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The ambiguity of theft and failure of enforcement

blueridge

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Jan 10, 2019
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953
Location
Blue Ridge Mtns, VA
I've had two occurrences during the past month that have been very disappointing and frustrating to me.

1. I was working from home and through the trees saw a car in the driveway of my parent's house. It's a second home for them and they are rarely there, so I walk over to check it out. I see a guy backing his car up to the garage, walk around to the side, and come back carrying one of their big tool boxes. I yell and start running towards him. He throws down the toolbox, jumps in his car, and speeds away. I can't cut him off, but I take mental note of a description of him and his car. Takes me a minute to get back to my house, unhook the boat from my truck, get my phone, then head out after him. I saw the way he went and know I'd never catch up to him, but know if he hit the main road and turned left I can catch him by taking a short cut. Turns out I guessed right and see him pass through the intersection in front of me. I follow at a distance and call my son who lives in the town he's heading towards to have him sit at the first stoplight to help keep track while I call and coordinate with the cops. I give them the description of the guy, make and model of his car, then get close enough to give them the license plate number. He turns onto a parallel street (no where to go) and I keep going so he doesn't know I am following him. He pulls back in behind me then I see my son's car at the gas station up ahead. We all get to the stop light in line with me in front, the thief in the middle, and my son right behind him. One part of me is thinking, "You have him trapped. Go back there, pull him out of his car, and beat his ass." The other part says, "He may have a weapon. Let the police do their job. You're on the phone with them and they are waiting up ahead." Light turns green and I drive on. He passes me when it turns into a two-lane and then he starts taking back streets. I keep relaying the location to the police, knowing that he has to be getting suspicious of me now. He gets to a stop sign at a 4-way and I see a police car pulling up to the intersection on the left. I think, "Thank goodness! They're here! They're gonna catch him!" The guy makes a left right in front of the cop and I roll down my window and point that he's who they're looking for. What does the cop do? Never turns lights on. Does the slowest 3-point turn in history of the world. Heads back up the street after the car at a normal pace. Gets to the next stop sign and lets several cars pass. Then turns and the guy is gone. Imagine that. WTF!? I stop and make a report. See a picture of who the car is registered to and it's not who I saw. The cop also got a good look when he drove past. Anyway, a few weeks pass and I never hear back, even after several voicemails left with the officer in charge of the case.

Got me thinking a few things, chief among them: When was the exact point in this scenario when it became or would have become theft and the perpetrator could be charged? As soon as he picked up the toolbox? If and only if he had put it in his car or taken it off my parent's property? Does it have to be in his possession when apprehended? Since he threw it down, could he only be charged with trespassing? Since he got away, is it not prosecutable because it would be he said vs he said? I asked a lawyer friend of mine. He said it wasn't clear. :wow. Anyway, frustrating.

@VikingsGuy , @Ben Lamb , do either of you practice criminal law? Insights on the difficulties or often overlooked encumbrances to prosecution?

2. Today I was leaving a jobsite in town when a guy walks real slow and close by my truck before realizing I was in it. He walks across the street and I see him walk past another car real slow, then turn around and come back by it. I take a picture of him and as I drive by I see him open the door and squat beside the drivers door. Looks fishy, so I block it. He has now crossed the street and is in another driveway trying to open another car door but it's locked. I pull back into the house I am working at and call the cops. Tell them I've seen a guy trying to get into cars, clear description of the guy and what he's wearing, tell them right where he's at, and give them my phone number. I tell the work crew next door to watch their tools they have out front, feel like I have done my job, and start driving home. I pass a cop and wave, knowing he's on the scene. Then right behind him I see the guy walking down the sidewalk. 30 seconds later I get a call from the police officer,
"This is Office XYZ, can I help you?"
"Yeah, there's a guy who I watched trying to get into different cars."
"Did you see him take anything?"
"No, but I saw him open the door of one car and try to open another at a different address."
"Did he ever leave your view?"
"Yes, as I was driving around the block."
"Well, I talked to the guy you gave the description of. Is there anything else I can do for you?"
"Are you serious?"
Click.
Must have hung up by accident and will call right back. Nope. And this conversation he says had with this guy could only have taken place during the time that I was talking with the crew next door (bc I saw him walk by through the alley and pointed him out) and when I pulled back out and passed the cop at the light, no more than 1 minute. Did even get out of his car? How much did he look into it?

