Police Beat: Open MRSA sores keep squatter out of jail

Staff writerFebruary 22, 2014 

Editor’s note: Compiled from reports to Tacoma police.

Feb. 19: The squatters pried the plywood sheet that covered a hole in the wall, and clambered into the empty building.

One squatter was 46, a wanderer known to police. The other was 14, a runaway boy.

Officers drove to the 4000 block of Pacific Avenue, answering an anonymous call and a report of trespassing. They found the pair inside.

The boy had skipped away from a Tacoma group home after vowing to beat up staff members if he came back.

The older man said he’d been staying in the building for several days. He claimed that one of the Police Department’s community liaison officers had given permission. He said he and the boy were just hanging out.

Officers checked with the CLO, who told a different story: The old squatter had permission to pitch a tent outside the building. Period. No entry to the building, which was partially burned; the city was preparing to demolish it.

The older man said his tent burned, so he had no place to stay. Officers told him he was under arrest for trespassing. The squatter complained, and displayed a colony of open MRSA sores on his legs and feet.

Under ordinary circumstances, the older squatter would have landed in the Fife City Jail, the city’s destination for low-level offenders. But Fife refused to take him, citing the open sores. Officers allowed the man to grab his belongings, cited him for trespassing, and released him on the spot.

Staffers at the group home told police the runaway boy had been staying with them for two weeks. They didn’t know if the boy had friends or relatives in the area or where the boy might go.

Feb. 19: The caller reported a theft, and he wanted police to know he’d found the car the thief was driving: a white 1993 Cadillac Seville.

Officers drove to a drug store in the 2000 block of Sixth Avenue. They spotted the Cadillac, and a man crouched by the left rear tire.

The man held a box cutter. He shoved it into the wall of the tire, which popped, hissed and flattened. The man stood up and started walking.

Officers followed and stopped him. They told the man to put his hands on the hood of the patrol car. The man refused at first, but slowly complied. Officers pinned him and cuffed him.

“That was a dumb thing to do — I didn’t want the car to leave the lot with my stuff,” the man said, after acknowledging his rights.

The man was 34. He was the one who called police to begin with.

Officers tracked down the owner of the car, who said he bought the Cadillac six weeks earlier but hadn’t transferred the title yet.

The tire slasher was booked into the Fife City Jail on suspicion of destruction of property.

Feb. 17: The shoplifter favored North Face gear. He borrowed his technique from a YouTube video.

A Tacoma police officer walking a foot beat at the Tacoma Mall picked up a radio alert from the loss-prevention team at Macy’s. The team was watching a 28-year-old man they’d seen the day before.

The man was carrying a pair of brand-new coats, heading for the exits, when he looked at his phone, startled, and walked back to the escalator leading to the second floor.

The team and the Tacoma officer, now joined by another officer, traded signals. As the officers headed upstairs, the team said the man was coming back down the escalator. The officers reversed course and watched.

The man came down and noticed the officers watching him. Escape was out of the question. The officers spoke to him.

The man said he was just looking for a windbreaker for his girlfriend. He had no identification.

The loss-prevention team said the man came in a day earlier and left with four North Face jackets. His weapon: a lighter, used to burn and melt the security tags. The team found four burned tags in one of the fitting rooms.

Under questioning by police, the man admitted taking the jackets the previous day. He carried a lighter in his pocket.

“I’ll admit, I was shoplifting,” he said.

He learned the tag-burning technique from a YouTube video, he said. He explained that he used the stolen coats to pay a debt to a friend.

He admitted that the friend was a drug dealer — a conduit for prescription pills. He said he smoked powdered pills and that he was having a hard time quitting.

He said he and a friend drove to the mall in his pickup and that the friend had taken the truck to run an errand. The friend was supposed to pick him up.

Officers guessed that the man had startled at the exit because he’d received a text message warning him of the police presence; shoplifters sometimes worked in teams. Officers asked the man for permission to search his phone.

The man refused, but he asked officers to call his friend and tell him to drive the pickup to Grandma’s house.

One officer called the friend and said the man was under arrest.

“Well, that’s unfortunate,” the friend replied.

Officers booked the man into the Pierce County Jail on suspicion of retail theft and trafficking in stolen property.

Sean Robinson: 253-597-8486


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