Stupid Criminals:
Valley Police Department, May 1992
Over time, I came to the conclusion that many criminals committed crimes because they were too stupid to hold a real job…

This story is not a story about a big crime. While the value of these property crimes did amount to several felonies, none of this was headline news. What does make this case memorable is that it displays what several years of training and experience can be brought to bear.

Setting the Stage:

During the spring of 1992, the City of Valley was suffering a rash of thefts from cars and other vehicles. These were particularly brazen, not only in the number of incidents, but for the fact that in many cases, the individuals would sometimes enter the garages where the vehicles had been parked in order to steal property. Technically, this elevates the crime from a theft to a burglary. The items stolen included just about anything they could get their hands on, but most frequently, they liked to steal automotive stereo equipment, and typically high end equipment at that!

While we had trouble actually catching anyone in the act at first, we did have our suspects. Particularly a group of four young men from the community who hung together late at night and were generally up to no good. While none of them were violent, they excelled at finding their way into trouble. Two of these boys were simply of the type who just seemed to go along for the ride. Granted, they were no angels, but they typically didn’t instigate anything. The other two? They were another story.

James was a hard core thief. He would steal anything anywhere, and would let one of his brothers take the rap for the offense if it suited him. He was introduced to our community when he was younger by the Nebraska Department of Social Services in Dodge County, who placed him in foster care in our city in Douglas County. By the time James was reunited with his family in Fremont and obtained a drivers’ license, he would range all over Dodge, Saunders, and Douglas County stealing anything and everything he could. He liked coming to our town to ply his trade.

Norman was a recent arrival to our community in 1992. He never appeared to be gainfully employed, but he and his girlfriend rented a house in town which soon became a haven for any and all dirt bags who wanted to sit on their ass, drink and smoke dope all night. While Norman was not a dedicated thief like James, Norman saw himself more as the executive manager of the group, and served as a mentor in teaching the others how to commit their crimes. In this role, Norman saw himself as the smartest and wisest young man on the planet!

At one point, we had obtained enough probable cause to apply for a Search Warrant to search James family home in Fremont in cooperation with the Dodge County Sheriff and the Fremont Police Department. By the time the warrant was executed, everything was gone. While we found some evidence that electronic equipment had recently been stashed in the attic, nothing was found that would allow us to make a case. It had been a matter of bad timing or bad luck, as we later learned that the stolen property had been removed just a couple of hours before we arrived.

It seemed that our search of James home did not deter his activities, as later intelligence seemed to indicate that he was becoming more daring. Maybe our failure at finding anything at his parents' home made him think he was that much further ahead of the cops.

The one thing Norman had in common with James was that they were both arrogant as hell! And as everyone knows, arrogant people can’t keep their mouths shut. They have to tell or demonstrate to everyone about their daring deeds and exploits, and naturally tell everyone how dumb the cops are. Norman actually told the Valley Chief of Police in passing that he had been present when James had stolen a car stereo. While he was vague in what he told the Chief, he said enough that we were able to pin down exactly what incident he was describing. So the Chief, I, and one of the officers from the neighboring town of Waterloo* sat down to compare notes. It was decided that when we next ran into Norman, we would bring him in for a formal interview. If he wants to play games with us, we’d give him every opportunity!

(*The City of Waterloo had been investigating a large number of thefts, thought to have been committed by the same group we were looking at. See the story about the Raid in King Lake about part of their investigation.)

The Big Interview:

At or about 1:30 AM on a Wednesday evening late in May, I ran into Normal while at a 24-Hour Convenience Store. As always, my pocket tape recorder starts recording. I approached Norman, and asked how he’s doing, etc. I brought up that he had mention to the Police Chief that he knew some information about a theft. I asked if he could come down to my office and visit with me about that information. I pointed out that if this was an inconvenient time, perhaps we could meet some other time, but added that it looked like neither one of us were busy at the moment. Norman agreed to come to my office right then and there.

(Here’s was I just did: I got Norman to come to the Police Department voluntarily, in his own transportation. He could have turned around at anytime and gone elsewhere. This substantiates that he is not in custody, nor was he under arrest.)

I called the officer from Waterloo on the radio, and invited him to come along to the interview. When we all get to my office, I invite Norman to have a seat. I verbally advised the subject of his constitutional rights, explaining that whenever we talk to someone about a crime, we want them to know about their rights.

At this point, I say, “Hey, I’d like a pop to drink! Would you like a pop?”

Norman says, “Sure, I’d like a pop!”

I reach into my pocket, pull out some change, and hand it to Norman, asking if he could go to the pop machine just inside the main door to the building. “Please get me a Cola, one for the Waterloo Cop, and get yourself anything you like.”

