An arrest on Cedar Drive in Springs last Thursday morning involving a stolen iPhone ended up triggering a mini-manhunt when the handcuffed suspect, Justin Cruz, 18, of East Hampton, escaped, outrunning police and disappearing into the woods.
Suffolk County police dispatched a helicopter to aid in the search, and New York State troopers sent a German shepherd called O’Reilly from its K-9 unit, with his handler, Trooper Kevin Drew.
Because they had no item of the suspect’s clothing to help the dog pick up his scent, it was sent into the woods to “pick up the freshest scent he finds,” Trooper Drew said about two hours after the manhunt began. The dog is trained to sniff the most recently disturbed ground cover in the woods, he explained. The area is dotted with forest cover, with residences scattered in.
O’Reilly initially seemed to pick up a scent, but then lost it, doubling back to the house where the fugitive was initially taken into custody. The helicopter hovered low in the sky, patrolling back and forth. Police continued to comb the neighborhood, in cars and on foot, going house to house on many blocks, but did not find a trace of him.
A little after midnight, Mr. Cruz, handcuffs gone, walked into the East Hampton Town Police headquarters in Wainscott and surrendered. He was at that point re-arrested, on the original charge of criminal possession of stolen property, plus an additional charge of escaping from custody. Both are Class A misdemeanors.
It all began a little after 8 a.m., when two town officers, following up on a report of an Apple iPhone stolen the day before, pulled up to a Cedar Drive house. In the course of interviewing Mr. Cruz, who was visiting there, police activated the missing cellphone, which made a sound. According to the police report, it was found on Mr. Cruz’s person. An officer handcuffed him in the standard hands-behind-the-back position and placed him in the rear of the police car. The officer then went back inside to interview a resident of the house.
Left alone in the rear of the car, Mr. Cruz, who is a wiry six feet tall, worked his hands down behind his back to his ankles, then under his feet. His shackled hands were now in front of him. He then, according to the police, climbed through the partition between the front and back seats and exited the squad car through an unlocked front door. The officers saw him sprinting away toward the woods.
When an initial search proved fruitless, police called in the county.
In court Saturday morning, Mr. Cruz, who had been arrested in April on a charge of trespassing, was arraigned before Justice Catherine Cahill. He told the court he had dropped out of school his junior year and was working part time, landscaping and building decks.
“That’s what you dropped out for?” Justice Cahill asked.
“I made a mistake,” he replied.
She asked him about his living circumstances. He told her he was living with his uncle.
“Where are your parents?”
“My mother is incarcerated, and my father was deported.”
He said he had lived in East Hampton for four years. “I said I was sorry to the officer I ran away from. I was scared,” he told the court.
Justice Cahill asked him how he was doing with his previous commitment to the court stemming from the April arrest, to do 60 hours’ community service. He told her he’d done 20.
“Are you kidding? The first time, it was 30 hours, and you blew it off, so it became 60 hours. Mr. Cruz, you’re going down the wrong road. You better get that community service done.”
Justice Cahill set bail at $500. Mr. Cruz was taken away.
Phoenix House Incident
In other police news, officers were called on Sept. 25 to the Phoenix House Academy juvenile drug treatment facility in Wainscott by the staff. According to the police report, an 18-year-old, whose name was redacted from the report, had, with another resident, blindfolded a 14-year-old boy as the younger boy asked for the cigarette he felt he was owed.
The 18-year-old told the blindfolded 14-year-old to put out his hand for the cigarette and then spit in it. He then exposed himself, according to the report, and began sexually touching the younger boy, who pushed away and ran out of the room. The Phoenix staff notified their supervisor, who called the 14-year-old’s father as well as the police.
Police interviewed them, eventually placing the 18-year-old under arrest. He was charged with acting in a manner injurious to a child, as well as forcible touching, both Class A misdemeanors.
Bail was set the next morning at $2,500.
“Our first concern is the safety of the residents,” Traci Donnelly, the regional director for Phoenix House, said Tuesday. “We offer across-the-board help” for the victim, she said. “We assess the person’s needs. Do they want to stay in Phoenix? We work closely with the parents and spouses.”
Phoenix House will try to find an outside treatment facility more appropriate for the accused as well, Ms. Donnelly said.