Officer Knox Listens

Thomas MacMillan PhotoCops closed in on an alleged shooter. Meanwhile, another officer was on duty in the hospital—with a grieving mother who needed to talk and to be heard.

The officer, Jillian Knox, was on her regular beat during that patient encounter Tuesday: making sure the families of victims of violent crime aren’t forgotten while other officers focus on arresting the perpetrators after the stories disappear from the headlines. Her typically busy week this week demonstrated how, below the radar, Knox has become an integral player in New Haven’s community policing revival.

Knox was with Luz DeJesus on the sixth floor waiting room of Yale-New Haven Hospital.

With her son nearby in the intensive care unit—a bullet in his spine and tube in his throat—DeJesus began to open up to Knox.

She’s hasn’t been sleeping, DeJesus said. She’s been running on caffeine and nicotine and worrying about her 4-year-old granddaughter, who has started stuttering and keeps asking for a “big gun” to go after the man that shot her daddy.

Knox, with a cardigan in her lap and gun on her hip, sat and listened, asking questions now and then to keep DeJesus talking. She probed gently, learning more about DeJesus and her son’s girlfriend, Vanessa Melendez, how they’ve been affected by the two .22-caliber bullets that ripped through 29-year-old Hector Quiles’ torso on Oct. 14. (Scroll down in this story to read about the alleged shooter’s arrest Tuesday.)

The conversation veered from the practical—how will they afford a wheelchair when Quiles gets out of the hospital?—to the personal: DeJesus said she cries alone, when no one can see her.

Talk returned again and again to Melendez’s three kids. DeJesus said all have been acting differently in the 10 days since the father of the older two shot Quiles, the father of her 4-year-old, paralyzing him for life.

Knox, who’s 35, responded to each problem in turn, promising to enlist the Yale Child Study Center to work with the children, to help DeJesus apply for state aid to pay for a wheelchair. She was, moment to moment, a grief counselor, a social worker, a psychologist, and a cop.

Knox, a 10-year veteran, has been playing those roles for just over a year, since she left patrol to take over the police department’s Victim Services Unit. Her task is to meet with people at what may be the darkest point in their lives—the families of homicide victims, survivors of shootings, people who have been violently assaulted—and help them adjust to the new normal.

Elusive Answers

Earlier on Tuesday afternoon, Knox was seated in a rolling office chair in her third-floor office at the police station overlooking Union Avenue. She leaned on her desk and spoke into her Blackberry to the father of a man who was shot and killed in his Whalley Avenue apartment complex Sunday night.

“Hi, Mr. Garcia. ... I’m good. How are you?” she said. She’d visited him and his other kids in their home the night before, sitting with them for two hours as they remembered their brother and son and talked about how to bury him.

Knox’s office is undecorated apart from two small framed photographs of her with friends and family and some plastic flowers on the windowsill. Everything is in its place, even the fliers tacked to a bulletin board. Sometimes Knox spends all day talking on the phone to families.

“You just take care of yourself and the wife and kids,” she said into the phone. “Try not to think about why or how. That’s what’s really going to stress you out.”

“Call me if you need me, Mr. Garcia,” she said, before hanging up.

Then she reported: “He said today was the worst day.”

“What all families want to know is just why,” Knox said. “Why their child was killed. Those are answers they may never get.”

Knox’s job is to respond in ways that she can—like helping families find a funeral home—and simply to listen when there is no other answer.

Knox made more phone calls. At any given time she juggles several recent cases.

In addition to following up with the weekend’s homicide, Knox has been working with the employees of a lighting supply company where a man shot his brother in the parking lot, then killed himself.

And Knox is still texting with the mother of 16-month-old Tramire Miller, who was hit by a bullet during a drive-by shooting on Oct. 10. Tramire survived and is out of the hospital; the alleged shooter was caught. His mom has been trying to find a way to move out of the neighborhood. Knox is helping her find a way to transfer to other federally subsidized Section 8 housing. While Tramire is young enough that he may grow up to not remember being shot, the neighborhood has too many bad associations for his older siblings, who are still reeling, Knox said

Besides the recent cases, Knox said, she’s still in regular contact with the mothers of homicide victims from years past. A woman who lost her son in 2010 just called her the other night during one of the presidential debates, just to talk.

“It’s so weird to say, but it always seems like you become a member of the family,” Knox said. “Maybe it’s just me.”

She said she already has several Thanksgiving invitations from survivor families, for the second year in a row.

