Last week, the Wilton Police Department recognized the outstanding contributions of the brave men and women who put their lives on the line to serve the Town of Wilton, at the annual Police Awards. Members of the department received their awards for service during 2017 from Wilton’s Chief of Police John Lynch and were congratulated by the Police Commission and First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice.

We’ve adapted remarks made by Lynch at the ceremony that was held on Monday, April 9 at Wilton Library.

Officer of the Year:  Detective Kip Tarrant

The annual Officer of the Year Award began in 2003 as a way of acknowledging a member of the department who provided exceptional service. The award is granted each year to the member who distinguishes themselves from their peers by actions which represent the highest standards of the police profession. The members recommended for consideration by supervisors must have no sustained departmental or citizen complaints for the year, must have maintained an acceptable level of productivity and a minimal level of absenteeism. One nomination for this award may be submitted each year by each sergeant and lieutenant to the Chief of Police, and the recipient is chosen at the Chief’s discretion.

This year’s recipient, Det. Kip Tarrant, began his career in Wilton as a patrol officer in January 1980 and has been in his current role as a detective since 2005.

This year Tarrant completed his 38th year serving Wilton and has come to be a steady and reliable influence in the Department’s detective bureau. In 2012 he ran the detective bureau as a result of the extended absence of the Lieutenant commander.

During his tenure, this officer has never lost his vigor for investigative work. He is a skilled investigator and has a strong skill set in interviewing individuals, is quick to build rapport with victims, witnesses, and suspects alike, and conducts a thorough interview that elicits the necessary information relative to investigations.

Tarrant received several awards during the ceremony for his direct involvement in several significant arrests. He had an impressive year in 2017; however this is not unusual because he has been doing so for his entire career. With such a young department, many of the Sergeants have commented on what an asset he has been by assisting the younger officers with their investigations.

The Officer of the Year Award is also known as the Officer Jack VanDeusen Award, in memory of Ofc. Jack VanDeusen.  During a career with the Wilton Police Department that started in 1986, VanDeusen helped to initiate the Strategic Traffic Patrol and made numerous felony arrests. As a person, he was dedicated to serving the public. He was the Chief of the New Canaan Fire Department and served as an EMT on the New Canaan Emergency Medical Service. VanDeusen’s life and career were cut short in 2003 by his untimely death.

Community Police Officer of the Year Award:  Officer Elise Ackerman

The Community Police Officer of the Year Award was created in memory of Sergeant Tom “TJ” Tunney, who lost his battle with cancer in January of 2016. Tunney started his career with the Wilton Police Department in July of 1985 and was promoted to the rank of sergeant in 2000. During his career, Tunney received numerous commendations, as well as the esteemed Department Medal of Honor Award. Additionally he was awarded the New England Association Chiefs of Police Medal of Valor and the American Red Cross Hero’s Award for rescuing a man who was trapped in a car that was on fire after a motor vehicle accident.

This award was named after Sgt. Tunney for his tremendous involvement with and care for the citizens of Wilton. Throughout Tunney’s career the Police Department received countless letters praising him for his involvement with the community. He was a great advocate for the people of Wilton and was well respected by his peers.

“TJ and I started our careers together,” Lynch told the crowd. “I quickly learned the value of understanding and knowing our community as a result of TJ’s commitment to the Community. His efforts helped lay the groundwork for our current focus and commitment to our Wilton Community. TJ helped to inspire a culture of community policing, transparency, understanding and collaboration. TJ took the time to know our community and is greatly missed.”

This award acknowledges members of the Wilton Police Department who have demonstrated outstanding service to the community with particular emphasis on the Wilton Police values of Integrity, Respect, Professionalism, and Community Support.

“I am very proud of the fact that we have many officers who could have earned this award and it was difficult to narrow the selection down to just one. All of our officers should be proud of their continued efforts while forging positive relationships and building trust within our Wilton Community,” Lynch noted.

This year’s winner, Officer Elise Ackerman, (pictured above, main image) has been a large proponent of community policing since she started with the Wilton Police in March of 2014. She has been involved in many community policing initiatives in Wilton such as:

  • Shop with a Cop, which is an annual event put on by the Reach Foundation where police officers throughout the state come together to have dinner and shop with children who are less fortunate.  This officer was one of the first to show interest in participating in this event.
  • Coffee with a Cop, which makes Officers available to the public in an informal setting at local coffee establishments.  This gives citizens the opportunity to meet with and discuss community issues directly with Officers.
  • Special Olympics Torch Run
  • Tip a Cop, where Officers act as servers at local restaurants and donate their tips to support the Special Olympics.
  • A continued participant at Read Aloud Day at the schools.
  • Officer Over the Edge, where she is willing to throw herself off of tall buildings for the sake of supporting Special Olympics.

