This is only tangentially related to the farm, but I’ve got to say something publicly, even if only for the safety of others in my neighborhood.
At the end of April, I related in this post how I caught a couple guys who stole a pocket knife out of my greenhouse. I called the police. One got away while we were waiting, but the officer who arrived took the remaining thief into custody and took him to jail. I wrote out a witness statement, and that was the end of it for me. I got a letter from the prosecutor a few days later informing me that the man had been charged with Breaking & Entering, a felony. Third degree felony, I believe. Nobody lives in the greenhouse. Nobody sleeps there. I wasn’t in there when they went in. But the prosecutor still saw it for what it was and charged the man with a felony. That’s how it’s supposed to work.
But then, last week, sometime between late Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon (we’ll say Wednesday), somebody opened the overhead door of the garage attached to our house at Woodland Avenue. That’s the one I’m fixing up for us to move in and open the store. The chickens live behind this place, and some of my gardens are here. I don’t live here full-time, but I’m in and out a lot, and I’m frequently there for several hours a day, at any time of day. In other words, it’s far more of an “occupied structure” than the greenhouse is. Breaking into it should be a more serious offense.
Anyway, someone opened the garage door and took most of the tools I had just inside there, including a $240 miter saw, a $70 circular saw, and a $130 reciprocating saw that I’d had for less than a year. He took most of my wrenches and sockets, too. This really cripples me as far as working on the house, repairing chicken shelters, building fences, or doing any kind of mechanical work on our vehicles or tiller.
I called the police. They took a report and left. The officer (whom I think graduated the police academy with my little brother last year) told me the case would be assigned to a sheriff’s detective, and I’d get a letter from him in a week or two.
That night, I closed the garage, shut in my birds, and went home. When I arrived the next day, Thursday, the gate to the back yard was open, the bungee cord that had been holding the latch shut had been removed and hung back up on the latch, and the garage door was up. I wondered what there was left for them to steal.
I looked around. This time, he didn’t stop at opening the garage. He had gone inside the garage and opened the door to the enclosed breezeway, where I’ve got a chest freezer and my market canopy and tables. There was also a metal shelf blocking a boarded-up door. The shelf used to have between 20 and 30 electric motors and various machine parts. The previous owners of the house had left them, and I was hanging onto them to try to convert them to generators for some experiments with homemade wind and water turbines. But now, the shelf was empty. I looked around some more and realized my compound bow was missing, too.
I needed to hurry off to get ready for the hearing at City Hall on this proposed community market legislation, so I didn’t have time to hang around and make another police report. But that evening when I got back, I packed up a bedroll, some food, a book, and my .357 revolver, the same gun I had used in the police academy. I had Mayda drop me off so there would be no car in the driveway. Other than doing a little cleaning that night, I just stayed quiet and tried to give the appearance that I was not there. I didn’t even let the chickens out the next morning, because I had been late letting them out the previous two days. I wanted everything to appear as it had the last two days this thief broke in. I did go out for one thing, though. I took down a motion detector I’d had outside and set it up in the kitchen so if anyone came in while I was sleeping on the couch in the living room, I’d have some warning.
I stayed there for 17 hours. Then, around 2:00 p.m. Friday afternoon, I heard a car pull into the driveway. There was a knock at the door. I held my breath and didn’t move. More knocking. Then I heard the person at the door say something to someone else. I wish I could have heard what they said, but the only word I could make out was “city.” Then it sounded like they were leaving. I heard the vehicle’s wheels rolling over the gravel. I peeked out the window next to the door and saw a white minivan backing into the driveway, rolling back towards the gate. They weren’t leaving. They were getting ready to load up!
I backed away from the window quickly and started into the living room. I wanted to watch through the kitchen to see if the garage door was going to go up. Before I got that far, though, I heard the motion alarm go off. He was already in the kitchen!
I ran into the living room and pointed my gun into the kitchen, yelling at the guy to get his hands up. He complied. I turned on the kitchen light and saw that his hands were empty and he was surrendering. I thought maybe he had come in through an open wall in the kitchen where I was doing some repairs, but I saw behind him that the garage door was up and the breezeway door was open. He had lifted that overhead door without my hearing it, and he had gotten inside in a hurry.
He excitedly explained that his car had overheated and he was just looking for me to ask me if he could have some water. I asked him about the two previous break-ins. “I don’t know anything about that. I don’t do that kind of stuff. I ain’t like that! I work for a living. I’m a painter. My girlfriend’s out in the car. I need to get out there. She’s got our son in the car. I need to go.” Of course, I didn’t let him.
