Long hours, big cases: Police tackle multiple investigations

A whiteboard in Trumbull’s Detective Bureau lays out a maze of contacts, leads and information on just one of the big cases detectives are working through right now, representing countless hours of work, warrants and time.

“You have to follow every lead and one might fizzle out or bring you down a new path— with every lead you are making more work for yourself,” Sgt. Kenneth Jones said.

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of activity for the Trumbull Detective Bureau. Bank robberies, a break in a counterfeit case, a missing teen, sexual assault, and armed carjacking all happened within a short period of time.

“I’ve never experienced a week like that in 40 years,” police Chief Thomas Kiely said.

While Kiely said the week of major crimes is an “anomaly,” what is most impressive is what the detectives have been able to accomplish in a short period of time.

“It’s been good, old-fashioned police work, following leads, using contacts,” Kiely said.

One arrest has already been made in connection with the armed bank robbery at People’s United Bank on Madison Avenue on Sept. 26. That robbery is connected to a car arson and armed carjacking the day before. George Bratsenis, 65, was arrested and charged just a few days after the robbery. Police are still working on the case, since two suspects went into the bank and, they say, the crime was well planned.

“These are bad guys,” Kiely said of the armed bank robbers and carjacking suspect. “The violence of it — waving guns in the teller’s faces — is what concerns us. There was planning and numerous people involved. They knew what they were doing.”

Police have also applied for an arrest warrant for a suspect they say robbed Webster Bank Sept. 23. Sgt. Jones said the suspect is a serial bank robber who has hit banks in Bridgeport and Suffield and in Rye, N.Y.

Collection of evidence and collaboration with other agencies linked the four robberies to a single suspect who was identified and arrested by another agency, police said. He later admitted to the robberies and that he planned to rob more banks, police said. Police have not yet released his identity but said they have applied for the arrest warrant. DNA evidence from the note the robber gave to the teller helped them identify him. Kiely and Jones said the state crime lab deserved thanks for rushing its request to get a result on the DNA.

“They got it back to us so quickly and really did a great job,” Jones said.

Around the same time, detectives were investigating a sexual assault complaint, and that led to the arrest of registered sex offender Walter Santiago, who allegedly abused a Trumbull boy with autism. Santiago was captured in Bridgeport, on a search and seizure warrant.

Detectives are also working on locating missing 16-year-old Carolyn Lindsey, with medical issues, who police believe went to New York City with her boyfriend. She has been missing since Sept. 20, and that case remains active.

Counterfeit case

In the midst of other serious investigations, detectives got a call Oct. 6 that a suspect in a counterfeit case at Best Buy was getting on a plane at JFK airport. Detective Robert Coppola had been working on the counterfeit case with the U.S. Secret Service. It started on Aug. 20, when police say an East European counterfeit ring used forged cards to buy $6,300 worth of items from Best Buy.

“What they would do is use the fake cards, sell the stuff and put the money in an account,” Coppola said.

When the department was informed that one of the suspects in the Trumbull case was trying to get out of the country, Coppola was running out the back door of the department to get an arrest warrant before the plane’s takeoff. He got the arrest warrant signed at 3 p.m., and the suspect’s plane had been scheduled to leave at 6.

The warrant allowed the Port Authority officers to detain the suspect. Police are still working on extradition and have not released the suspect’s name.

Hard work

Detectives last week joked that the workload has led to a lot of unhappy wives.

Currently, the bureau, not including Sgt. Jones, has four full-time detectives and is getting temporary help from another officer in the department. Ideally, the bureau would have two more members, according to the chief.

“What they’ve managed to accomplish, being understaffed, is amazing,” Kiely said. “We do need more warm bodies up here.”

They haven’t been hearing praise for their work from just within the department; they’ve also been hearing it at local courts and around town.

Despite the praise, detectives say it would be better to have additional help.

“When you are working on so many things, it can blur and you may miss something,” Coppola said. “You hope not, but it’s human nature.”

Detectives said that everyday work of the bureau has had to be put on the back burner, to deal with more pressing crime investigations.

For the one robbery investigation alone, police have pulled numerous search warrants and the case remains active.

“This is not CSI,” Jones said. “We don’t solve it in one hour, with commercial breaks.”

Kiely, who is retiring in just a few months, said the caseload detectives have been dealing with is more similar to that of a city than of a town like Trumbull.

He praised the ongoing work detectives are doing.

“As a chief, I’m very proud,” he said.