This year, Ackerman worked with the Wilton Library to start an initiative where Police Officers read to children. The library publicized the event as “dig into a book with a Police Officer.”  She has even recruited other Officers on different shifts to participate in these reading events.

She also helped organize a Wilton Police Union tent for the Halloween parade in Wilton Center, affording each officer the opportunity to interact with the children as they passed out candy.

For many of these events, Ofc. Ackerman volunteered her own time. Community involvement is a passion and not just the occasional participation while on duty.

Wilton Police Outstanding Citizen Award-Blue Angel Award:  Peg Koellmer

In its first year of being awarded, the Blue Angel Award was established to honor a current or former Wilton resident who has distinguished themselves through long-term and selfless commitment to the Town of Wilton and the Wilton Police Department.

This award can be bestowed upon an individual or organization whose efforts have aided the Wilton Police Department in the prevention of crime, the apprehension of criminals or in the performance of a valuable community service to the Town of Wilton.

There are many individuals, organizations and even businesses deserving of recognition for their continued support but this year’s inaugural winner Peg Koellmer is an individual from our community who is well deserving of this award.

“She has supported Wilton’s officers and department for many years and in many ways,” Lynch explained. “Some of her support includes bringing food for all the officers during the major storms, working on committees for the betterment of the department, publicly supporting our department and a member of several police related committees. Just recently this individual provided funding for our first body worn camera system knowing our desire to become transparent to our community.”

Lynch continued:  “Whether she assisted us publicly, privately or anonymously, she has always been there for us. Her door is always open and she takes valuable time out of her busy schedule to support us. She even participated in prior chief committee selections and coordinated events along the way. She is unselfish and is always ready to help out.”

The other awards that were bestowed included:

Detective Eva Zimnoch – Letter of Recognition

On May 30, 2016 the Wilton Police Department received a complaint from a resident for fraudulent credit card charges. It was learned that the charges were made throughout the state and totaled almost $8,000.

Through Detective Eva Zimnoch’s investigation she learned that a neighboring town had arrested a person who may have been involved in the Wilton fraud charges. Det. Zimnoch also discovered that her suspect was being investigated by the FBI for making over 100 fraudulent purchases at TJ Maxx stores. Zimnoch worked with the FBI task force and was able to link her suspect with all of the fraudulent credit card purchases that were made with the Wilton resident’s card.

The suspect was arrested by warrant in Jan. of 2017 for forgery using a credit card and identity theft.

Detective Kip Tarrant – Letter of Recognition
Officer Brandon Harris – Letter of Recognition

On July 15, 2016 Officer Brandon Harris responded to the Wilton CVS for a shop lifting complaint. The manager of the CVS reported that two females had shoplifted $2,600 dollars worth of merchandise. Ofc. Harris reviewed the surveillance video and was able to get a detailed description of the suspects.

Det. Tarrant followed up with this case and made contact with the CVS loss prevention department. Tarrant learned that the suspects in the Wilton larceny were part of a larger group that had committed at least 26 larcenies at other CVS stores in Connecticut, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Through his investigation Tarrant discovered that another police department in Pennsylvania had developed a suspect in the CVS larcenies and that one of the suspect’s associates fit the description of one of the females involved in the Wilton CVS larceny. With this information Ofc. Harris was able to obtain an arrest warrant for one of the suspects involved in the shoplifting incident. The suspect was arrested on Jan. 2, 2017 for Larceny 3rd and Conspiracy to Commit Larceny 3rd charges.