I called 911 with my free hand and told them to send the police. When Sgt. C.E. Johnson came to the door, I put down the gun near the door and let him in, as the 911 dispatcher had instructed. I pointed out the location of the gun and then led him into the kitchen where the burglar was waiting. Sgt. Johnson didn’t handcuff the man. He simply led him out the front door. I feared momentarily that the man might spot the gun and try to grab it, but they got outside without incident. The sergeant led the burglar to the backseat of his car. There was a Sheriff’s deputy outside guarding the minivan, the keys to which the police sergeant had already seized before entering the house.
Johnson told me to go put my gun away, and I did so. I came back out on the porch and tried to hear what was being said without getting close enough to be a nuisance. Both officers were talking with the woman driving the van, and the sergeant talked with the burglar. I heard both officers talking sternly to the driver about being charged as an accessory, then a lot of fatherly advice about going to church and thanking the Lord for not getting shot. Both officers said that if it had been their house, “That would’ve been the end of it.” Then some kind of warning about the people around here arming themselves.
The deputy left. The sergeant came back and told me, “They say their car was overheating, and I’m inclined to believe them. Their temperature gauge is hot.” He asked me if I’d fill out a witness statement, and I told him I would. And then he let them go. I didn’t see whether he gave either of the felons a hug or a lollipop before turning them back loose on society. I did hear the burglar ask, though, before pulling away, whether he was going to get a ticket or anything. Sergeant Johnson replied, “You’ll be getting it from the prosecutor.” Johnson also told them repeatedly, “Don’t come back here.” If he really felt that needed to be stated, why the hell did he let them go???
I filled out the witness statement while the sergeant made some small talk about my weapon and about the scaffold I had built to replace the soffits and fascia on the house. While I was on the porch, I noticed that the bungee cord on the gate latch was hung up the same as it had been the day before. Before he left, Sgt. Johnson told me that I’d need to go to the prosecutor’s office to file charges, but not to go until Tuesday morning. He was getting ready to leave for the day, and the prosecutor wouldn’t have the report until then–suggesting, perhaps, that this sergeant was getting ready to leave for the weekend, and that he wouldn’t be filling out the report until he returned on Monday–which could give us a clue why he wouldn’t have wanted to get stuck waiting around for someone to take custody of the baby before he could arrest both the burglar and his driver, process them at the police station, transport them downtown, clerk in the charges, and sit around babysitting them while they got booked into the jail. Or maybe it just takes all weekend and a day for the report to become visible on the computers downtown. At any rate, he gave me his business card and wrote the report number on the back. He told me to go the prosecutor’s office on the 7th floor at 375 South High Street.
I didn’t get down there Tuesday, but Noah and I went late Wednesday morning. (He hadn’t been downtown in a while, and never in such a tall building.) I told the lady at the front desk what had happened and that the officer had instructed me to go there. “That’s a felony!” she said. “We only deal with misdemeanors here.”
“Maybe he reported it as a B&E rather than a burglary,” I offered.
“That’s still a felony!” But she assured me they could help me anyway, and she found the report. She gave me a form to fill out, and after much waiting, a man whom I presume was an assistant prosecutor led Noah and me back to an office. He asked me what led up to this, and he typed as I told him everything from the point of the first break-in.
He told me everything was up to the prosecutor now. I understood. I knew from my time as a police officer that even if the police filed serious charges, the prosecutor would only actually pursue what he felt was certain to stick, even if it meant a lighter sentence. He gave me a business card with a complaint number on it, and told me I could call the front desk in 45 minutes to an hour, and they’d be able to update me. I then asked the woman at the front desk if she could give me the name of the suspects from the police report. I wanted to know the identity of the burglar so, if nothing else, I could at least sue him to recover the cost of my tools. She told me she couldn’t, and said that I’d need to contact the Sheriff records office to get a redacted copy. “They take out people’s Social Security numbers and stuff.” That made sense.
Noah and I went back to the car to retrieve some change, since printouts from the Sheriff records office are five-cents a page, and I knew my witness statement alone was two pages. (He got a kick out of walking across the 6th floor skyway over High Street to the parking garage.) We waited in line, then waited for the woman behind the glass to download the report. Finally, she brought me a paper and charged me a nickel. “Make sure it’s the right report before you go,” she advised me. I looked at it. My name was there. The address was right. But I wasn’t seeing either of the suspects’ names. I told her as much. “Oh, those aren’t listed on there. You’ll have to contact someone in the detective bureau to give you that information.
Noah and I went back to the car and I called the prosecutor’s office. No answer. I called the detective assigned to this case, but he wasn’t in. We went home. Five bucks for parking.
I called the prosecutor’s office again yesterday. No answer. I left a message and never heard back.
