WESTFIELD, Mass. - A weeks long search for a homeless city man who has been the subject of several warrants came to an end Monday afternoon when a detective spotted the man near the Great River Bridge and the suspect fled into the river where he was trapped.
Derek Webb , 20, spent more than an hour in the river with officers on both sides watching him before, after an extended shouted conversation with Officer David Arroyo, he waded out and surrendered.
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Webb has been sought on warrants since a series of assaults in late August in which he reportedly assaulted at least three persons for little apparent reason.
One victim said that he was assaulted by Webb who was waiting for him to come home after he filed a complaint about a neighbor who is a friend of Webb.
A second man said that he was assaulted by Webb without provocation when both he and Webb were visiting a common friend and a third man complained that he was assaulted by Webb after he left an Elm Street bar.
Det. Brian Freeman said late Monday "I was out looking to talk with the victims of one of his more recent crimes" and was on the south side of the river under the bridge where homeless folk often gather.
Freeman said that he found Webb's girlfriend and his mother "so I knew I was getting close" to the fugitive when he spotted the suspect on the other side of the river.
"I saw his hat pop up" among the girders of the disused railroad bridge, Freeman said, so he knew where to look when he crossed over to the north side.
When he got there, Webb emerged from a cavity among the girders and fled from Freeman, into the river.
Arroyo was the first officer to arrive to assist Freeman and followed Webb as he waded and floated downstream.
About 50 yards east of where Hanover Street ends at the dike, Arroyo managed to keep Webb's attention and established a dialog while Webb stopped moving downstream.
Webb was yelling "Call the news" and "They're going to shoot me" and otherwise saying that he feared for his safety in police custody.
His statements changed frequently and at times he said "Just shoot me", "I want to die" and "I'm going to go see my God" but he also said "Don't take me to jail for this (scatological reference deleted) I didn't do."
Arroyo's message, on the other hand, was consistent as he talked with Webb.
"I give you my word" Arroyo said repeatedly "Come with me and I'll ride with you the whole way" as he assured Webb that he would personally guarantee his safety while in police custody.
Capt. Michael McCabe said later that Arroyo did "a heck of a job talking him down and keeping his attention" while police maintained a perimeter.
Arroyo is among the department's least experienced officer having been recently appointed a full time officer but who has not yet attended the police academy.
While Arroyo was talking other officers, principally officers Kevin Bard and Richard Mazza, were working, out of sight, to launch the fire department's rigid inflatable rescue boat downstream.
But the boat wasn't needed.
After fumbling with his pockets and after removing and tossing his belt into the river, Webb waded to shore where Arroyo helped him on to the bank and took him into custody.
He was transported to the station and arrested on four warrants.
He was transported to Westfield District Court early this morning.
The incident also produced another arrest.
A crowd, estimated at " hundreds" by at least one officer, was watching and the persons in the crowd were asked to disperse and move away to avoid exacerbating the incident. However, one man refused to leave.
Officer Thomas Cusak reports that the man who refused to leave was shouting at Webb, encouraging him to flee. Jusue A. Rios, 23, of 26 School St., was arrested for disorderly conduct, failure to disperse and obstruction of justice.
He was found to have been served a ‘No trespassing' order from all city owned property and was also arrested for trespass.
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