Stupid Criminals: Valley
Police Department, May 1992
Over time, I came to the conclusion that many criminals committed
crimes because they were too stupid to hold a real job…
story is not a story about a big crime. While the value of these
property crimes did amount to several felonies, none of this was
headline news. What does make this case memorable is that it displays
what several years of training and experience can be brought to
the spring of 1992, the City of Valley was suffering a rash of thefts
from cars and other vehicles. These were particularly brazen, not
only in the number of incidents, but for the fact that in many cases,
the individuals would sometimes enter the garages where the vehicles
had been parked in order to steal property. Technically, this elevates
the crime from a theft to a burglary. The items stolen included
just about anything they could get their hands on, but most frequently,
they liked to steal automotive stereo equipment, and typically high
end equipment at that!
we had trouble actually catching anyone in the act at first, we
did have our suspects. Particularly a group of four young men from
the community who hung together late at night and were generally
up to no good. While none of them were violent, they excelled at
finding their way into trouble. Two of these boys were simply of
the type who just seemed to go along for the ride. Granted, they
were no angels, but they typically didn’t instigate anything.
The other two? They were another story.
was a hard core thief. He would steal anything anywhere, and would
let one of his brothers take the rap for the offense if it suited
him. He was introduced to our community when he was younger by the
Nebraska Department of Social Services in Dodge County, who placed
him in foster care in our city in Douglas County. By the time James
was reunited with his family in Fremont and obtained a drivers’
license, he would range all over Dodge, Saunders, and Douglas County
stealing anything and everything he could. He liked coming to our
town to ply his trade.
was a recent arrival to our community in 1992. He never appeared
to be gainfully employed, but he and his girlfriend rented a house
in town which soon became a haven for any and all dirt bags who
wanted to sit on their ass, drink and smoke dope all night. While
Norman was not a dedicated thief like James, Norman saw himself
more as the executive manager of the group, and served as a mentor
in teaching the others how to commit their crimes. In this role,
Norman saw himself as the smartest and wisest young man on the planet!
point, we had obtained enough probable cause to apply for a Search
Warrant to search James family home in Fremont in cooperation with
the Dodge County Sheriff and the Fremont Police Department. By the
time the warrant was executed, everything was gone. While we found
some evidence that electronic equipment had recently been stashed
in the attic, nothing was found that would allow us to make a case.
It had been a matter of bad timing or bad luck, as we later learned
that the stolen property had been removed just a couple of hours
before we arrived.
that our search of James home did not deter his activities, as later
intelligence seemed to indicate that he was becoming more daring.
Maybe our failure at finding anything at his parents' home made
him think he was that much further ahead of the cops.
one thing Norman had in common with James was that they were both
arrogant as hell! And as everyone knows, arrogant people can’t
keep their mouths shut. They have to tell or demonstrate to everyone
about their daring deeds and exploits, and naturally tell everyone
how dumb the cops are. Norman actually told the Valley Chief of
Police in passing that he had been present when James had stolen
a car stereo. While he was vague in what he told the Chief, he said
enough that we were able to pin down exactly what incident he was
describing. So the Chief, I, and one of the officers from the neighboring
town of Waterloo* sat down to compare notes. It was decided that
when we next ran into Norman, we would bring him in for a formal
interview. If he wants to play games with us, we’d give him
City of Waterloo had been investigating a large number of thefts,
thought to have been committed by the same group we were looking
at. See the story about the Raid in King
Lake about part of their investigation.)
about 1:30 AM on a Wednesday evening late in May, I ran into Normal
while at a 24-Hour Convenience Store. As always, my pocket tape
recorder starts recording. I approached Norman, and asked how he’s
doing, etc. I brought up that he had mention to the Police Chief
that he knew some information about a theft. I asked if he could
come down to my office and visit with me about that information.
I pointed out that if this was an inconvenient time, perhaps we
could meet some other time, but added that it looked like neither
one of us were busy at the moment. Norman agreed to come to my office
right then and there.
was I just did: I got Norman to come to the Police Department voluntarily,
in his own transportation. He could have turned around at anytime
and gone elsewhere. This substantiates that he is not in custody,
nor was he under arrest.)
the officer from Waterloo on the radio, and invited him to come
along to the interview. When we all get to my office, I invite Norman
to have a seat. I verbally advised the subject of his constitutional
rights, explaining that whenever we talk to someone about a crime,
we want them to know about their rights.
point, I say, “Hey, I’d like a pop to drink! Would you
like a pop?”
says, “Sure, I’d like a pop!”
into my pocket, pull out some change, and hand it to Norman, asking
if he could go to the pop machine just inside the main door to the
building. “Please get me a Cola, one for the Waterloo Cop,
and get yourself anything you like.”
what I just did: I’ve demonstrated that Norman has freedom
of movement. If he so desired, he could have walked right passed
the pop machine, out the front door, and kept right on going. Again,
this not only substantiates that Norman is not in custody, or under
arrest; it also demonstrates that he is absolutely here by his own
start to talk about the incident that he vaguely told the Chief.
