They Arrived Just In Time

Paul Bass PhotoCraig Alston burst through the door to find a 14-year-old girl in a choke hold and blood pouring from her head.

By the next day he would begin turning the scene over in his mind, playing the “what if” game.

At the moment, though, Alston had a more immediate concern on his mind: Where’s the weapon?

He was acting on instinct, on training. And he was saving a girl’s life.

That doesn’t happen every day. In fact it never happened before in Alston’s 16 years as a New Haven cop. It never happened before in Billy White’s 24 years as a New Haven cop.

They walked into one of the most harrowing scenes you can imagine that could occur in a child’s life. When it was over, the girl survived three separate attempts to kill her. She survived with, in Alston’s view, remarkable poise and courage.

It was a scene the two cops would not soon forget, either—what they were thinking at that moment, or what they would think after.

“Mom! Help Me!”

Alston, who’s 39, and White, who’s 45 and the son of retired New Haven cop of the same name, work as part of a four-person daytime-shift team of detectives. They both grew up in New Haven.

They were doing paperwork at 12:51 p.m. last Friday when the four, along with cops from all over the city, were called to the Farnam Courts public-housing projects off Grand Avenue.

Someone had shot a 41-year-old man there, nearly killed him. The shooter was believed still to be at large somewhere inside the complex.

Alston and White spread out to interview potential witnesses. White encountered a woman in her 40s standing outside her apartment. She said she had been inside the apartment with her 14-year-old daughter. Her daughter had asked her if she’d heard a gunshot. No, the mother had said. Then she had gone outside to see what was up.

After White walked away, the mother tried to get back into the apartment. Now the door was locked. She banged on the door. She heard her daughter scream: “Mom! Help me!”

Meanwhile, Alston and White met up nearby on Hamilton Street (which runs alongside the complex) to compare notes. The mother White had interviewed came running toward them. She was hysterical.

“He got my daughter in there!” she cried.

Who does? White asked.

“I don’t know! Someone got my daughter in there!”

The woman ran back to the apartment. The two cops followed. They said they had no idea they might come upon the at-large shooter.

The woman’s older daughter was outside, too. She pushed in a window air-conditioning unit and climbed into the apartment. Mom followed.

Then the mother opened the front door for Alston and White, who rushed in side by side, their .40-caliber Glock pistols drawn. They encountered a 24-year-old man and the 14-year-old girl, who was bleeding from the head, in the living room. The man had one arm around her neck.

“He’s standing behind her. He has her in a choke hold from the back,” Alston recalled. “I’m trying to put everything together. He’s wearing a white T-shirt and grey sweatpants—which was part of the description that was given of the shooter.

“After I see the blood, I’m thinking, ‘Weapon.’” Did he have one? If so, where was it?

“Show your hands! Show your hands!” White and Alston kept yelling.

The man released the girl, who fell onto a couch.

“Get down to the ground! Get down to the ground!”

This time the man hesitated. Then he complied.

By now the mother and older sister were yelling. The scene had grown chaotic; Alston and White were concerned the attacker himself might be attacked. Detectives Lynn Meekins and Carlos Romano, the other half of their four-person squad, arrived. Alston handcuffed the man and whisked him out of the apartment and handed him over to other cops. Alston and White calmed the family. Then they looked around. They found blood in the living room, blood in the bathroom. A kitchen knife handle wrapped in a towel was in the kitchen. The blade of a kitchen knife was in the bathroom.

Their investigation was just beginning.

A Detailed Recitation

It continued at Yale-New Haven’s Children’s Hospital.

In the emergency room, the girl was having staples put in her head, where the man had slashed her. Alston and White waited outside the room. After the procedure, they went in.

The girl’s mother stood at one side of her bed, holding her head. The detectives stood at the other. They needed to find out the details of what had happened in the apartment before they showed up.

They made a point of projecting calm. “You can’t be overly excited” in such a situation, Alston said. “The trickle-down effect: If you get hyped up,” so will she.

They told her the girl they understood she’d been in a scary situation, that they wanted to ask her some questions.

Composed, she told them her story.

She said that after the sound of a gunshot, after her mother left the apartment, she had sat down on a couch. She saw a man she recognized from the projects as “Twin” come in the through the back door. The girl thought the door had been locked.

Twin had a “kinda little” black gun in his hand. He pointed the gun at the girl, told her to get him a hooded sweatshirt.

