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Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Street takeovers in CT ‘escalating,’ becoming ‘more violent’

Law enforcement agencies all over Connecticut are pooling together resources in an attempt to put an end to the growing problem of dangerous street takeovers that authorities say are escalating to include suspects brandishing firearms, climbing on top of police cruisers and throwing bottles at authorities.

“If you choose to do it, we will hunt you down and we will do the best we can to incarcerate you,” Meriden Dep. Chief Jerry Scully said at a joint press conference Friday at the Meriden Police Department.

The news conference, attended by Meriden city and judicial officials as well as Connecticut State Police and police from Southington, Waterbury and Naugatuck, comes on the heels of street takeovers becoming more frequent and violent in Connecticut, including several instances within the last week and recent months involving large groups who block intersections and gather in public streets or commercial parking lots to perform street-racing stunts.

“We are certainly overwhelmed and overmanned,” Scully said.

Street takeovers are rising in Connecticut. A state task force could be the answer to fight back.

The deputy chief’s comments follow an incident in Meriden on May 6 when police received nearly 10 calls shortly after 11 p.m. about a large gathering in a commercial parking lot at 1201 E. Main St. racing cars, spinning tires, playing loud music and setting off fireworks, according to Meriden police. The first officer on the scene, who saw a large plume of smoke coming from the area, was approached by the crowd, which began taunting the officer and giving him crude gestures before multiple individuals climbed on top of the hood of his car, causing more than $1,800 in damages, police showed in a dashcam video on Friday.

Individuals also climbed on nearby tractor-trailers and blocked backup officers from reaching the lone policeman. Mutual aid was called in from Connecticut State Police and officers in Middletown.

One of the individuals — who Meriden police are looking to identify — tried pulling out an object that appeared to be a handgun from his pocket while on top of the police cruiser. He was unable to get the object out of his pocket.

Meriden police say they are looking to identify a suspect who tried pulling what appeared to be a handgun out of his pocket.
Meriden police say they are looking to identify a suspect who tried pulling what appeared to be a handgun out of his pocket.

Meriden Detective Lt. Shane Phillips said “part of the rules of this organization” are to engage with police, not flee and to block police from entering the areas where they are gathered.

“We believe that they have standing orders to confront police in this manner,” Phillips said.

An hour and a half after the Meriden incident, police said, many individuals from the group of 100 or so then headed to Waterbury where they lit a large fire in the middle of an intersection. They took cones off the fire truck that responded and threw rocks at the truck, according to police. They also danced on a police cruiser in Waterbury, authorities said.

“When have you ever heard of someone attacking a fireman?” Scully asked. “Everybody loves the firemen.”

Meriden police made two arrests in connection with the violent takeover, including 22-year-old Shawn Mills on charges of first-degree riot, unlawful assembly and other offenses, as well as Tatiana Ortiz, 18, on similar charges. They are hoping to identify the suspect who appeared to have a weapon and are looking to charge him.

The incidents in Meriden and Waterbury followed a similar situation in Southington within the last two weeks in which a number of individuals threw bottles at a police cruiser, authorities said Friday.

“So they are definitely escalating,” Scully said. “They have a propensity for violence.”

Police: Street racing ‘ring leader’ arrested following multiple street takeovers

Naugatuck police have seen three street takeovers since February and made one arrest of a New Jersey woman on Friday on charges of reckless driving and first-degree reckless endangerment — charges that stem from a gathering of over 100 vehicles in April in a commercial parking lot.

“We’re not ruling out additional arrests,” Naugatuck Chief Colin McAllister said.

“Understand that this brazen conduct, this lawlessness has caught our attention, and we are using every means at our disposal to ensure that we can bring these to justice who are committing this,” McAllister continued.

The Naugatuck police chief called on state legislators to form a task force to address this growing trend of street takeovers — something that passed the Connecticut Senate earlier this week.

A task force through the legislature would be beneficial, but authorities said they will be working collaboratively on these types of incidents with or without help from the state.

“Whether the state legislates it or not, we’re not going to take it,” Scully said. “We’re going to actively work together. We’re going to partner. We’re going to share information. We’re going to identify individuals and we’re going to look to arrest them. But yeah, if the legislature is willing to help us, we’ll certainly accept it.”

According to Scully, authorities believe those who attend street takeovers come from all over the New England area and communicate through an app. He said he wouldn’t call them organized, as their communications do not appear to extend beyond a date and time and how to get there for a meet-up.

“I wouldn’t say it’s an actual group or a gang,” said Scully. “It’s a group of car enthusiasts who enjoy creating chaos and lawlessness in communities.”

Scully dodged a question at Friday’s press conference as to whether the FBI or another national law enforcement agency is assisting municipal police with their investigations. He said Meriden police have task force members with the FBI, ATF, Department of Homeland Security and other agencies that can be tapped for resources if necessary.

Connecticut State Police Sgt. Christine Jeltema said there are believed to be anywhere from 300 to 500 individuals in the area who engage in this kind of activity. She urged anyone who sees a street takeover in progress to call 911 immediately and avoid the area by either taking an alternate route or waiting for the group to disperse, which she said usually happens after about 10 to 20 minutes.

“They’re violent,” Jeltema said. “These are volatile situations.”

Her comments come after a woman who approached a street takeover in Tolland earlier this week was subjected to individuals kicking and stomping at her car and jumping on the roof.

Jeltema also said intelligence has led authorities to believe that many who participate in these takeovers are high school-aged. She called on parents to check in with their children and find out what they are doing when they go out.

“This is a very dangerous situation for them,” Jeltema said.

“It just seems at this point it’s escalating and becoming a lot more violent,” Scully added.

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