He tells me in great detail about the incident but adds that he
was there at the time, but that James did everything. He went on
to tell us that a few hours before the police came with the search
warrant to James’ house in Fremont, that James took all the
stolen stereos to his brothers house to get ready to sell them.
He added that since the warrant had been served, the cops would
never recover that property now. I asked Norman if he had been present
at any other incidents. He told us that while he had not been present,
James had stolen from a car at Ginger Cove, but got his own car
stuck, adding that James stole a car and came with it to Norman’s
house. He went on to name who was with James at the time.
Norman if he would be willing to write this story down, in his own
words, so that people would not think I was making this up. Norman
readily agreed, and asked for a pen and a paper. I provided him
with a Voluntary Statement Form, which has the Miranda Advisement
spelled out across the top. I pointed out this Constitutional Advisory
to Norman, and asked him to make sure he read and understood these
rights. He read the advisory, and then asked, what he should say.
I suggested that he document the date, time, location, and any other
pertinent information regarding the incident, but adding that I
“could not put any words into his mouth.” It was his
what I just did here: I have again provided Norman with his Constitutional
Rights, only this time in writing so there is no doubt that he has
these explicitly. Further, I’ve asked Norman to acknowledge
that he received these rights. Clearly, I explained that we need
the when, where, and what, but I have not told him what to say.)
wrote about one line on the paper, when he stopped and asked, “Is
it true that I can check with my attorney before I put anything
“Absolutely!” I told Norman that it was clearly his
right that he could talk to an attorney before making any statements
to the police! As a matter of fact, he was free to go, and could
leave any time he wished.
thought for a moment, then said what he was about to write might
be self incriminating, and wanted to make sure he wasn’t being
charged with a crime. I replied that I was not in a position to
make any deals, as only the prosecuting attorney could make a deal.
taking the form back, believing the interview was concluding while
I added, “You really don’t have to tell me anything
at all. As far as making a statement goes, you can tell me to go
pound sand!” At that, Norman pulled the form back to himself,
and started writing again!
what happened: It appeared that Norman was going to invoke his right
to an attorney. I fully explained that it was his right to remain
silent, not to make any statement, and that he could stop questioning
at any time. I also did not tell him he could not be charged with
a crime, as I could not make any deals. To my absolute surprise,
the subject, while asking for clarification about an attorney,
did not invoke his right to an attorney, and voluntarily took
the form out of my hand, and started writing on it.)
here’s where it gets real good! In Norman’s written
statement, he detailed (very detailed) about the two incidents he
just verbally described to me, he went on to detail a third
theft that he had not mentioned previously!
him more about this third incident. Again, he states that he didn’t
do anything himself, but that he, James, and another individual
had entered a closed garage using a cigarette lighter for light,
where the removed an Alpine Stereo and other equipment from the
car parked inside. He’s says that while he himself did not
take the stereo, he instructed James on how to remove the stereo
to the point of telling him which screws and in what order to remove
the screws. He even chastised James for forgetting and important
part of the stereo system, where James went back into the garage
and got it!
what just happened: Norman just confessed to an additional felony
burglary without me urging him to confess!)
remainder of the interview consisted of talking about information
obtained from various sources, and in a roundabout way, getting
Norman to corroborate that information. The Waterloo Officer asked
a few questions, but didn’t obtain anything useful.
this guy seems to be completely confident that I’m not a threat
to him, or I must not be smart enough to be a threat to him. I know
he’s not leaving town. We know where to find him. I thank
him for his cooperation, and send him home! Everyone is all smiles
and happy! As soon as Norman hits the door, I’m typing out
my report and an affidavit for an Arrest Warrant.
what I’m doing here: While I could have arrested this Rocket
Scientist right here on the spot, I’m opting to have a Judge
review my probable cause, which loads HEAPS of credibility to the
case if it’s contested. And it WAS contested!)
Norman and James were both convicted on several felony counts of
burglary and theft. The interview with Norman was the key point
of contention in the trial, since if the Defense had Norman’s
statements excluded, even though we had evidence to corroborate
his statements, the State would have little or no evidence against
either subject. The steps I took, and the conduct of my interview
with Normal made our case rock solid in that the Defense could find
no way to have Norman’s statements excluded.
Purple Sage Law Enforcement