Detective Kip Tarrant – Letter of Commendation
Detective Scott Sear – Letter of Commendation
Detective Eva Zimnoch – Letter of Commendation

During the overnight hours of Dec. 22, 2016 two motor vehicles were burglarized while in the driveways of residences in the West Meadow Road area of town. It was later learned that stolen credit cards belonging to one of the victims were used at retail stores in Waterbury and Southington, CT. Det. Zimnoch obtained still photographs related to these fraudulent transactions and was able to link the suspects to similar activity in Old Saybrook, CT using intelligence bulletins. Det. Tarrant conducted an interview of one the suspects who positively identified the other two suspects, while not implicating himself. During the interview Tarrant observed that the suspect was wearing the same hat he was seen wearing in the surveillance footage at the time the victim’s credit cards were used fraudulently. Det. Scott Sear executed several search and seizure warrants on the cell phone records of the suspects, which corroborated the suspect’s connection with one another. All three detectives conducted extensive investigation to include interviews, search and seizure warrants for phone records, and collaboration with other agencies. As of June 2017 all of the suspects in this case had been arrested for multiple counts burglary, larceny, and identity theft.

Sergeant Anthony Cocco – Life Saving Award (PIN)
Officer Shawn Frendt – Life Saving Award (PIN)

On Jan. 15, 2017 dispatch received a 911 call stating that a child had fallen through the ice at Merwin Meadows Pond. Upon arrival, Ofc. Shawn Frendt and Sgt. Anthony Cocco observed a child approximately 25 feet from the shore and partially submerged in the icy water. Frendt immediately grabbed the rescue throw bag from his cruiser and used it to throw a line to the child. The child grabbed hold of the rope and Frendt and Cocco were able to pull him across the ice to shore.

The child was evaluated by Wilton EMS and was turned over to his father–who happened to be Ofc. Frendt.

The quick response of these Officers most likely saved this child’s life.

Officer Eric Patenaude – Letter of Recognition

On Feb. 2, 2017 the department received a call for a house fire on Shadow Lane Rd. When Officer Eric Patenaude arrived at the home he observed it to be fully engulfed in flames. Upon walking around the house, Patenaude located a large propane tank on the back left side of the home. He alerted arriving fire units to the presence of the propane tank, which prompted them to deploy water to the area of the tank first, so that it could be pulled away from the home.

Patenaude’s thoroughness and quick response in alerting fire personnel averted a potentially much more dangerous situation.

Officer Brandon Harris – Letter of Commendation

On Feb. 20, 2017, Ofc. Harris received a larceny complaint from a town resident. The complainant stated that she owned a property that was currently in foreclosure and had been in civil litigation for the past few years.  She went onto say that she noticed that several hundred pieces of personal items that were in the foreclosed house were for sale on an auction site out of Greenwich.

The complainant stated that she contacted the auction company and explained that she was the owner of the property being auctioned and that she did not give permission for the items to be sold. Harris contacted the auction company and learned that the value of the property that was to be auctioned was approximately $405,000. It was learned from the auction company that the person auctioning the items was a real estate agent who had been hired by the complainant and foreclosing bank to care for the house while civil litigation was proceeding.

Harris was able to get a voluntary confession from the suspect who was arrested by warrant charging her with Larceny in the 1st degree.

Detective Kip Tarrant – Letter of Commendation (PIN)
Detective Scott Sear – Letter of Commendation
Detective Eva Zimnoch – Letter of Commendation
Officer Jonathan Patry – Letter of Recognition

On Feb. 21, 2017 the Wilton Police Department was made aware of three incidents of identity theft from residents on Thunder Lake Road. The following day the department received a suspicious vehicle complaint from a resident on Pipers Hill Road who reported seeing a vehicle in the area wherein the operator of the vehicle appeared to be removing mail from neighbor’s mailboxes. Officer Jonathan Patry obtained a detailed description of the vehicle and operator from the complainant.

With the information received the department set-up surveillance in the north end of Wilton.  On Feb. 23, 2017 at approximately noon, Det. Zimnoch observed a vehicle in the area of Whipstock Road and Nod Hill Road matching the description of the suspicious vehicle complaint from the day prior. Upon stopping the vehicle the operator was found to have mail and a credit card in the name of a Pipers Hill Road resident in his lap. A subsequent search of the vehicle completed by Zimnoch and Det. Tarrant revealed further evidence that the operator was engaged in the crime of Identity Theft.

Information was developed that the suspect was currently staying at a hotel in Danbury, CT. Det. Sear completed a search and seizure warrant for the hotel room, which was later executed by Sear and Tarrant with assistance from the Weston Police Department and the United States Postal Inspectors. The results of the search warrant provided further evidence that the suspect was engaged in a large scale organized identity/mail theft ring.

An additional 26 Wilton residents were identified as victims of the scheme. The suspect arrested in this incident has been linked to similar activity in several states throughout the country.

