When cops stormed into a first-floor apartment on Lilac Street, they didn’t find the dealer they were seeking. They did find a crack-addicted grandmother the dealer was allegedly exploiting to run a drug operation out of her house.
The Lilac Street bust provided an example of not only how cops are responding to the latest crime surge, but of how narcotics dealing can get rooted in a community: Dealers preying on addicts, then taking over their homes as bases for business.
The family of the woman taken away on Lilac Street expressed the hope that the arrest would prove a blessing, spurring the woman to break free of her drug habit.
The sweep was part of a response to a recent uptick in gun violence in the city, including eight shootings in 48 hours almost two weeks ago. Since many shootings are drug-related, the police initiated investigations into known drug hot spots, Assistant Chief John Velleca said Thursday before the raids.
Over the past couple of weeks, police used surveillance and undercover purchases to collect evidence for 11 search warrants. Thursday, they acted on them.
Lt. Jeff Hoffman, head of the Tactical Narcotics Unit, said Thursday’s operation was part of a larger crackdown on drug operations that began last Friday. Between then and Wednesday, SIU and TNU cops made 34 drug arrests through buy/bust operations throughout the city, Hoffman said. With Thursday’s arrests, police will have taken over 40 members of the drug trade in New Haven off the streets, he said.
“I would characterize it as a success,” he said.
The second stop Thursday morning was Lilac St., where a team of cops led by Sgt. Rob Criscuolo used a ram to break open the door of a first floor apartment at about 7:30. As they secured the apartment, neighbors gathered on nearby porches to watch the action.
A neighboring woman said the raided Lilac Street house is a known drug dealing location. A man with his gray hair in braids said cars stop by “all the time”; someone comes out and sells drugs, and the cars drive off.
Through the open door, a woman in a pink shirt could be seen quietly sitting on a wooden stool as cops searched the kitchen around her, even opening the freezer to peek inside.
Detective Jodi Novella brought in Nia, a drug-sniffing yellow lab, to help search the apartment and yard.
As his officers searched for evidence, Criscuolo talked drug-raid theory. He said the raids happen early in the morning so that people will still be in bed. “We like to catch them sleeping, for our safety and theirs.”
A day of raids has the effect of quieting down drug and crime activity for a little while, Criscuolo said. “It lets people know that we’re out here and active.”
Lt. Hoffman said earlier that standard raid procedure is to knock on the door, wait a reasonable amount of time, and then take down the door with a ram if it’s clear people are inside and not answering. It’s important to get in quickly before they have time to destroy any evidence, he said. After the home is secured through the detention of all the people inside, the search begins.
At the Lilac house, cops found a small quantity of crack under some clothes in the bedroom and a crack pipe on a night stand. Cops also found drug packaging materials and a scale.
One of Criscuolo’s officers came outside to tell him that the woman who lives in the apartment admitted to letting dealers use her apartment in exchange for drugs. Police had been targeting a dealer who operated from the house, Criscuolo said.
While they didn’t get the dealer, they did get a dog—a young friendly female pit bull who was chained up outside. The woman who lives in the apartment said the dog doesn’t belong to her. So police called animal control to take it away, rather than leave it unattended.
Criscuolo said cops don’t normally talk to neighbors during raids since they’re not likely to speak to them in the midst of an operation, when everybody else in the neighborhood can see them doing so. He said cops will come back later to speak with neighbors more discreetly. Many can be happy to talk and want to help police eliminate drugs on their street, he said. “These people don’t want this here.”
Mom’s House“This is my mother’s house,” said a woman in a black T-shirt and jeans, who arrived at the scene. She said her mom is 54 years old. “It’s sad. It’s really going to mess up her life.”
As her mother was led out to a waiting police van to be booked for narcotics possession, the daughter shouted out, “Mom, where’s your keys?”
Police allowed her to hand her house keys to her daughter before loading her into the van.
Another daughter, along with three granddaughters, showed up. They said neighbors had called them.
“She’s a user. She’s an addict,” said Tanisha Wilson. “I just take care of her rent.”
She said her mom has “mental issues” and has been using drugs for “quite some time.”
“I believe she was taken advantage of,” Wilson said. She and the woman’s granddaughters said guys are often hanging out on her porch. They said dealers often take advantage of crack users by turning their apartments into locations for drug dealing.
“She’s an addict. That’s what they do,” Wilson said.
Wilson said the police shouldn’t have come so early in the day. All the drug dealing happens in the afternoon, she said. And this being the second day of the month, it would be a busy time, since people are just getting welfare money, she said.
“If they [the cops] were watching, they would have come late,” Wilson said.
She said she had tried to get her mother help for her addiction. She had her signed up for an in-patient treatment program to start in the middle of June, she said. “We didn’t make it that far.”
But maybe the arrest will be what’s needed to help her mom kick crack, Wilson said. “This could be the beginning of something.”