale cop on I-91 spotted the man emerging from the water, and officers apprehended him.

DeJesus was on duty a few weeks earlier when he made another fateful spot.

It was around 9:30 p.m. DeJesus was cruising Dwight-Kensington and Edgewood, on his regular 3-11 beat.

A call came over the police radio from his supervisor, District 4 Manager Lt. Ray Hassett. A woman had told cops she saw a man break into a lawyer’s office on the Boulevard, leave with a couple of boxes, then ditch the booty in a backyard. The woman gave a detailed physical description, including his black jacket and jeans and his Yankees cap.

“Sounds like our buddy,” Hassett said over the radio, and named a repeat burglar known to the cops. He dispatched all units to look for the man.

DeJesus knew the burglar; he’d met him on his rounds. He makes a point of getting to know people on the street. He’d struck up a conversation with the man outside a problem apartment building at Winthrop and Chapel. “That’s not to say he’s a bad person,” DeJesus said, but the man does have, and cause, problems.

DeJesus was the first to spot the burglar walking “nonchalantly” on Ellsworth. He stopped him and questioned him. He patted him down and found a crack pipe.

“If DeJesus hadn’t been so hungry, if he hadn’t been so on point, it would have just been another guy walking down the street,” said Lt. Hassett.

Just as important as spotting the suspect was DeJesus’s noticing which yard he had previously left. DeJesus been scanning the street as he drove down it. There, in the backyard identified by DeJesus, cops found the boxes filled with items allegedly lifted from the lawyer’s office, including some packaged meat and a pair of boots.

“If DeJesus hadn’t been so hungry, if he hadn’t been so on point, it would have just been another guy walking down the street,” said Lt. Hassett.

“He is an excellent police officer,” Hassett said of DeJesus. “He is enthusiastic, thorough, and willing to take on any assignment.”

DeJesus, who’s 33, grew up in the Hill. He used to watch cops catch drug dealers at the Columbus West public-housing complex, where he lived in a second-floor apartment.

“Every time you’d see a New Haven officer take the drug dealers away—it was like a movie,” he recalled. “They’d do their sting operations. They’d roll up on the guys.”

When the dealers left for a while, DeJesus’s mom would allow him to play outside. But only then.

He decided he might like to become a cop one day.

He became a mechanic first. On the side he worked port security in Bridgeport. “It’s an honorable job,” he said of fixing cars. “But I thought I’d be a better fit as a police officer.” Two years ago he joined the force.

Among the skills he honed is peripheral vision. As he spoke in an interview at Starbucks, he mentioned that he’d been making mental notes of other patrons out of the corner of his eye.

He was asked to describe the woman seated behind him, typing on the computer, without turning around to look. That’s when he gave the accurate, detailed description referred to at the top of this story.

Then he was asked the title of the file the woman was typing. (For the record, it was, “The Changing View of the Standard of Living Question in the US.”)

No, DeJesus said, he hadn’t looked at the words on the screen.

The man’s a cop, after all. Not a spy.

Read other installments in the Independent’s “Cop of the Week” series:

Shafiq Abdussabur
Maneet Bhagtana
Scott Branfuhr
Dennis Burgh
Sydney Collier
David Coppola
Joe Dease
Brian Donnelly
Anthony Duff
Bertram Etienne
Paul Finch
Jeffrey Fletcher
Renee Forte
William Gargone
William Gargone & Mike Torre
Jon Haddad & Daniela Rodriguez
Dan Hartnett
Ray Hassett
Robin Higgins
Ronnell Higgins
Racheal Inconiglios
Hilda Kilpatrick
Amanda Leyda
Anthony Maio
Steve McMorris
Stephanie Redding
Tony Reyes
Luis & David Rivera
Salvador Rodriguez
Brett Runlett
David Runlett
Marcus Tavares
Martin Tchakirides
Stephan Torquati
Kelly Turner
John Velleca
Alan Wenk
Michael Wuchek
David Zannelli
David Zaweski

(To suggest an officer to be featured, contact us here.)

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posted by: Volvo on March 3, 2010  3:48pm

DeJesus is awesome.  I live on Dwight and have had a few interactions with him.  He’s extremely professional and I get the sense that he’s really looking to make positive change in the neighborhood.  As a homeowner on Dwight I’m really happy to have him working my area.

Keep up the good work!

posted by: Westville on March 3, 2010  9:59pm

What a lovely story.  Thanks so much, Officer DeJesus, for being who you are and doing what you do.

posted by: The3rdHorseman on March 4, 2010  8:33am

Why do people insist on calling it Gando Drive? The Proper name is G and O Drive named after the factory that used to make radiators for motor vehicles in the same location that Star Supply is in now.

posted by: TBL on March 9, 2010  6:01am

officer DeJesus has always been Professional, polite, and courteos. Very fitting, being Cop of the Week. Keep up the good work