Anyway, frustrating for several reasons. One is the difficulty in holding criminals accountable. The other is the difficulty on holding those accountable whose job it is to hold those criminals accountable. Almost makes you want to take things into your own hands. (My lawyer friend said that was a very bad idea.)

One thing's for sure: I will now have to keep a much closer watch on my tool trailer and work truck while I am there.
 

VikingsGuy

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Aug 2, 2017
Messages
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Location
Twin Cities
I am not a Virginia lawyer and don’t do criminal law, so you should seek local counsel if you actually want the right answer, but at the level of casual internet chatting, in short taking property that is not yours with intent to deny the proper owner possession is “Larceny” in VA. If the item(s) > $1,000 it is grand larceny - < $1,000 then it is petty larceny. Once a person takes possession with intent to “deprive” the crime is completed. Doesn’t matter if they later drop.

If it included entering into the garage then it could also be Breaking and Entering.
 

VikingsGuy

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Aug 2, 2017
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Twin Cities
Not a lawyer and not a legal opinion, but chasing the dude down is an utterly stupid move. I mean top level stupid.
Am I no expert in VA law, but in many jurisdictions if you pursue you pretty much give up the right to argue self defense - so if it ends in violence and you pull an aggressive DA you better look good in stripes.
 

MTGomer

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Joined
Sep 25, 2015
Messages
4,701
Location
MT —> AZ
As much as I think you should be able to chase these people down and physically hold them, because you should be able to, NP307 is right.

In about 2015, a Billings meth head drifted into my lane on a Shiloh Road roundabout and I honked my horn at him as he was about to hit me to get his attention. He responded by bouncing a full Mountain Dew off of the front of my pick up. He then made a sudden turn to the right, so I followed with the intention of getting his license plate number in case there was damage to my truck. I didn’t realize it was a church parking lot with no entrance. As soon as we pulled in he jumped out of his vehicle , and in the heat of the moment I did the same. He bounced a lit cigarette off of my face (i hate cigarettes more than I hate thieves) and I beat the shit out of him in exchange. All is well that ends well, but he could have just killed me, or known how to fight and the whole thing would not have been worth it. This all started with the intention of quickly grabbing a plate number.
 

PaulRevere

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Joined
Jan 9, 2018
Messages
594
Location
Western Montana
As much as I think you should be able to chase these people down and physically hold them, because you should be able to, NP307 is right.

In about 2015, a Billings meth head drifted into my lane on a Shiloh Road roundabout and I honked my horn at him as he was about to hit me to get his attention. He responded by bouncing a full Mountain Dew off of the front of my pick up. He then made a sudden turn to the right, so I followed with the intention of getting his license plate number in case there was damage to my truck. I didn’t realize it was a church parking lot with no entrance. As soon as we pulled in he jumped out of his vehicle , and in the heat of the moment I did the same. He bounced a lit cigarette off of my face (i hate cigarettes more than I hate thieves) and I beat the shit out of him in exchange. All is well that ends well, but he could have just killed me, or known how to fight and the whole thing would not have been worth it. This all started with the intention of quickly grabbing a plate number.
How bad did you beat him up? Haha.
 

texwest44

Active member
Joined
Jan 23, 2020
Messages
105
There is no obligation of the police to either serve or protect you (that's from the supreme court). Basically gotta get em on the right day. Like an iffy BBQ joint.

The police, in recent decades, have served two primary purposes: social management and property protection. The last few years, and your experience especially, have demonstrated they've regressed even further than that - they're not obligated to react in any way that doesn't suit them. That's a real step back to the days of the robber baron and the striking miner or railroad worker.

Sorry to hear about the stretch of bad luck with garbage humans, my man. Stick GPS trackers in the nooks and crannies of anything valuable, if it's an option. And think about this: if police don't respond to anything, then that opens up a lot of creative "home security" options. No rules? No rules.
 

nick87

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Joined
Dec 12, 2014
Messages
6,749
Location
Northern Illinois
As much as I think you should be able to chase these people down and physically hold them, because you should be able to, NP307 is right.

In about 2015, a Billings meth head drifted into my lane on a Shiloh Road roundabout and I honked my horn at him as he was about to hit me to get his attention. He responded by bouncing a full Mountain Dew off of the front of my pick up. He then made a sudden turn to the right, so I followed with the intention of getting his license plate number in case there was damage to my truck. I didn’t realize it was a church parking lot with no entrance. As soon as we pulled in he jumped out of his vehicle , and in the heat of the moment I did the same. He bounced a lit cigarette off of my face (i hate cigarettes more than I hate thieves) and I beat the shit out of him in exchange. All is well that ends well, but he could have just killed me, or known how to fight and the whole thing would not have been worth it. This all started with the intention of quickly grabbing a plate number.
Yah things can escalate quickly.
 

