It was shaping up as a quiet, frigid night on the beat for Officers Michael Haines and Brendan Borer. Then they caught a whiff of some aromatic fumes issuing from a parked Honda Accord.
They followed their noses—and ended up staring at a loaded Ruger 9-milimeter handgun and fighting for their lives.
It was one of their first nights patrolling the Newhallville neighborhood. A night unlike any other night yet in their young careers.
It was the Thursday, Jan. 9. Haines (at left in top photo), who’s 26, and Borer (at right), who’s 27, walking-beat partners since completing the police academy last December, were beginning a new assignment: walking among a set of “hot spots” in Newhallville three afternoons/evenings a week. (They patrol the Cedar Hill neighborhood on two other shifts each week; read about that here.)
The department has experimented, with success, in planting cops at Newhallville intersections where the most crimes have occurred recently; national studies suggest that rather than simply moving criminal activity elsewhere, such “hot-spot” policing might cut crime rates. Newhallville crime stats have improved since the experiment started in the summer (though it’s hard to isolate a single cause). Haines and Borer spend their shift on a loop of hot spots on Winchester Avenue and Starr and Newhall streets.
Haines’ and Borer’s wild night last week suggests that the strategy should also include the flexibility of drifting at times from hot spots, at least when they’re not hot.
The night itself was cold enough for Haines and Borer to put on extra layers of thermal pants and shirts. Hardly anybody was out on the street. The hot spots on Winchester, Starr, Newhall were cold, too.
Why don’t we walk over to Dixwell to check out Presidential Gardens? they thought. Cops find themselves often called to that 63-unit apartment complex. Like other federal Section 8 supported complexes built in the 1980s with working families in mind, Presidential Gardens features inner courtyards. Those courtyards, hidden from the street, have become crime magnets.
Because so many visitors cause trouble, the complex’s management limits parking to tenants; they’re supposed to have permission stickers on their cars.
The Honda Accord parked by one apartment didn’t have the sticker. It did have tinted windows. Someone was apparently inside. The officers could tell by the smell wafting out into the lot. It was marijuana smoke.
Haines knocked on the driver’s window. Down it came; the marijuana smell was now pungent.
“You live around here?” Haines asked.
No, the driver responded. His friend, the front-door passenger, does.
“Do you have any drugs in the car?” Haines asked.
The driver said he wasn’t sure. He avoided making eye contact with Haines. He had on what Haines called that “Oh crap” look. Haines asked the man, who’s 21, to exit the car; he started patting him down. The man did not have a gun.
Meanwhile, Borer had walked to the driver’s side to speak with the passenger, who was composing a cellphone text-message as the officer began questioning him.
“His hands are shaking,” Borer recalled.
Borer asked him why he was nervous. He asked for an ID.
“I can go inside my apartment and get it for you,” the man, who’s 24, replied. He started opening the door. Borer closed it, asked the passenger to put his hands on the dashboard. Instead, he tried again to get out of the car.
OK, Borer said; he allowed him out and prepared to pat him down.
“As soon as I touched his waistband,” Borer recalled, the man suddenly pushed off the car, into the officer. Then he ran off. Borer set off after him.
Haines (pictured at an interview this week) had to make a quick decision—leave the driver, or leave his partner alone on the chase. The pair by now had a sense they might encounter serious trouble.
They didn’t need to tell each other that; like many partners, they’ve developed a rhythm and a routine of unspoken communication. They began bonding back in the academy. They discovered they lived near each other in Shelton. They discovered they both root for the New England Patriots. They discovered they both like paintball, bowling, mountain biking. They started hanging out together outside the academy, doing those activities together, hitting the gym. After graduation, they found themselves paired as walking cops, initially on State Street. The bond deepened.
In the Presidential Gardens parking lot, Haines made his choice. He ordered the driver to stay put. “I didn’t want to leave him behind. [But Borer’s] my partner. The [suspect] is running for something.”
As they ran, Borer called in for back-up; he tends to make that call when he and his partner are in pursuit.
The suspect ran through the Presidential Gardens courtyard, around one of the buildings, then back to his apartment.
The door was locked. Before he could open it, the officers closed in. Haines faced him. Borer was behind him. As Borer moved to tackle the man, Haines spotted the man reaching into his waistband.
“Gun!” he called out to his partner.
