Stolen oxtails, a law-quoting squatter, and a missing license plate

Editor’s note: Compiled from reports to Tacoma police and the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office.

Nov. 28: The shoplifting scheme was a standard trick, but the stolen loot — trays of oxtails, shrimp, fish and assorted seasonings — was a little different.

The first dispatch call reported a theft from a food market. Subsequent calls reported managers fighting with the suspected thief. Two Tacoma officers drove to the 3900 block of East Portland Avenue, and found several employees surrounding a woman, 32, who kept yelling that she was being assaulted.

One officer tried to speak to the manager, who said the woman and an unidentified man had worked together to steal the food. The woman kept shouting as the officer spoke to the manager.

The woman pointed to the employees and said they assaulted her. The officer said the employees had the right to detain people who were victimizing the business. The woman said she wasn’t hurt. The officer said that made it clearer that she couldn’t complain.

The employees said the woman came into the store with a man who had gathered the trays of food. He had fled with the goods as she tried to pay for them with a debit card that didn’t work.

The woman said she didn’t know who the man was. She refused to describe him and told the officer he could look on the store cameras for that.

The woman said the man asked her to come into the store with him and stand in line. He said he’d pay her if she helped him. He handed her a gold debit card with the words, “MY CARD” on it, but no name.

The woman said she stood in line with the man and waited for a clerk to ring up the items. Suddenly, the man picked up the goods and left. The woman tried to pay with the card, which was declined. She tried to leave after that, but the employees wouldn’t let her.

Another officer spoke to the manager, who told the same story. The manager said employees tried to work with the woman after the card was declined, and come to some sort of agreement about payment, but the woman had no identification, and no money of her own.

The officer spoke to the woman again, and asked to see the debit card. It was generic, with no name attached, and no signature.

The officers huddled. The woman had tried to pay, apparently, but she also refused to give any information about the man who fled, and refused to even describe him while claiming he was a complete stranger. That didn’t make much sense.

A records check revealed that the woman had an outstanding warrant for a traffic violation in Fircrest. She was also carrying a meth pipe. Officers booked her into the PIerce County Jail on the warrant and suspicion of theft.

Nov. 28: The squatter claimed he owned the house because he’d decided to live in it. He was wrong.

The call began with a neighbor’s report of suspicious activity at a vacant home. County sheriff’s deputies drove to an address in the 9900 block of 278th Street East: a 5-bedroom home on 10 acres, listed as a foreclosure.

Two cars — a pickup truck and a van — were parked out front. The home had no power; the electric meter wasn’t running. Cardboard covered the windows. Wisps of smoke drifted from the chimney.

The deputies knocked on the door. It didn’t open, but a man answered, saying he owned the place and he wasn’t doing anything wrong.

Deputies saw the man through a window. He wore a headlamp, a green beanie and gray fleece. He had a black and orange knife tucked into his waistband. He retreated into the darkness and said he was calling his attorney.

Records checks confirmed the foreclosed status of the house. A piece of paper in the window listed the name of the property management company. Deputies called the number, and confirmed that no one was supposed to be inside. They also learned that electrical wiring had been taken from the property.

They checked the registration of the pickup truck, found the owner’s name and checked it against previous jail bookings to find a photo, which matched the man inside.

A bit later, three deputies stood at the door and told the man he was under arrest and needed to come out.

The man yelled back that he was free, that he owned the house, and that deputies needed a warrant to come in. The deputies told the man he was wrong, and they would force their way in if he didn’t come out.

The man didn’t come out. The deputies forced their way in and cuffed the man, 37, who said he wanted an attorney.

The man added that the property belonged to him since he’d moved in and started improving it. He said deputies broke the law because they ignored signs he posted that said, “no trespassing.” He said he was entitled to the property under common law.

Deputies booked the man into the Pierce County Jail on suspicion of second-degree burglary.

Nov. 26: Everything might have worked out if it hadn’t been for the stolen license plate.

The dispatch call reported an apparent theft from the Purdy Park and Ride at 12715 Purdy Drive N.W. Someone had peeled a plate from a Ford Taurus.

The 911 caller said that the suspect might be in a stalled vehicle at the onramp from Purdy to Highway 16. By coincidence, a deputy had noticed the stalled car a few moments earlier, but passed it in favor of more pressing duties.

The deputy circled back. He found the car, a 2002 Saturn, and another deputy on scene already, helping a man, 48, who had a cut on his thumb.

The deputy spoke to the man and asked about the stolen plate, saying the theft had been caught on video. It hadn’t, but the man fell for the ruse and confessed. The stolen plate was in the trunk, he said. He took it out and handed it over.

What was going on?

The man said the Saturn had no plates. He was afraid to cross the Narrows Bridge and the toll area without one.

The man’s girlfriend, 43, had been driving the Saturn. A records check revealed that she had a protection order against him, filed three years earlier. Yet here they were, together.

The man said he knew about the protection order, but thought it was “dumb,” since he hadn’t hurt his girlfriend. The girlfriend said she knew about the order, but didn’t want it in place, and didn’t want her boyfriend to go to jail.

The deputy told her if that was true, she should say so in court. She managed to start the car, and drove away. Deputies booked the man into the Pierce County Jail on suspicion of third-degree theft and violating the protection order. The stolen license plate was returned to the owner.