A quick-footed officer caught the big guy who was allegedly mugging immigrants. Gene Trotman arrived to do what he does best: Talk to everyone and find out what happened.
Trotman (pictured above) loves stories. He loves hearing them. He loves watching them. (He rents four videos a week in Waterbury from one of the last Blockbuster outlets, with a penchant for independent foreign flicks like City of God.) And he loves reporting on them himself. In his first two and a half years as a New Haven cop, he has learned how to get the story and use it to put criminals behind bars.
In this case, he pieced together the story of how a large man allegedly working with two friends made off with $160 and an iPhone from a Mexican immigrant returning home at 2 a.m. from a restaurant job. Trotman got enough details to bring extra charges to keep the assailant behind bars on a $50,000 bond.
That happened last Saturday night. Word—and relief—spread the next morning through the parish at St. Rose of Lima Church, where parishioners had been complaining about the three-person mugger team.
“Trotman and the other officers [involved] deserve our gratitude,” said St. Rose’s Father Jim Manship, “for being able to get the story out and act on it immediately.”
Trotman, a 39-year-old former nursing-home cook and married father of two daughters, got one of his first lessons in how to get the story two years go. A lesson he’d never forget.
The lesson came from an experienced officer, Charles Gargano. Trotman had just graduated from the police academy. Like all new graduates, he was paired with a veteran officer for “field training duty” before beginning patrols on his own.
One night he accompanied Gargano to a domestic violence call in Newhallville. They arrived to find a woman crying “hysterically.” Gargano asked her what happened. She told of how her young son’s father had beaten her and thrown her around, dragging her to the dirt nearby. She asked the police to arrest the man.
“I’m fully believing this lady. 100 percent,” Trotman recalled. “I’m in. She has me.”
Meanwhile Gargano continues methodically asking her questions about the incident. At one point the line of questioning took a skeptical turn.
“I thought he was off his rocker,” Trotman said.
The woman went home. The police succeeded, after an initial failed try, to reach her son’s father. He came to the scene. Witnesses from across the street also came outside.
The son’s father “doesn’t want to tell the story. He doesn’t want her to get in trouble,” Trotman said.
The witnesses started talking about how they saw the woman, not the man, commit the attack, how the woman even hit the man with a crowbar. The man then confirmed it. He said the woman attacked him because she was jealous; they’d broken up and he had moved on to another woman.
Trotman asked Gargano how he’d grown skeptical of the woman’s initial story. He pointed out that the woman had no scratches, no visible injuries to the face, where she claimed to have been hit. “Not a hair was out of place.” Her clothes were unruffled, far more together than if she’d been dragged in the dirt.
By contrast, the man was scratched up and bruised. And they found the crowbar in the dirt. They called the woman back to the scene and arrested her.
“Just Tell Me What Happened”
By the time it came to weeding out differing stories last Saturday night, Trotman had developed his game. Unlike the domestic violence case, this one was more obvious. The attention to detail—and the weeding out of information—proved crucial nonetheless.
The incident occurred on Grand Avenue shortly after 2 a.m. A 29-year-old Mexican immigrant noticed two skinny young men following him. He kept walking.
When he hit Grand and Jefferson, he ran into a heavier-set man waiting on the corner. The man allegedly grabbed him in a bear hug and took his cash-filled wallet. (Muggers identify immigrants as “walking ATMs” because of their propensity to carry a lot of cash if they don’t have bank accounts.) The two skinny guys followed and went through his pockets, taking his keys and cell phones. They fled down Jefferson.
Officer Tyren Robinson happened to be passing by in his cruiser while on an extra-duty job. The victim flagged Robinson down. He pointed to the figures fleeing down the street. Robinson followed in his cruiser. The three scrammed in different directions. Robinson caught the heavy-set man in a backyard.