VikingsGuy

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Aug 2, 2017
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9,068
Location
Twin Cities
Yah things can escalate quickly.
Yup


 

theat

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Joined
Aug 28, 2010
Messages
777
Location
NW Montana
My local sheriffs department is a joke as far as I am concerned. About 10 years ago someone broke into my shop and stole about 400 elk sheds that I had just sorted to finally sell. Also made off with a almost new $800 chain saw and a handful of other items. When I called it in, they refused to send out a deputy to take a statement or look at the game cam pics I had of the truck that came down my driveway that night. They made me drive 30 miles to the sheriffs office and drop off a USB drive with pics of the truck and some of the more unique 360-380' antlers that were taken. I checked back with them a couple weeks later and even though I had been given a case number, they had apparently never filed it and couldn't find anything in their system about it or my USB drive that I had asked to be returned to me after they had downloaded it.

When I was going around asking some locals if they had heard anything about anyone trying to offload some antlers, I got an earful of other similar stories about our local law enforcement. The worst story was told to me by the owner of a popular motel/bar/lodge. The previous fall someone had smashed the window of a guests truck and stolen a bunch of their hunting gear including 2 rifles and a handgun. The crime was recorded on their security camera and the lodge owner recognized the culprit as a local guy with a very checkered past. The sheriffs department once again would not come out to the scene to investigate and were not interest in watching the video or even attempting to contact the guy on the video. Apparently, after a couple months of inaction by the sheriffs department some locals made a middle of the night trip to the guys house and were able to retrieve one of the rifles and the handgun. I think the culprit may or may not have ended up with a few bumps and bruises along with a broken hand.

A few years ago my parents were driving home from a shopping trip to the nearest city on New Years eve. They saw an old truck headed their way on the highway that was swerving really bad. My dad slowed down and pulled over as far as he could but the guy still managed to get completely in their lane and side swiped them. Totally demolished the whole side of their SUV. The truck kept going. They called the sheriffs office and reported the accident. They were told that they should just go home if their vehicle was still drivable and they would be on the lookout for the likely drunk driver. When my dad called back the next day, once again, nothing in the logs about it and it ended up being a pain in the ass dealing with insurance since the cops didn't fill out an accident report and wouldn't do it after the fact.

A lot of people around here don't even bother reporting crimes anymore.
 

mxracer317

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Joined
Nov 20, 2020
Messages
559
As much as I think you should be able to chase these people down and physically hold them, because you should be able to, NP307 is right.

In about 2015, a Billings meth head drifted into my lane on a Shiloh Road roundabout and I honked my horn at him as he was about to hit me to get his attention. He responded by bouncing a full Mountain Dew off of the front of my pick up. He then made a sudden turn to the right, so I followed with the intention of getting his license plate number in case there was damage to my truck. I didn’t realize it was a church parking lot with no entrance. As soon as we pulled in he jumped out of his vehicle , and in the heat of the moment I did the same. He bounced a lit cigarette off of my face (i hate cigarettes more than I hate thieves) and I beat the shit out of him in exchange. All is well that ends well, but he could have just killed me, or known how to fight and the whole thing would not have been worth it. This all started with the intention of quickly grabbing a plate number.
Practicing the doctrine of “laying on of hands” in the church parking lot. Oh, the irony!
 

Stocker

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Joined
Aug 30, 2019
Messages
1,282
Location
Nebraska
As bad as it sucks and as frustrating as it is I think you put yourself in more physical and legal jeopardy trying to catch theses people. Plus they most likely have nothing to lose, they are already morally compromised so who says they don’t come to your place to assault you at a later time.

I was picturing your story from my POV and I probably would’ve acted similar. The one thing that has really slowed my roll in scenarios like this is carrying concealed. Escalating ANY situation while carrying is a huge mistake.

If I stopped the guy, he came at me with a weapon and I shot him, on the surface it’s pretty cut and dry. Self defense. But by pursuing him abs escalating it roles reverse to where he could be the “victim”. Even if you just stopped the guy and held him without any carrying, it could be “false imprisonment” for holding him against his will. It just opens the door for all kinds of criminal and civil chaos to ensue in the courts.

Unfortunately theft is a part of society and probably isn’t gonna get better.
 

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