Detective Kip Tarrant – Letter of Commendation
Detective Scott Sear – Letter of Commendation (PIN)
Detective Eva Zimnoch – Letter of Commendation (PIN)
Office Paul Lichtenberger – Letter of Commendation (PIN)

On Feb. 24, 2017 at approximately 3 p.m. Wilton Dispatch received a report of a bank robbery in progress at the Fairfield County Bank located at 941 Danbury Road. Officers responded and discovered that a masked male entered the bank and demanded cash. The suspect left the bank with an undisclosed amount of cash. The suspect fled the scene in a 1997 Honda Accord color green, which was abandoned and recovered a short distance from the bank by Officer Paul Lichtenberger.

The investigation revealed a similarly masked suspect had attempted a bank robbery in Fairfield, CT just two days prior in which the same recovered suspect vehicle was used. Det. Tarrant collaborated with Fairfield detectives and, through search and seizure warrants executed on Internet sites associated with the purchase of the suspect vehicle, were able to develop a male suspect who resided in Norwalk, CT. A search and seizure warrant was subsequently executed on the suspect’s residence by Detectives Zimnoch, Tarrant, Sear, and Trahan along with the assistance of Fairfield and Norwalk PD.

The day following the search warrant execution, the suspect requested to speak with Zimnoch; she interviewed the suspect, who subsequently confessed to his involvement in the Wilton bank robbery as well as four other bank robberies in the previous six months in the towns of Stamford, Norwalk, and Fairfield, CT. An arrest warrant was obtained for the suspect on all five bank robberies.

With information that the arrested suspect was connected to a known bank robber who had previously robbed the same bank in Wilton, CT in 2009, detectives continued to investigate. Further interviews conducted by Stamford PD as well as the examination of the suspect’s phone records established probable cause for the arrest of a second suspect connected to the Wilton bank robbery.

The arrest is a result of remarkable collaboration among the Wilton, Fairfield, Stamford, and Norwalk police departments.

Sergeant Steven Rangel – Life Saving (PIN)
Officer Mark Canepari – Life Saving (PIN)
Officer Malcolm Hayes – Life Saving (PIN)

On April 27, 2017, officers were dispatched to the area of Hidden Lake Ridge for a report of a man lying on the side of the road. Upon their arrival Officers located a man who was unconscious with shallow rapid breathing. Sergeant Steven Rangel, along with Officers Mark Canepari and Malcolm Hayes began medical treatment on the patient. They inserted an oral airway and provided rescue breathing until Wilton EMS arrived. Upon further investigation it was discovered that the patient had overdosed on heroin. Narcan was administered by EMS and the patient regained consciousness.

The medical treatment given by these Officers helped save the life of this individual.

Dispatcher William Whitman – Letter of Commendation

“On many occasions the dispatcher receives little credit. However, it is important to point out how important their role in dispatch is. Their ability to identify situations and escalate a response is invaluable to the responding units. In some cases the dispatcher is the victim’s only contact and they must obtain as much information and provide a calming demeanor during dire situations,” Chief Lynch said.

On May 1, 2017 dispatch received a 911 call from a 22 year old male who stated he was going to kill himself. Dispatcher William Whitman answered the call and kept the distraught man on the line while dispatching emergency units to his location. The male stated that he was sitting in his car which was in the garage, and that he was going to start the car to kill himself. During the conversation the man started the car, and Whitman was able to get him to turn the car off. When Officers arrived, the man was found in the garage and was transported to the hospital for treatment. Whitman was able to keep the situation from escalating and prevented this young man from taking his own life.

Sergeant Timothy Fridinger – Letter of Commendation
Officer Brandon Harris – Letter of Commendation
Officer Malcolm Hayes – Letter of Commendation
Officer Douglas Parsons – Letter of Recognition

On Aug. 16, 2017 at 6:30 a.m., Officer Douglas Parsons was dispatched to a motor vehicle evading accident in the area of Rte. 7 and Kensett Drive. Dispatch relayed the description of the evading vehicle and that it had fled north on Rt 7. Sergeant Tim Fridinger observed a vehicle pass by his location that fit the description of the evading vehicle. Fridinger also noticed that the markings on the side of the vehicle were consistent with that of a vehicle reported stolen a few hours earlier. He caught up to the vehicle and verified from its license plate that it was in fact the stolen vehicle. Fridinger activated his lights and siren, but the vehicle would not stop. Officer Harris joined the pursuit as the secondary vehicle and relayed information to dispatch and other units.