He called for back-up. Trotman was in the Temple Street courtyard at the time, doing what he tends to do at that time on Saturday night—dealing with crowds of drunk people leaving bars and starting to get into fights. Working those tense situations has taught him not to personalize people’s rude, even sometimes violent, behavior, Troman said. You still get the story best by staying calm and explaining you’re just doing your job. “I don’t think they’re out to get me. They’re not in their right mind. We see people at their worst moments. ... You have to calm them down to get them to the point where they can tell you the story. If you don’t have a story, you don’t have anything.”
Trotman hopped into his cruiser and arrived within moments at Jefferson and Grand. He took over the case from Robinson, who had to get back to his other assignment. Back-up officers soon arrived
With the broad outlines of the complaint, Trotman decided to speak first with the alleged attacker while other officers stayed with the victim. The alleged attacker was sitting handcuffed in the back of a cruiser.
Trotman asked him what happened. The man told him he had picked up a ride in a blue Ford Taurus from two men he knew only as “White Mike” and “Black Rob.” He claimed they’d stopped the car and jumped out to commit the robbery. He claimed he had stayed in the car and had nothing to do with the robbery.
The story sounded fishy. Officer Robinson had never seen any car. He’d seen the man down the street running with the other two men.
“Just tell me what happened,” Trotman asked the handcuffed alleged assailant. “When I walk to the complainant, he’s going to tell me what happened.”
The man stuck to his story.
Next Trotman spoke to the victim. The man didn’t speak English. So Trotman called for a Spanish-speaking officer; Jamie Franceschi soon arrived and interpreted. Trotman said the man was calm and provided all the details.
Trotman returned to the suspect. He brought the victim, who identified him as the assailant.
The officers searched the area. No sign of the Ford Taurus or any similar car. (They haven’t yet tracked down the stolen items or White Mike or Black Rob.)
Trotman charged the man not just with second-degree larceny and robbery, but also conspiracy to commit both offenses. The suspect’s story, however fishy, had helped support the extra charges. Even though he may have been lying about other elements of what happened, he put himself at the scene with others, supporting conspiracy charges.
“You bring back the facts from the complainant,” he said. “You let the suspect dig the hole”
The suspect remains jailed on $50,000 bond. Father Manship said the description of the men involved and their technique led him and his parishioners to believe that the cops had succeeded in disrupting the m.o. of a repeat menace.
The Last Of Dad’s Bequest
Trotman still believes his share of hard-luck stories. Like the one from the woman whose car he had to have towed from Ella Grasso Boulevard near the intersection of Orange Avenue.
The car had conked out in a lane of fast-moving traffic. The driver, a middle-aged woman looking older than her years, couldn’t get it started.
After he called for the tow, Trotman asked if she had relatives he could call to come get her. Her relatives don’t speak to her, the woman replied. Because of her drug habit.
She claimed her father had died leaving her sister and herself $250,000 to split. All she had left of the money was this car. And it looked like she’d never get the car back.
“She smoked up her half of the money. He sister wasn’t talking to her,” Trotman recalls her telling him as he fished her belongings from the car and transported them, along with the woman, to the nearby Columbus House emergency shelter.
Trotman was 100 percent in. Just as he had been with Charles Gargano that night back in Newhallville. Only in this case Trotman remained 100 percent in.
“People tell you stories for different reasons,” Trotman observed. “The lady was very lucid. She was honest about her drug habit. She was heartbroken about her car; it was all she had left from her dad.”
Trotman wasn’t arresting the woman. So she had “no reason tell me that story” in terms of trying to wrangle out of trouble.
Plus, the signs matched the story. Her car, though not old, looked it. Bags of clothes and papers and mess filled the back seats and the passenger seat. The woman looked strung out.
“It’s not our job necessarily to believe [people’s] stories,” Trotman said. Sometimes, though, the details do add up.
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
• Anthony Campbell
• 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
• Jillian Knox
• 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
• Manuella Vensel
• Holly Wasilewski
• Alan Wenk
• Stephanija VanWilgen
• Matt Williams
• Michael Wuchek
• David Zannelli
• David Zaweski