(Here’s what I just did: I’ve demonstrated that Norman has freedom of movement. If he so desired, he could have walked right passed the pop machine, out the front door, and kept right on going. Again, this not only substantiates that Norman is not in custody, or under arrest; it also demonstrates that he is absolutely here by his own free will.)

So we start to talk about the incident that he vaguely told the Chief. He tells me in great detail about the incident but adds that he was there at the time, but that James did everything. He went on to tell us that a few hours before the police came with the search warrant to James’ house in Fremont, that James took all the stolen stereos to his brothers house to get ready to sell them. He added that since the warrant had been served, the cops would never recover that property now. I asked Norman if he had been present at any other incidents. He told us that while he had not been present, James had stolen from a car at Ginger Cove, but got his own car stuck, adding that James stole a car and came with it to Norman’s house. He went on to name who was with James at the time.

I asked Norman if he would be willing to write this story down, in his own words, so that people would not think I was making this up. Norman readily agreed, and asked for a pen and a paper. I provided him with a Voluntary Statement Form, which has the Miranda Advisement spelled out across the top. I pointed out this Constitutional Advisory to Norman, and asked him to make sure he read and understood these rights. He read the advisory, and then asked, what he should say. I suggested that he document the date, time, location, and any other pertinent information regarding the incident, but adding that I “could not put any words into his mouth.” It was his story.

(Here’s what I just did here: I have again provided Norman with his Constitutional Rights, only this time in writing so there is no doubt that he has these explicitly. Further, I’ve asked Norman to acknowledge that he received these rights. Clearly, I explained that we need the when, where, and what, but I have not told him what to say.)

Norman wrote about one line on the paper, when he stopped and asked, “Is it true that I can check with my attorney before I put anything in writing?”

I replied “Absolutely!” I told Norman that it was clearly his right that he could talk to an attorney before making any statements to the police! As a matter of fact, he was free to go, and could leave any time he wished.

Norman thought for a moment, then said what he was about to write might be self incriminating, and wanted to make sure he wasn’t being charged with a crime. I replied that I was not in a position to make any deals, as only the prosecuting attorney could make a deal.

I was taking the form back, believing the interview was concluding while I added, “You really don’t have to tell me anything at all. As far as making a statement goes, you can tell me to go pound sand!” At that, Norman pulled the form back to himself, and started writing again!

(Here’s what happened: It appeared that Norman was going to invoke his right to an attorney. I fully explained that it was his right to remain silent, not to make any statement, and that he could stop questioning at any time. I also did not tell him he could not be charged with a crime, as I could not make any deals. To my absolute surprise, the subject, while asking for clarification about an attorney, did not invoke his right to an attorney, and voluntarily took the form out of my hand, and started writing on it.)

And here’s where it gets real good! In Norman’s written statement, he detailed (very detailed) about the two incidents he just verbally described to me, he went on to detail a third theft that he had not mentioned previously!

I ask him more about this third incident. Again, he states that he didn’t do anything himself, but that he, James, and another individual had entered a closed garage using a cigarette lighter for light, where the removed an Alpine Stereo and other equipment from the car parked inside. He’s says that while he himself did not take the stereo, he instructed James on how to remove the stereo to the point of telling him which screws and in what order to remove the screws. He even chastised James for forgetting and important part of the stereo system, where James went back into the garage and got it!

(Here’s what just happened: Norman just confessed to an additional felony burglary without me urging him to confess!)

The remainder of the interview consisted of talking about information obtained from various sources, and in a roundabout way, getting Norman to corroborate that information. The Waterloo Officer asked a few questions, but didn’t obtain anything useful.

Now this guy seems to be completely confident that I’m not a threat to him, or I must not be smart enough to be a threat to him. I know he’s not leaving town. We know where to find him. I thank him for his cooperation, and send him home! Everyone is all smiles and happy! As soon as Norman hits the door, I’m typing out my report and an affidavit for an Arrest Warrant.

(Here’s what I’m doing here: While I could have arrested this Rocket Scientist right here on the spot, I’m opting to have a Judge review my probable cause, which loads HEAPS of credibility to the case if it’s contested. And it WAS contested!)

Ultimately, Norman and James were both convicted on several felony counts of burglary and theft. The interview with Norman was the key point of contention in the trial, since if the Defense had Norman’s statements excluded, even though we had evidence to corroborate his statements, the State would have little or no evidence against either subject. The steps I took, and the conduct of my interview with Normal made our case rock solid in that the Defense could find no way to have Norman’s statements excluded.

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