Knox called up the Whalley Avenue murder victim’s neighbor. “I was told your son is having a hard time with the homicide that happened,” she said. The 16-year-old son used to play video games with the man who was killed. Now he’s upset, not going to school. Knox lined up a Yale Child Study Center visit for the neighbor.

“Didn’t I go to high school with you?” she said to the mom.

Been There

Knox grew up in Westville and the Hill and graduated from Hillhouse High in 1996. She has family all over town, knows people in every neighborhood, she said.

Knox always wanted to be a cop, and got started early. She got into her share of fights but was always known as a tattletale. Kids used to say, “Don’t do anything in front of Jillian; she’ll always tell.”

“I’m still like that,” Knox said.

Growing up in New Haven in the ‘80s and ‘90s, she was exposed to violence early. Knox said she remembers running after hearing shots fired as she was heading home from school. A classmate was killed in the 9th grade. In 1997, her cousin was killed on Congress Avenue. “We were raised like siblings,” she said. “I would never say I’m getting over it. I’ve learned how to cope on a day to day basis.”

She doesn’t mention her own experience of loss to victim’s families. It helps her in her work nonetheless. “I can connect,” she said. “I can understand.”

After Hillhouse, Knox studied criminal justice at St. Paul’s, a historically black college in Virginia. She came back and worked for three years in the juvenile detention center on Whalley Avenue, then became a cop, working patrol in Hill South.

“I loved it,” Knox said. “It was home.” She said she loved interacting with people. It’s still her favorite part of her new assignment.

After Knox had worked nearly 10 years on patrol, then-Assistant Chief Petisia Adger asked her if she wanted to become the victim’s advocate.

“I didn’t know what it was,” Knox said. “I had never heard of it.”

She took the job anyway, in September, 2011. Not long after that, Dean Esserman was sworn in as the new chief of police on a promise to bring back community policing. Under Esserman, Victim Services has gone from being a unit that even patrol cops like Knox hadn’t heard of, to an integral part of New Haven policing, Knox said.

“The department has moved in the direction where we put the needs and the feelings of the victims first when we police,” Knox said. “We put ourselves in the victim’s shoes and that’s how we hunt the suspect.”

Esserman has helped ensure that information is shared freely between detectives and Victim Services, that everyone is communicating with one another, Knox said. She is a regular participant in weekly Compstat meetings and a regular presence at post-arrest press conferences, where she can be seen holding the hand of tearful mothers of victims.

Knox has also helped expand a monthly meeting for the survivors of homicides with developed conversation themes, to help mourning moms heal. She helped Marquell Banks’ family raise money for a funeral after the 13-year-old was killed a year ago.

Knox works closely with the state Department of Children and Families and the Coordinating Council for Children In Crisis, both of which have offices next to hers in police headquarters.

Victim Services is “a real unit” that people refer to now, she said. Still, it’s a unit of one. “I am the unit.”

That means it’s up to her alone to try to handle all the heartache heaped on violent crime victims and their families.

“It’s draining,” Knox said. “It’s really draining.”

“That’s why my Bible’s here,” she said. She pointed to a paperback next to her computer and recited Philippians 1:6 from memory: “Be confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will complete it unto Jesus Christ’s day.”

“Your Dad Shot My Dad”

With calls completed and crossed off her to-do list, Knox took the elevator to the police station parking garage, where she fired up her maroon Dodge Intrepid.

She apologized for her car being dirty. It wasn’t.

Knox pointed the vehicle toward the hospital, to try to meet the family of a recent shooting victim, Quiles. With shootings, she said, she waits to see if victims are cooperating with detectives. “If they don’t cooperate, I don’t reach out.”

“This guy is cooperative,” she said, toying with handcuffs in her lap.

She pulled up on York Street in a cops-only parking zone and headed inside and up to the sixth floor of the south pavilion—the surgical ICU. She found Quiles in a bed in a brightly lit hospital room. IV tubes snaked around his tattooed left arm. He was hooked up to a breathing tube. His mom and his girlfriend sat at the foot of the bed.

DeJesus quickly ushered everyone out, to avoid bothering her son. She took a seat on a loveseat in a dim and quiet waiting room. Melendez sat next to her, wearing a brown crew-neck Dunkin Donuts sweatshirt and matching hat. Knox shut the door and sat across from them.

“How’s he doing today?” she asked.

He’s paralyzed for life, DeJesus said. He’s awake, on and off. He can communicate, somewhat, with a pen and paper.

