Yale Daily News

On Tuesday afternoon, a shoplifting incident occurred at the local New Haven café Koffee? when an individual stole a tip jar and threatened to kill the baristas and customers present at the cafe.

Koffee? employees told the News that the suspect had been stealing sandwiches over the last week, which prompted the business owners to put up signs, including photos of the suspect from security cameras. The signs at the establishment asked patrons to notify staff if they recognized the suspect at Koffee?. Owners also called the New Haven Police Department, but officers were not present in the cafe when the incident occured. 

On Tuesday afternoon, the suspect returned to purchase a cup of coffee and was asked by staff to leave. According to the baristas on shift at the time, the individual said he would steal more sandwiches if he was not served. He eventually left Koffee? with the tip jar after threatening to kill both the baristas at the counter, as well as the customers in the store.

Kalina Mladenova ’24, a regular customer at Koffee?, told the News she was “shaken” after witnessing the incident.

“I was confused and didn’t know what was going on,” Mladenova recalled. 

In an email to the News, NHPD Police Chief Renee Dominguez said the department has identified the suspect and prepared arrest warrants. She did not specify their charges, but said the department has not detained the suspect as of Thursday morning. 

“It is believed [the suspect] has some untreated mental health issues that have been a catalyst for these behaviors,” Dominguez said. “We are also working with CT Mental Health to try and address his issues moving forward as a full wraparound approach to his behavior.” 

However, some Koffee? employees said they were unhappy with the way Koffee?’s management handled the incident. 

“I was furious when I saw the cops outside,” said Dylan McDonnell, a barista at Koffee?. McDonnell, who has been working at the coffee shop for close to five years added that this “goes against the shop’s ethos of inclusivity.”

Both McDonnell and Tyas Garner, another barista at Koffee?, noted that they were uncomfortable with the way the situation was handled from the beginning, including putting up posters of the individual with his picture.

According to McDonnell, there has been little to no police presence in the coffee shop since last summer, when Koffee?’s policy of providing free coffee to police officers and other emergency services personnel was discontinued. McDonnell noted that this change occurred as a result of conversations surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement and protests which took place last summer.

Both Garner and McDonnell added that the decision to call the cops was made by the owner “unilaterally,” with Garner specifying that he “didn’t have a choice.”

Koffee? owner Duncan Goodall ’95 told the News that the situation escalated quickly and that in seeking police assistance, he hoped to simply stop the man from shoplifting. When confronted with threats to his employees lives, Goodall said he was concerned about the suspect — considering his history of mental illness.

“In a way it turned out to be something good that happened because it spurred a conversation within our organization,” Goodall said. “As a small business that’s part of this community, what we can do to help with [homelessness and addiction] –– what we can do to be part of the solution.”

Goodall said he was considering some suggestions from employees regarding making Koffee? a more inclusive establishment. For example, implementing a “pay what you can” program for about an hour at the end of the day, which would both help minimize food waste and provide for communities experiencing food insecurity. Goodall said that while they are “still trying to figure out the details,” he hopes these ideas will help his business support communities in the city.

Garner, who was threatened by the individual, told the News that he “didn’t feel particularly unsafe.”

“No one, at least out of the workers, wanted the cops to come,” Garner told the News. He added that “the situation could have been handled better in terms of just talking to him.”

Garner said that he had previously encountered the suspect at the coffee shop.

Koffee? opened in 1993.

Vanika Mahesh | vanika.mahesh@yale.edu

Ángela Pérez | angela.perez@yale.edu

Razel Suansing | razel.suansing@yale.edu

Ángela Pérez writes as a staff reporter for the City, WKND and Sports desks, where she primarily covers City Hall and the Board of Alders. Originally from Puerto Rico, she plans to double major in Architecture and History.
Razel Suansing is a staff reporter and producer for the City, YTV, and Magazine desks. She covers cops and courts, specifically state criminal justice reform efforts, the New Haven Police Department, and the Yale Police Department. Originally from Manila, Philippines, she is a first-year in Davenport College, majoring in Global Affairs.