When a 21-year-old Yale University student woke up to find a strange man at his desk, unplugging his laptop, he did the only thing that came to mind: chased him.
It didn't matter that William Genova was barefoot. He followed the intruder through backyards and an alleyway, over two fences and finally into the parking lot of the Marriott Hotel on Dwight Street in New Haven, where he came face-to-face with the alleged intruder.
"I immediately jumped out of my bed saying, 'What are you doing here? You're robbing me,'" Genova said during an exclusive interview with NBC Connecticut. "I was just angry that someone was in my room trying to take my laptop that I have invested so much work in."
Genova found the strange man in his home when his alarm went off at 9 a.m. on Monday and demanded to know what was going on.
"The guy immediately became apologetic, saying, 'Sorry, oh, nothing's wrong,'" Genova said.
When Genova pressed him for details, the intruder, who police later identified as Eleam Djamal, 31, denied stealing anything and told Genova to leave his Elm Street apartment "or face violent consequences," according to police.
"I didn't want to get physically hurt, so I let him go and he starts darting out," Genova said.
So Genova followed him.
"If you pass that building over there, there's a driveway with a brick fence, so he jumped over that," Genova said, gesturing toward the area. "We wind up going down Whalley (Avenue) until he makes a left on Dwight (Street)."
The pursuit ended outside the Marriott, where Genova yelled for someone to call the police. Djamal stopped running and showed him a duffel bag. A laptop was inside – not Genova's, but one Djamal had previously stolen from another apartment in Genova's building, authorities said.
An off-duty New Haven officer, who was heading home from work and still in uniform, noticed the commotion and approached, according to police. Djamal took off again and struggled with the officer, who pepper sprayed him and took him into custody.
Police said Djamal, a convicted felon from Pennsylvania and a fugitive from justice, has a history of committing burglaries and robberies across the country. Djamal told investigators he moved to New Haven on Friday to sell magazine subscriptions for a company that then “abandoned him” in the city.
Djamal admitted to checking the apartment building for unlocked doors and burglarizing another unit on Saturday because he knew students lived there, stealing a laptop and $40 cash, police said.
He was arrested and charged with second-degree burglary, criminal attempt to commit fourth-degree larceny, sixth-degree larceny, threatening and assault on an officer.
"Now I could laugh at it because I'm perfectly fine. My feet hurt a little, but that's all good," Genova joked.
Yale University Police and New Haven police are investigating to determine whether Djamal could be connected to other crimes in the city.