Officer Hayes, who was ahead of the pursuit, was able to deploy spike strips and was successful in puncturing several tires on the stolen vehicle. The vehicle ultimately came to a stop behind a business in the Georgetown area of town, where the suspect was taken into custody.

The suspect, who was a juvenile, was ultimately charged with Larceny in the 1st degree, Burglary in the 3rd degree, Criminal Mischief 3rd degree, Engaging in Pursuit, Reckless Driving, and Operating a Motor Vehicle without a license.

Detective Eva Zimnoch – Letter of Commendation

On Aug. 24, 2017, officers responded to a bank located in Wilton Town Center for report of a subject inside the bank attempting to cash a forged check. The suspect fled the bank before Officers arrived.

A short distance from the bank in an adjacent commercial parking lot, Det. Zimnoch located a vehicle attempting to exit a parking space that was occupied by two males, one of which matched the description of the suspect previously in the bank. In a show-up identification conducted by Officer Ackerman, the individual was positively identified by a bank employee as the suspect who had attempted to cash a forged check.

A search of the vehicle revealed an additional forged check as well as personal identifying information of a third party not related to the suspects.

The two suspects were arrested for Forgery, Larceny, and Identity Theft charges.

Officer Mark Canepari – Letter of Recognition
Officer Melissa LaPak – Letter of Recognition

On Sept. 4, 2017, Officer Canepari stopped a vehicle for a traffic light violation. Officer Melissa LaPak, who was in the area, stopped to assist as a backup Officer. Upon making contact with the operator, Canepari detected an odor of marijuana coming from inside the vehicle. The passengers of the car were removed from the vehicle and a search was done. Officers located two large vacuum sealed bags of marijuana weighing 37 ounces, along with THC concentrate and drug paraphernalia. The driver of the vehicle, who had a pending charge for possession of marijuana with intent to sell, was arrested for the same charges and held on $75,000 dollars bond.

Officer Eric Patenaude – Letter of Recognition
Officer Melissa LaPak – Letter of Recognition

On Oct. 15, 2017, Officer Patenaude observed a blue sedan traveling northbound on Rte. 7 traveling at a high rate of speed. Patenaude stopped the vehicle and upon approaching the driver’s door, he immediately detected an odor of burnt marijuana.  Upon making contact with the operator, Patenaude noticed that she was visibly nervous with her hands shaking.

Officer LaPak arrived as a backup officer and approached the vehicle on the passenger’s side. LaPak noticed the passenger of the car from a recent stop where he had been arrested for possessing a large amount of marijuana. The passenger of the vehicle admitted to LaPak that he had an e-cigarette in his possession that had marijuana based liquid inside it. Upon searching the passenger, Patenaude located Xanax prescription pills for which the suspect did not have a prescription for. Upon inventorying the car, LaPak located a brown paper bag in the trunk containing a large plastic bag with over a pound of marijuana. LaPak also located 24 vials of e-cigarette marijuana liquid and a brown wax substance that appeared to be marijuana based.

The driver and the passenger of the car were arrested for possession of drug paraphernalia, possession of a controlled substance and possession with intent to sell.

Sergeant Anthony Cocco – Letter of Commendation
Officer Shawn Frendt – Letter of Commendation
Officer Edward Dolenk – Letter of Commendation
Officer Elise Ackerman – Letter of Commendation

On Dec. 31, 2017, a 911 call was received explaining that a vehicle had been stolen from the Georgetown Shell while the car was running outside at the pumps. The victim observed a female enter the vehicle and drive off traveling south on Rte. 7. Units were dispatched to locate the vehicle. While en route, Sgt. Cocco advised Officers Ackerman and Frendt to start checking the side roads off of Rte. 7 for the vehicle. Ackerman located the vehicle parked off Honey Hill Rd. She conducted a felony stop on the individual and held her at gunpoint until more units arrived. When Frendt arrived the individual was handcuffed, searched and placed under arrest.

Officer Edward Dolenk, who was working dispatch, communicated the information of the stolen vehicle effectively to patrol and contacted surrounding agencies for assistance while fielding other calls for service. Ackerman located the stolen vehicle and suspect and held the suspect until Frendt arrived to assist in taking the suspect into custody.

The suspect was charged with Larceny in the 1st degree, Assault and Robbery.