“As soon as we saw it, we grabbed him. It flew out of his hand,” Borer recalled. “We didn’t know if he was trying to throw it away or use it.”
Nor would they ever know. They would learn the Ruger handgun had 14 bullets in the magazine—and one in the chamber, ready to be fired.
The officers took the suspect to the ground. He fought back. For what seemed like a long time—their best guess is several minutes—the suspect fought them, the gun nearby, almost within his reach. Haines pepper-sprayed him in the face. That didn’t stop him, Haines said. Haines struck his leg with a baton. That didn’t stop him either. “What is this kid on?” Haines wondered.
As they wrestled, the suspect got closer to the gun—just as back-up officers arrived and helped subdue and handcuff him.
“It wasn’t mine,” the man told the officers, referring to the Ruger lying nearby.
“I Was Scared”
The man had cuts on his face. His grandmother appeared on the scene, told officers the man’s name. Haines and Borer (pictured) suddenly remembered when they’d seen him before: On July 4. The pair had come to the neighborhood to help other officers who were trying to find the man, who was holed up in an attic. When they finally arrested him, they found two illegal guns on him, too. The man—a “Project Longevity” target who previously had served five and a half years of an 11-year sentence for weapons violations—was out on bond on charges related to that incident when Haines and Borer chased him again last week.
Other family members arrived, too. They were mad.
“He didn’t do anything!” one relative accused the officers.
“There’s a a handgun on the ground,” Haines pointed out.
“You guys planted it there!”
An ambulance arrived. Borer began to remove the man’s handcuffs in order to reattach them to a gurney in the rear of the ambulance.
“I don’t want him back here!” the suspect protested to the other officers. He didn’t want Borer riding in the ambulance with him. Then the man started fighting again. The officers recuffed him; Borer accompanied him to Yale-new Haven, where they spent seven hours before he could be released to police custody.
Haines, meanwhile, guarded the gun on the ground until the Bureau of Identification could process the scene. Then he attended to another matter: The driver hadn’t followed his orders to stay put. He had fled in the Honda Accord.
The officers had called in the plate number. He checked a database and discovered it belonged to a man in Branford. Branford police went to the home, discovered the owner had passed away. The driver was his grandson. Someone at the house told cops the name of the driver and the address, on New Haven’s Ella Grasso Boulevard, where they could find him.
Haines headed there, saw the Honda parked in front of the house. He knocked on the door; the driver’s mom answered and reported that her son had come home. “He just left,” she said. “he took my other car,” a Lexus.
She dialed the son’s number, handed the phone to to Haines.
“Is this Chris?” Haines asked.
“Yeah. This is Chris”
“Why did you run from us?”
“I was scared.”
The man returned to the house and admitted he had had pot. His license was also suspended. Haines put him under arrest, took him into custody. Then, while his partner remained at the hospital, he wrote up the report.
The officers’ boss, top Newhallville cop Lt. Herbert Sharp, congratulated them for the arrest. He said he was pleased that they veered off their prescribed path on the hot-spot beat.
“They took it upon themselves because it was quiet. They showed a lot of initiative,” Sharp said. “It was an excellent job because of the violent person they got off the street before he committed a violent crime.”
At the hospital, Borer, too, faced relatives, of the other suspect, who were angry that they weren’t allowed to see the man as he was treated for facial injuries.
Haines and Borer both said they didn’t allow taunts or accusations bother them, even after they had just wrestled with a fleeing man with a loaded Ruger.
“You can’t take it personally,” Borer said.
“They weren’t there,” added Haines “I didn’t take any offense.”
That weekend the pair got together to watch the Patriots win a playoff game. The race with the gunman was still fresh in their minds. They also knew, they said, that fresh challenges would await them when they returned to the field.
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
• Rob Clark & Joe Roberts
• Sydney Collier
• Carlos Conceicao
• Carlos Conceicao (2)
• Carlos Conceicao and Josh Kyle
• David Coppola
• Roy Davis
• Joe Dease
• Milton DeJesus
• Milton DeJesus (2)
• Brian Donnelly
• Anthony Duff
• Robert DuPont
• Jeremie Elliott and Scott Shumway
• 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
• 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
• 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
• Matt Williams
• Michael Wuchek
• Michael Wuchek (2)
• David Zannelli
• David Zaweski