DeJesus said she had told him he’s not going to walk again. “Tears came out of his eyes.” Then he drifted off to sleep.

“How are you guys doing?” Knox asked.

Melendez started with a practical concern. Quiles had her ID and car keys on him when he was shot. They were taken as evidence and she needs them back.

Knox promised to look into it.

Next: justice. DeJesus said she’d heard the shooter had been caught. “I want to know if that’s true.”

Knox had heard the same thing, but doesn’t share that information with families until detectives do. Detectives “will let you know,” she told DeJesus.

DeJesus coughed, rubbed her face. “I just want to find out if it’s official, they really caught him,” she said. People have seen him in the neighborhood, she said. “He’s out there like nothing.”

Knox said she was sure he would be arrested and arraigned.

“Anything to keep that animal off the street,” DeJesus said.

Knox asked about Melendez’s kids, and learned “that animal” was the father of two of them.

“I have two with the shooter and one with the victim,” Melendez said. She said the kids are “a little traumatized.” She laughed nervously. “They were there when it happened.”

It happened at her 4-year-old’s birthday party, Melendez said. Her ex-boyfriend, the father of the other two kids, 6 and 12, showed up. An argument ensued. Quiles was shot twice. (The police report from the incident tells a different story of what happened, with no mention of a party.)

“My 4-year-old, she’s stuttering,” Melendez said. “She never did that.”

She said people from Yale Child Study Center had been over to the house, drew pictures with the kids.

Melendez said her littlest daughter has been telling the other kids, “Your dad shot my dad.”

She said she brought the older kids in to the hospital and Quiles scribbled a note, reassuring them, it’s not their fault.

Nevertheless, the 6-year-old boy, who’s named after his father, the shooter, no longer answers to that name. He wants to be called Lil Wayne. Melendez said she call his real name over and over and he’ll ignore her completely, until she says, “Hey, Lil Wayne.”

“Yes, mommy?” he’ll reply.

DeJesus said she’s most worried about the youngest. The 4-year-old has been telling her, “Grandma, I want you to buy me a gun.”

“She told me the same thing,” Melendez said. She’s been saying she wants to shoot the man that shot her dad. “Mommy buy me a biiiiig gun.”

“They’ll grow up with that vendetta in them,” DeJesus said.

“I really don’t sleep,” she said.

She doesn’t eat either, Melendez said, laughing again. “Only coffee.”

Cigarettes are “the only thing that keeps me calm,” DeJesus said.

“You’ve got to eat. You’ve got to care for yourself,” Knox said.

“I just want him to get better, to get out of there,” DeJesus said pointing back toward the ICU. She said a bullet shattered “two inches of his spine” another is lodged in the spine. His lungs were hit, and his liver, and his colon, she said. The bullets bounced around inside him, she said.

Knox wrapped up the conversation, leaving DeJesus with her card and a folder of information about state aid for victims of violent crimes.

“This is the same thing my sister went through when my nephew got killed,” DeJesus said, looking at the folder.

“I Just Let It Flow”

“That was typical,” Knox said as she left the hospital. “That’s normal.”

Knox said she doesn’t go into encounters with any prearranged plan. She just tries to connect with someone. “I just let it flow.”

Almost inevitably, “they open up to me, a stranger,” Knox said.

She said she would follow up with the Yale Child Study Center and coordinate with the victim’s advocate office in the court system to make sure DeJesus and Melendez stay in touch.

Back at her office, an email was waiting on her computer: “He did get picked up,” Knox said. Quiles’ alleged shooter had been caught.

The next afternoon, Knox got a call from DeJesus and Melendez. That morning they had been to the alleged shooter’s arraignment, where a $500,000 bond was set. “They’re pleased,” Knox said

Quiles was doing better too, all of a sudden, Knox reported. The breathing tube was about to come out. The doctors said he could be headed to rehab by Monday. Officer Knox would stay on the case.

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
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

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posted by: Bill Garraty on October 27, 2012  10:09am

Officer Knox is to be commended for her tireless work with the community. In addition to her regular duties she has taken a leadership role in the New Haven Public Safety Academy. Jillian has shown our students the pathway from Hillhouse High School to that of an exceptional police officer. She provides students with learning opportunities that they could otherwise never experience. Jillian Knox is, most importantly , an outstanding role model. The students and faculty of the New Haven Public Safety Academy at Hillhouse High School a deeply grateful for all you do Officer Knox.