Tales of courage, dedication highlight police awards

Mary Zygmont and her daughter, in back, Valerie, were presented commendations by Chief of Police James Heavey for their work in helping capture a man who had attempted to cut through the roof of a Stop & Shop and enter the money room. More photos will be available Friday at Greenwich-post.com. — John Ferris Robben photo

Mary Zygmont and her daughter, in back, Valerie, were presented commendations by Chief of Police James Heavey for their work in helping capture a man who had attempted to cut through the roof of a Stop & Shop and enter the money room. 
— John Ferris Robben photo

All photos by Post photographer John Ferris Robben

Greenwich’s finest gathered at the Western Civic Center last week where the Greenwich Police Department Silver Shield Association held its biannual award ceremony in recognition of numerous officers’ efforts in the line of duty for the years 2011 and 2012.

Hosted by retired Greenwich Police Department Lt. Tom Keegan, the event was attended by the families of the officers, along with Selectman David Theis, state Rep. Stephen Walko (R-150th District) and a handful of other town employees.

The first 2011 award was presented to Officer Jeffrey Morris, who received the Exceptional Medical Services Medal. In October 2011, Officer Morris responded to a Byram residence on the report of an elderly person who had stopped breathing. Upon arrival, he found the 71-year-old man lying on the floor with no vital signs. Officer Morris immediately performed CPR until the arrival of Greenwich Emergency Medical Services (GEMS). After GEMS personnel applied an automated external defibrillator, he continued chest compressions on the man and eventually his vital signs were stabilized. The man was taken to the hospital and survived as a result of Officer Morris’s actions.

Officer Oliver Doenges was awarded a Commendation Medal for his work in the winter of 2011. In January of that year, Officer Doenges was at the Glory Days Diner in Greenwich picking up food for a prisoner being held in a cell block at police headquarters. While at the diner, Officer Doenges smelled the distinct odor of marijuana coming from a booth nearby in which two people were seated.

After he alerted the narcotics division, that team initiated a covert surveillance of the individuals that resulted in the arrest of one of the pair. The man agreed to cooperate with police, and over the course of the next year, based on information provided by the arrestee, narcotics detectives made six additional arrests and confiscated four pounds of marijuana, along with LSD, cash and three motor vehicles. Officer Doenges’ initial report led to these arrests.

Investigators honored

Awarded for a lengthy investigation, Officers Keith Hirsch, Daniel Paladino and Michael Rooney each received an Investigator’s Medal for their work, which began in the fall of 2010. At that time, the town had seen a series of thefts of unlocked cars at night, after which the thief used stolen credit cards from the vehicles to make purchases. The officers contacted several of the victims’ credit card companies and found that the thief was spending “thousands upon thousands” of dollars at the Woodbury Commons shopping mall in Rockland County, N.Y.

During their investigation, officers received word from Westport police that the department had had a similar pattern of crimes the previous year. The Westport department gave the name of a suspect, who had not yet been arrested, to Greenwich police. The man was interviewed by the officers in the Bronx, N.Y., and denied involvement in the crimes, but he gave them the name of a man he believed to be responsible. Comparing photos of the suspect with video surveillance tapes from a store in Woodbury Commons, officers were able to confirm that the man in the tapes was the suspect they were tracking. He had entered the store where stolen credit cards were used at their approximate time of use.

Later, the officers received word from NYPD that a stolen car from Greenwich had been located in the Bronx. Working with forensics specialists, Officers Hirsch, Paladino and Rooney helped lift a fingerprint from a Woodbury Commons shopping bag, allowing for the approval of search warrants. The suspect was ultimately charged with 40 car burglaries and larcenies as well as two counts of motor vehicle theft.

Unit citation

Earning themselves a Unit Citation, Sgts. Joseph Ryan, Timothy Hildebrand and Pierangelo Corticelli, Detective William Weissauer, and Officers Stanley Sanders, Michael Barrow and Craig Zottola were awarded for their efforts surrounding a January 2011 robbery. Dispatchers had received multiple 911 phone calls reporting a robbery at the CVS in the Thruway Shopping Center in Greenwich. The unit learned that a male had entered the store with a scarf around his face, brandished a knife at the pharmacist and demanded oxycodone pills. The pharmacist complied, giving the man a bottle of oxycodone, after which he left the store.

The manager of CVS followed the man outside and watched him get into a dark-colored minivan. When the man attempted to leave the parking lot, the manager threw a CVS shopping cart at his vehicle and the two objects collided. From there, the man entered Interstate 95 to escape but was shortly after located by patrol officers. The man denied the crime but forensics specialists matched a boot print at the CVS store with boots worn by the suspect, who was found to be driving a gray/blue minivan. After analyzing the paint from the van and comparing it to paint that had rubbed off on the shopping cart, specialists found it to be a perfect match.

Ultimately, the suspect was arrested and charged with a felony. Lt. Keegan said the investigation came to a successful end as the result of a well-coordinated effort by officers from multiple divisions.

Civilian efforts and Silver Shields

After officers were awarded for their 2011 achievements, it was time for two civilians to take the spotlight.