Today, I needed to go to the county tax office anyway, so when I was done there, Noah and I dropped by the prosecutor’s office to check on the status of my complaint. It was about 4:30 and it looked like they were wrapping up for the day. The guy at the front desk told me they’d be with me in about ten minutes. He called me up to review the complaint and asked me to verify the facts stated there. “Defendant did, without privilege to do so, knowingly enter or remain on the land or premises, to wit: 2624 Woodland Avenue…” Yep. Nothing incorrect there. A couple minutes later, the man who had interviewed me Wednesday walked with me down to the clerk’s office. This was a place I recognized. I had been here once when booking in a prisoner. Ironically, there was a Mifflin Township police officer there. He had a young woman in handcuffs who had an outstanding fine. She had to pay $190 if she wanted to go free. She was waiting for her grandfather. I had the urge to tell her she should have broken into someone’s house instead. Then Mifflin would have let her go right away. I restrained myself.
The Deputy Clerk had me swear out the complaint and sign it. While the guy from the prosecutor’s office and I were standing there waiting for the Deputy Clerk to make some copies, I asked him if he knew what the prosecutor’s rationale was for charging the defendant with a misdemeanor rather than B&E or Burglary. He looked uncomfortable. “Well, um, our office only handles misdemeanors. Normally the officer would take care of this.”
“Are you telling me that instead of coming here as the officer instructed me, I should have gone to the county prosecutor’s office if I wanted it charged as a felony?”
“That would have been on the officer to do. Normally it’s the officer who handles that.”
“I know. I was a cop for six years. I don’t know what was in that guy’s head.”
The Deputy Clerk came back with our copies of the complaint. The good news: I now know that the guy I caught inside my house is named Randy J. Arnold, and that he lives at 2164 Yorkhull Lane, Columbus, OH 43229. With that information, I can at least try to pursue a civil suit against him so I can replace my tools. The bad news: they charged him with an M4. A fourth degree misdemeanor. Not only is it a misdemeanor, it’s a very, very small misdemeanor. Like one step above a speeding ticket. By comparison, the city proposes making it a 3rd degree misdemeanor to be an unlicensed sidewalk vendor, and making it a 1st degree misdemeanor to run a farmers market without a license. You’d get in more trouble selling locally grown apples on the street corner than this guy will for breaking into my house three days in a row. He’s facing a MAXIMUM sentence of 30 days in jail and a $250 fine. He could get less. For getting caught red-handed inside a stranger’s house after two previous burglaries and a 17-hour stakeout.
I left the courthouse feeling quite dejected. The damned bunny huggers steal my chickens and get away with it. The raccoons steal my chickens and (most of them) get away with it. The deer eat my cucumbers, beans, and tomatoes, and get away with it. And then, after someone steals all my tools, I do everything right–I lay my trap, I stay quiet, I give up a whole night of rest and most of a day of work to catch him, AND IT WORKS, and he STILL gets away with it because some cop is either too damned lazy to do his job, or he’s in cahoots with the thief. We’re left to speculate which, since Sergeant Johnson offered no explanation for his decision to release a pair of felons beyond, “I’m inclined to believe them.”
It doesn’t matter what he believes. He saw Randy Arnold in the house with his own eyes. He walked past the couch with the sheet, blankets, and pillow where I had been sleeping.
Ohio Revised Code
“(B) No person, by force, stealth, or deception, shall trespass in a permanent or temporary habitation of any person when any person other than an accomplice of the offender is present or likely to be present.” That’s a fourth-degree felony. You don’t have to prove theft or an intent to commit any other crime. You just need him in a building where I had been sleeping the night before. Slam dunk. Up to 18 months in prison and a $5000 fine. No fewer than six months in prison. Most cops would be proud to make an arrest like that. Sgt. Johnson couldn’t be bothered to.
Oh, but let your grass get a little long, and Mifflin P.D. will be right on it. They’re ever-vigilant defenders against untidy lawns, chicken sheds, and compost piles, but they’ll turn loose a felon handed to them on a silver platter as fast as you can say, “My engine is hot.”
It gets worse. I looked up Randy J. Arnold, DOB 08-07-1981 on the website of the Franklin County Municipal Court Records. Unless there are other Randy J. Arnolds born that same day, this guy has a record. Several counts of domestic violence, and two for…wait for it…RECEIVING STOLEN PROPERTY. But Johnson is inclined to believe him.
I’m calling the county prosecutor Monday to check on the feasibility of dropping this misdemeanor charge and filing properly. I also need an attorney who’s interested in going after Mr. Arnold on contingency for whatever you figure you can get out of him. Distribute the link to this post to any lawyers you think may be interested. I have $15 to my name. I can’t pay any fees or court costs, but I believe the preponderance of the evidence is on our side.
If you wonder why I haven’t been in the garden more this past couple of weeks, now you know. Between fighting city hall over the right of farmers to sell their goods and trying to do Sgt. Johnson’s job for him, as well as boarding up and locking up any place where a burglar might possibly try to wiggle into my house, I’ve been pretty busy.