A University Place man recently caught on camera pilfering decorative rocks from Chinese Reconciliation Park in Tacoma returned the items Friday after a visit from Tacoma police.
The rust-colored ornamental slabs are piled near a pagoda at the park in the 1700 block of Schuster Parkway. The site is still under construction.
Police spokeswoman Loretta Cool said she did not know the man’s name, but he has been cited for misdemeanor theft. Pierce County prosecutors will decide whether to file charges, Cool said.
The theft of the rocks is unrelated to a recent act of vandalism late month at the site that damaged a pair of carved lions. Vandals smashed the mouths of the granite lions guarding the pavilion and took the balls carved inside them.
That incident is still under investigation.
In the theft of the ornamental rocks, police were alerted to the crime by photos posted on Facebook, catching the man in the act.
The images came from Tacoma resident Cheryl Rucker, who was taking a walk at the park May 9 when she saw the man and a woman selecting rocks and loading them into a car.
The couple used a blanket to prevent the rocks from damaging the car’s interior, Rucker said Friday.
“They opened up all their car doors — they were carefully choosing rocks like they were at a pumpkin patch,” she said. “They were wiggling out the ones that were the best fit for whatever project they were doing.”
They opened up all their car doors — they were carefully choosing rocks like they were at a pumpkin patch.
Cheryl Rucker, Tacoma resident
Rucker, seeing that the couple had already loaded several rocks, stopped and asked the woman whether she was a Tacoma city employee.
The woman said no, and asked why Rucker was asking. Rucker replied that the rocks were city property.
“They just stopped talking to me, then they just kept picking rocks,” Rucker said.
After that, Rucker began taking photos, which she later posted on Facebook and shared with police.
“I didn’t want to humiliate anyone,” she said. “I just wanted them to know it was public property.”
Cool said Rucker’s photos, which included a license plate of the car, gave police a clear path, which led to a visit by police.
He had these nice little rocks in his front yard by his front door. He said, ‘I bet you’re here to talk to me about the theft.’
Loretta Cool, Tacoma police spokeswoman
“The rocks were at his house in plain view when we arrived,” Cool said. “He had these nice little rocks in his front yard by his front door.
“He said, ‘I bet you’re here to talk to me about the theft.’ The detective said yes. (The man) said, ‘Well what’s the big deal? It’s just rocks.’ It’s not just rocks. This is actually property that belongs to the City of Tacoma.”
The man returned the rocks to the park Friday afternoon — about eight of them, Cool said. He left hurriedly when he saw television news crews and cameras.
“It’s a misdemeanor crime,” Cool said. “But the bottom line is, why do you think it’s OK to steal them? This is actually a monument. It should not be touched at all.
“All of this — the rocks, the rockery, the gravel — everything was purchased by the City of Tacoma and brought here.”
The theft of the decorative rocks is unrelated to a recent act of vandalism at the site that damaged a pair of carved lions. That incident is still under investigation.
Rucker was surprised to see her Facebook post generate hundreds of shares, including some negative feedback for posting photos of the man’s car.
She said her aim was not to shame. The return of the rocks is the best possible outcome, she said.
“My personal feeling is that everyone is born inherently good,” she said. “In a way, I’m deeply pleased. I’m thrilled that he returned the rocks and that’s what I was hoping to accomplish.
“I think that says a lot about our community and how much we care about our public spaces and our parks.”