Smitty Keeps His Distance

Paul Bass Photo“Police officer!” Lt. Allen Smith called out into the dark. “Anybody there?”

Nobody answered. But the answer was yes.

Moments later, as he came face to face in the dark with the somebody who was there, Smith asked another question. He asked this one to himself, not out loud. He wondered: Does that man have a gun?

Smith couldn’t tell at first. But that answer would turn out to be a yes, as well.

He got his answers, and tackled his man, by knowing not to stand too close when doing the asking.

Smith (pictured above during a Thursday interview)—who’s 43 and whom colleagues call “Smitty”—was getting a taste of patrolling New Haven streets at night, when you never know when you might suddenly face a felon with a gun and the possibility that you might not make it home.

He already knew what it was like to face potential danger. He has worn a badge for 19 years, a state Department of Correction (DOC) badge. He has worked most of those 19 years in state jails, where he has had to break up fights, and some melees involving dozens of violent offenders.

He started working for the DOC two years after moving to Connecticut from his native Saskatoon, Canada. His goal was to use the job as a stepping stone to a job with a police department. But then he kept finding new challenges as a corrections officer and stuck around. He became a firearms instructor. He joined the DOC’s version of a SWAT team. He became a lieutenant and joined the intelligence unit, working on gang investigations behind bars. He enjoyed the changes: “Change makes the time go by. It keeps your mind working. You don’t feel like you’re in a rut; it keeps you thinking positive.”

This April, Smith made another change: He put on a police uniform after all, as the DOC lent Smith to New Haven’s department to serve on a new shooting task force. The nine-person team has been cracking unsolved gun cases. It has also helped out with breaking incidents like a standoff last week with an accused murderer on Whalley Avenue.

Now the task force is pitching in in Newhallville to help the neighborhood’s beat cops respond to a surge in shootings.

That’s why Smith was cruising the neighborhood with fellow task force member Karl Jacobson around 10 p.m. on Wednesday last week when a call came over the car radio. The department’s ShotSpotter system detected gunshots by the corner of Shelton Avenue and Thompson Street. Jacobson, who was behind the wheel, headed right over.

“Did You See Anybody?”

In the passenger seat, Smith kept a lookout for people running away from the corner. “When firearms are involved, people run away,” he said. “They don’t run at [the scene] to see what’s going on.” He noticed the same reaction to prison stabbings: People flee.

In this case the officers found no one fleeing. They did find two teenaged girls on the corner.

“Did you see anybody? Did you hear any gunfire?” Smith asked them.

They did. They pointed the cops down Thompson toward Dixwell Avenue.

Along the route they encountered a woman talking on her cell phone. Smith got out of the car to speak with her. She, too, had heard gunfire. She saw someone run behind a house on Thompson Street.

So Smith and Jacobson headed there, then to the Presidential Gardens housing complex. At a back porch, Smith encountered another woman talking on her cell phone.

“My car got shot. They shot my fender,” she said. She pointed to a red BMW X3. On the ground Smith found shell casings. “We have a crime scene,” he said.

The woman told Smith she’d seen a man wearing a red baseball cap, white T-shirt, and jeans fleeing. She pointed the way. She said he had a limp. Smith wondered whether the man had been shot.

Meanwhile, other neighbors pointed Jacobson in a different direction, where they’d seen other people fleeing.

The two officers split up, Smith following the red baseball cap trail.

It took him to the rear of a building with a ramp. Lighting from the complex lit up the first part of the ramp, which slopes down from a second story. Darkness enveloped the second half, which swings down behind a concrete wall.

“It’s dark; it could be a great place to hide,” Smith reasoned. “It could be a great place to throw a gun. It could be a great place to hide drugs.”

That’s when he called out asking if anybody was there. “Identify yourself,” he added.

“Then I hear a noise,” he recalled. “I’m like, ‘That sounds like something moved.’ It could have been a mouse.”

Or not a mouse. He was on guard.

“Show Me Your Hands!”

Without stepping onto the ramp, Smith approached the ramp’s bend into darkness to obtain a better vantage point. His right hand held his gun, his left, a flashlight. He kept his distance some 10 feet away at a better vantage point. He didn’t want to step onto the ramp itself. If someone was indeed hiding there in the dark behind the wall, he reasoned, “you don’t want to be walking around a corner where someone could grab you.”

He pointed the flashlight and discovered a man lying on the ramp. The man had on a red hat, white T-shirt, and jeans.

If he had turned the corner around the wall, on the ramp, Smith said, “we would have been on top of each other.”

The man had his hands in front of him. He didn’t look like a threat.

“Show me your hands!” Smith commanded.

The man stood up. That wasn’t good.

“Stay right there,” Smith said. “Are you injured?”

No, the man said.

Smith saw no visible injuries. No gun, either.

“Where are you going?” he asked the man. “Stay right there.”

Just then the man bolted past Smith. Smith ran after him. He kept watching the man’s hands.

The man ran toward the front of the building. He grabbed the front of his pants.

“Show me your hands! Show me your hands!” Smith called.

The man showed him ... a gun.

“Drop the gun!” Smith yelled. “Drop the gun!”

The man dropped the gun. He kept running.

He slowed down; Smith caught up with him. Smith tackled the man to the ground, got his hands behind his back, and quickly put on handcuffs. It was going to turn out all right.

Jacobson, who had heard Smith’s calls during the chase, arrived. He kept hold of the suspect while Smith retrieved the gun, a High Point 9-milimeter semiautomatic pistol. Police would later learn that the gun had been reported stolen in New Haven.

They charged the man in the red baseball cap, who was born in 1988, with three felony firearms charges as well as three misdemeanors. He’s currently behind bars on a $250,000 bond.

Back at police headquarters, as Smith filed his report, the gravity of the chase finally hit him. He recognized the feeling: the “adrenaline dump” that eventually follows a dangerous encounter. When you’re “glad it’s done.” When you realize you might not have made it home that night.

Smith looked forward to going home.


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
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
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
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
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: Eugene Debs on August 3, 2012  9:44am

hey nice job and everything and i’m sure he’s a terrific guy, but why is the union allowing union jobs to be outsourced to the state?

[Editor: The job is not outsourced. The DOC is lending the officer to a new task force. The DOC pays for the position.The position does not replace any existing positions in the department. It lightens the heavy load on existing personnel in the investigative division. The department is in the process of trying to fill as many as 100 union positions over the next year.]