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MIT Alum Dutchin Jailed After Clubbing Detective

By Cara Buckley


If there truly is a fine line between genius and madness, Gavin A. Dutchin ’90 crossed it often and with little warning. For the very mind that drove Dutchin’s successes, making him his immigrant family’s brightest hope and winning him degrees from elite schools, seemed to betray him unexpectedly, time and again.

Dutchin, 38, is being treated in the mental health unit at the Rikers Island jail after being accused of smashing an off-duty New York City detective in the head with a lead pipe in the East Village on Sept. 9. The attack left the detective, Sgt. Kenny Roe, 40, with cerebral hemorrhaging and a gash that needed 14 stitches before he left the hospital. It was also unprovoked, the police said.

At first glance, Dutchin’s actions, as described by the police, seem baffling. A graduate of the prestigious Brooklyn Technical High School, Dutchin had two bachelor’s degrees, in math and physics, from MIT and a once-promising Wall Street career. In January, he earned a master’s in economics from New York University.

But demons had long plagued Dutchin, who moved with his parents at 14 from Guyana to the Jamaica section of Queens.

As a boy, Dutchin seemed decades older. His sister Loraine Dutchin said he was like a solemn, pensive man trapped in the body of a child. He had no friends, preferring the companionship of calculus and physics books. His parents shushed their five other children so that Dutchin, their youngest and brightest, could study. The boy stuffed a towel under his bedroom door, Loraine Dutchin said, to seal out any noise. Long after his parents and siblings went to bed, the teenage Dutchin stayed up, poring over textbooks as the clock ticked past midnight.

“He would tap his head and say, ‘What you have up here, no one can take away,”’ said Loraine Dutchin, 49, who lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. “He was brilliant; everything he touched turned to gold. But his whole life was studying. He was so bottled up.”

Dutchin’s academic prowess earned him entry into top-notch schools, and he landed a scholarship to MIT, Loraine Dutchin said. His parents, Carlyle, a nighttime security guard, and Carmen, a housecleaner, sent him whatever extra money they cobbled together so he could pay his phone bills and buy crisp new clothes.

A framed picture of Dutchin’s graduation from MIT, displayed in Loraine Dutchin’s living room, shows Dutchin beaming with pride, gripping the dean’s hand in a firm shake.

In November 1992, he was hired as an assistant broker at Cowen & Co., an investment banking firm in Manhattan. But two years later, for reasons he kept secret from his family, Dutchin lost his job.

And then his life began to unspool.

In 1996, Carlyle Dutchin, 73, died of prostate cancer. Dutchin’s mother stayed in Guyana after accompanying her husband’s body there for the funeral. Dutchin had been living with his parents. Suddenly alone, he became mired in lassitude and despair.

Loraine Dutchin took her brother in, but his relationship with her family was strained at best. Though he was a quiet man, she said, he often was overcome by sudden bursts of anger. He became enraged when her two young children watched television instead of studying, she said.

One night, in the summer of 1998, a spat over the children escalated into a violent fight, Loraine Dutchin said, and he shoved her to the ground, repeatedly kicking her. Her daughter, Arielle, who was 6 at the time, called 911, sobbing hysterically. “‘My uncle’s going to kill my mother,”’ Loraine Dutchin recalls her daughter saying.

The police arrived but Loraine Dutchin would not press charges. Still, she refused to let Dutchin stay in her home. For two years, Dutchin drifted through Manhattan, homeless, sleeping in doorways and shelters and spending his days immersed in books at Barnes & Noble. Dutchin said he sometimes stood in the park across the street from her home, staring mournfully, but then would disappear.

Dutchin began running afoul of the law. He was charged with turnstile jumping in February 1999, and with resisting arrest that summer, though details of that episode are not clear. He was taken to Bellevue Hospital Center, where he was treated for tuberculosis and spent three months in a psychiatric ward. He began taking antipsychotic medicine. When Loraine Dutchin went to visit him, she said that her brother’s face crumpled, and that he whispered, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” as the two embraced.

After Dutchin’s release, he was enrolled in a psychiatric treatment program run by FEGS, the former Federal Employment and Guidance Service. Community Access, a housing and advocacy agency for the mentally ill, placed him in an apartment at 12th Street and Avenue A.

Stable once more, Dutchin let his intelligence shine through, and he tutored high school and college students, all the while dreaming of returning to graduate school. In 2001, The New York Times profiled him as part of its Neediest Cases series.

Dutchin’s prospects seem to brighten. He was a quiet presence in his apartment building, neighbors said, always well-dressed and polite. Almost every Sunday, he rode the No. 2 subway to Loraine Dutchin’s home in Brooklyn, where she served him his favorite home-cooked meal, baked snapper with okra and callaloo. Yet Loraine Dutchin said she still saw anger simmering beneath the surface. “I could tell something was wrong,” she said. “His eyes were wild.”

Dutchin stopped visiting Loraine Dutchin about a year ago, and he began visiting another sister, Olive Dutchin, from whom Loraine Dutchin says she is estranged. Yet he seemed to stay out of trouble, and enrolled at NYU.

It is not clear how Dutchin, who could not be reached for this article, paid the tuition. (His lawyer, David Affler, refused to let him be interviewed.) But in January 2006, he earned his long-dreamed-of master’s degree.

And then, it seemed, Dutchin began to drift again. This summer, the police searched for him after he vanished from his East Village apartment, though he reappeared after several days. Two weeks ago, he saw his mother, who was visiting from Guyana. Carmen Dutchin said she was horrified by how thin her son appeared. “He studied too hard,” she said.

Less than a week later, just before 11 a.m. on Sept. 9, a gloriously sunny day, Roe, 41, the off-duty detective, set off down East 14th Street with his cousin toward a diner. They had just passed Third Avenue when Roe felt a bright, shattering crack, as loud as thunder, across the back of his head.

Roe and his cousin grappled with the assailant for the pipe. They wrested it from him, and police officers arrived and arrested Dutchin. And Roe, alert but dizzy and bleeding, leaned against a wall and sank slowly to the ground.