“The Police Department can only be so effective. There are only so many police officers to go around,” Lt. Keegan said. Accordingly, the town’s Neighborhood Watch Program relies on citizens to keep an eye on happenings in their neighborhood, he said. In 2012, two such people, Mary and Valerie Zygmont, saw something and said something. The women witnessed a man climbing the roof of the Glenville Stop & Shop and reported it to police. Their observation led to the arrest of a man who had cut a hole in the roof of the building in an attempt to enter the store’s money room. The Good Samaritans received certificates for their efforts.

Next up were the 2012 recipients of Silver Shield awards.

Officer Kristin Lindstrom was awarded a Commendation Medal for her life-saving efforts. In December 2012, Officer Lindstrom and her fiancé, an officer with the Ridgefield Police Department, were traveling through Danbury in the early morning hours. Both officers were off duty and unarmed. As they drove, the couple passed a large commercial parking lot and saw what they believed to be a large group of males, ranging in age from about 25 to 30 years old, fighting one another. Officer Lindstrom and her fiancé stopped their vehicle across from the group and saw two men stand down into the highway and continue to fight.

One of the men was punching the other repeatedly in the side, and Officer Lindstrom, fearing the men would be struck by cars, identified herself as a police officer while her fiancé called the Danbury police. One of the two men ran away, back into the larger group of men, and Officer Lindstrom went to the aid of the injured man, discovering that he had been stabbed repeatedly, and rendered him first aid. She and her fiancé helped Danbury police identify the man who had committed the assault when they arrived on scene. It was later learned that the victim had become paralyzed by the stabbing and Officer Lindstrom’s intervention most likely saved his life.

Later in the awards ceremony, Lt. Keegan warned the audience that a long list of names was about to be read. He then listed nearly 100 Greenwich officers of varying ranks as well as police dispatchers, all of whom were recognized for their work during Superstorm Sandy from Oct. 29 through Oct. 30, 2012. The officers were praised for rising to the occasion and working in extremely difficult and dangerous conditions throughout the storm. They responded to each call for service to help countless Greenwich residents in need. There were calls for emergency medical attention, emergency evacuation, relocation, and innumerable roads that were blocked by fallen trees that needed cordoning off. For their dedication to duty in the “most dangerous of natural conditions and for unwavering service to community,” the individuals were awarded  Unit Citations. Dispatchers were also awarded certificates of recognition for their efforts.

Home invasion

Sgt. Kristopher Shockley and Detectives Vincent O’Banner, Anthony Fiscella and Pasquale Iorfino were also among the day’s award recipients, each earning the Investigator’s Medal for their work. Their efforts began in July 2012 while responding to a 911 call in Greenwich near the New York border. A female reported that she had just been the victim of a home invasion robbery. When the officers arrived, the woman was found seated in her front foyer, visibly shaken by the incident.

She explained that she was confronted by two masked men while in her second floor bedroom. The men hog-tied her and held a gun to her head while demanding jewelry and ransacking the house. They left with the victim’s cell phone and wiped her hands with a solution before their departure. The victim’s cell phone was pinged and was discovered to be used last near Armonk, N.Y., a few miles north of her home. The ensuing investigation was highly complex as officers learned that they were dealing with a team of professional burglars with extensive criminal backgrounds and arrest records that reached as far south as Florida and dated back 40 years.

The group was now known to be committing home invasion burglaries and robberies in Westchester and Fairfield counties.

“To tell small pieces of the story would not do these investigators justice,” Lt. Keegan said of the investigation.

Summarizing the next four months, Lt. Keegan explained that the team of officers became part of a jurisdictional task force. During their investigation, they helped carry out surveillance of several suspects’ properties, placed locating devices on those properties, applied for cell phone records for multiple individuals, viewed thousands of feet of surveillance tape, applied for search warrants across state lines, and participated in countless stakeouts.

In the end, three high-profile professional criminals were arrested with ties to past criminal groups known as the Dinnerset Burglars and the Shoreline Burglars — prolific robbers who targeted wealthy homes in Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Florida in the 1970s, 80s and 90s. Subsequent searches also resulted in the discovery of large quantities of cash, jewelry and other stolen items. The suspects are currently in jail awaiting trial on multiple federal offenses related to their crime spree.

Near the conclusion of the awards ceremony, Lt. Keegan explained that the Silver Shield Association had very specific rules about who could receive medals from the awards committee, including one that only allows sworn-in Greenwich officers to receive the medals. He then announced that in 2012, two members of the “police family,” former police Chief Raymond Grant Jr. and retired Detective James Hirsch, had conducted efforts deserving of recognition.

The men were officially sworn in by Mr. Theis. Detective Hirsch was awarded an Investigator’s Medal for assisting Greenwich detectives in an investigation in which the information he provided was imperative to solving the case. Chief Grant was awarded the Commendation Medal for assisting an officer with the restraint and arrest of a suspect at Tod’s Point, after watching the officer struggle to handcuff the combative man by himself.

In reference to Chief Grant’s efforts, and also fitting for a closing comment to the awards ceremony, Lt. Keegan said, “Once a cop, always a cop.”

 

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