She didn’t have one, she replied. He ordered her into the bathroom. She didn’t move.

He pointed the gun at her. He pulled the trigger. She heard two clicks. Nothing happened. No bullets.

They heard a knock at the apartment’s front door. Be quiet, Twin told her. He asked again for a sweatshirt. She still didn’t have one. He ordered her again into the bathroom. She complied.

Don’t move, Twin said, closing the door.

In the bathroom, the girl could hear the man moving furniture and opening a closet, she told the detectives. Then he opened the bathroom door—and brandished a large knife. He had the handle wrapped in a towel.

“Please don’t kill me!” the girl pleaded.

“I gotta kill you!” Twin replied. Then he stabbed her in the head.

The knife came apart; the two started “struggling,” moving outside the bathroom. The girl screamed for help.

The man grabbed her. That’s when her sister climbed into her apartment, then her mother—and then Alston and White, who saved the day.

Throughout the interview, the girl impressed the detectives with her command of detail: where Twin had dropped the knife, for instance. That would help them prepare a solid case.

After some 10 minutes, the interview was complete. The girl hadn’t shed a tear.

“For what she went through,” White said, “she was in pretty good spirits.”

“She was a strong young lady,” noted Alston. “She was in a fight for her life. She was in it long enough for everyone to get in” to save her.

What Ifs

The detectives proceeded to interview the older sister and the mother, who picked out Twin on a photo board prepared by the detectives. Yale’s Child Study Center was notified. Other detectives worked at the crime scene and conducted other interviews. The police ended up charging Twin with eight felonies, including home invasion, burglary, assault, kidnapping, risk of injury to a child, and various weapons-related offenses, related to the attacks on both the man and the girl. Twin, who also has outstanding drug-dealing charges from a separate incident, remains jailed on a $2.5 million bond. He has a history of drug, weapons, and robbery convictions dating back to 2005.

By the time White and Alston were finished wrapping up reports and went home, it was after midnight. They both conked out.

Only the next day did the magnitude of the incident strike them.

It made them both think of their own children. (They each have two.) About working hard to be good dads.

Alston played video games on his Playstation 3, his usual method for releasing tension from the job. Then he went to pick up his sons for a planned family afternoon. One of his sons, it occurred to him, is around the same age as the attacked girl.

“It kind of hit me. It made me think of the whole set of circumstances then,” Alston said.

That started the “what if” game. And that scared him. What if we had come in a moment later? he wondered. Would that have been too late?

Conversely, what if they had found out earlier that they needed to get to the apartment? Would that have protected the girl from some of what happened to her?

Alston doesn’t usually play the “what if” game, he said. This case was different. “This is going to stand out more than anything else,” he said.

Recounting the ordeal in an interview, the pair didn’t seem proud of having saved a life. More sober. And grateful, considering the alternatives.

“We were lucky we were there,” White remarked.

“It’s better to be lucky,” Alston added, “than good.”

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
Carlos Conceicao and Josh Kyle
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
John Kaczor & Alex Morgillo
Peter Krause
Peter Krause (2)
Amanda Leyda
Rob Levy
Anthony Maio
Steve McMorris
Juan Monzon
Chris Perrone
Joe Pettola
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

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posted by: JustAnotherTaxPayer on May 25, 2012  11:48am

They are there every day, easily over a hundred now, even though the numbers are low, the cops who care. The cops who instinctively go forward, and these two detectives in this situation have weathered hundreds of storms on the street before this moment. That is one of the factors that allow them not to hesitate, but to go forward quickly. A child in imminent danger, green light, go. They never draw attention or seek out the public exposure of the officers who use the press to push their persona and career.

They were not alone that day, but fortunately surrounded by dozens of other NHPD like them, the real cops…who go out every day with the best of intentions, knowing something will go wrong as it does every day, and that is when they will get the call. And they will continue to go forward risking their lives, their health, their reputations, and those of their families.

So give them the benefit of the doubt the next time something happens that looks bad, as chances are it started with the best of intentions, and the need to move forward, as their are lives at stake.

posted by: Fairhaven#27 on May 25, 2012  2:33pm

Great job guys your training has shown how to react to a serious situation that could of gone bad.  Hates off to the whole New Haven Police Dept for all they do for the citizens of New Haven.

posted by: HhE on May 25, 2012  10:08pm

Well done guys.  Thanks NHPD.

Now let’s sit back and watch the second guessing.