A night with a 14th District lieutenant: Theft, gambling and the Craigslist homicide

 Lt. Dennis Rosenbaum of the 14th Police District (Matthew Grady/for NewsWorks)

Lt. Dennis Rosenbaum of the 14th Police District (Matthew Grady/for NewsWorks)

At the start of a recent overnight shift, Lt. Dennis Rosenbaum completed his department-issued ensemble of uniform, badge, gun, and hat with a slip of paper, placed into the left pocket of his short-sleeved white shirt beside two gold pens.

 

On the slip were a handful of issues that had arisen at a recent community meeting that Rosenbaum had attended. The first was a report of outdoor gambling on a Germantown side street; the second was about the rear lot of a Mt. Airy apartment complex said to be used as a meeting site for late-night assignations.

Not written down but committed to memory was the recollection of a recent robbery in the 14th Police District that originated from Craigslist. The would-be buyer of a used cell phone was robbed at gunpoint, according to Rosenbaum. The victim was able to disarm his assailant of the handgun but still lost his cell phone.

The night’s game plan gone awry

With the evening’s plan set, distractions set in almost immediately. In addition to being a Friday night on the first full day of summer, it was the last day of school in Philadelphia and the weekend of a full moon. 

The potential for mayhem was on a celestial scale.

In fact, Rosenbaum was barely out of the door to his corner office in the district’s headquarters when a call came in reporting a residential burglary in progress. Burglaries are considered a priority in the district and they are one of Rosenbaum’s specialities. Rosenbaum handed off his roll-call responsibilities to his sergeant, exited the building and hopped in 14C, a marked Chevy Tahoe sport utility vehicle.

While the call would soon be “unfounded” by officers already on scene, it didn’t mean that Rosenbaum or the cops under him were without work to do. Mounted on every patrol vehicle is a laptop-like mobile data terminal that allows supervisors to see all unresolved calls for service.

Diligent supervisors, especially at night, are constantly trying to reduce the numbers of jobs “on the board.” At the beginning of this shift, there were 15 calls pending — the community requests would have to wait.

Tastykakes gone missing

Working down the list by priority and location, the board took Rosenbaum to Cedarbrook to assist medics and then to East Mt. Airy, where neighbors were complaining about a homeowner who was pounding away with a jackhammer just before 11 p.m.

Resuming patrol, Rosenbaum steered 14C to West Oak Lane, taking Walnut Lane to Stenton Avenue and passing by a young man walking on the sidewalk with a white towel on his head. The amount of calls on the board was dropping by this point, and everything seemed to be quieting down when a call for a theft in progress at a nearby gas station came over the air.

Rosenbaum responded instantly, utilizing his knowledge of a neighborhood that once belonged to the 35th District, his first posting after joining the police department in 1996. Arriving at the Sunoco on Cheltenham Avenue, Rosenbaum was told by a frazzled manager of the store that for the second night in a row, a group of teenagers stole a box of Tastykake snacks. Rosenbaum got a description of the suspects and stepped outside the store intent on pursuit.

This plan was abandoned when another job came over the air – a report of man shot in the leg on Walnut Lane not far from Stenton Ave.

“D-Dan-Dead”

Rosenbaum’s was the second vehicle on the scene. Laying supine on Walnut Lane inches from the curb was a clean-cut young man, his leg visibly bloodied from a couple of yards away. Getting out of the vehicle, Rosenbaum knew right away that this was more than a shooting.

The young man lying on the street had been killed, or in Philly phonetic radio cop talk, he was “D-Dan-Dead.”

Subsequent investigation, as told to police by witnesses, revealed that the young man, Daniel Cooke, and two friends were in West Oak Lane in response to a Craigslist advertisement for a “quad,” a four-wheeled ATV.

When he got out of his car, Cooke began speaking with a young man with a white towel on his head.

Before getting there, according to The Inquirer, Cooke and the seller had negotiated a payment of $950 and a video game console. The seller said he needed cash to bail his brother out of jail. Cooke brought along his fiancee and friends in a pickup truck to haul the quad.

After introductions, the supposed seller led Cook to an alleyway behind a row of houses on Hollis Street where he said the quad was. The witnesses lost sight of Cooke and heard gunshots shortly thereafter.

When they next saw Cooke, he had been shot in the leg and back while running from the gunman. Cooke literally ran out of his own shoes trying to escape – one was later found in the alley. The pockets of his shorts were turned inside out, known in street parlance as “rabbit ears.” A robbery gone bad, the shooter had searched Cooke’s pockets for the $950.

But it wasn’t to be found: His fiancee was holding the cash. Daniel Cooke was D-Dan-Dead in the street for nothing.

After an hour or so, detectives were on site, the scene was secure, and Rosenbaum’s supervisory skills were no longer needed on Walnut Lane. Returning to 14C, Rosenbaum had a flashback to a tale told just a few days prior.

“We were just talking about Craigslist at the meeting,” he recalled.

The night’s original list

After a brief interlude to help some officers with a burglary investigation,  it’s time to hit the road again and check out resident complaints.

The first one — gambling on a Germantown side street — appeared to be credible. A group of people were seen playing cards on the steps, with one individual standing sentinel across the street, largely obscured by a small pocket of trees.

Something struck Rosenbaum as being amiss, but in a marked SUV with bright blue and red running lights, there’s little he can do. It’s a job for a plainclothes team in an unmarked car to investigate at a later date.

The alleged Mt. Airy love nest would have to wait as well, because after a brief pit stop for M&M’s at Wawa, a car stop with a uncooperative driver would be followed by report of a car break-in, which would be followed by a overseeing of a nightclub closing for the night in Germantown.

At about 3:10 a.m., another report of a shooting came in, taking Rosenbaum to Godfrey Avenue.

Earlier, Rosenbaum had remarked how sometimes the nature of the job causes the best intentions to get waylaid.

“One big job really throws your night off,” he said.

The young man with the towel on his head was later identified as 23 year-old Willow Grove resident Thomas Coffee. He was arrested the following day on charges of murder and related offenses.

 

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