Stupid Criminal Tricks: the fake deputy

According to the Seattle Times, a man posing as a King County sheriff’s deputy, wearing a T-shirt reading “Sheriff,” a holstered revolver, and a radio of some sort, knocked on doors in an apartment complex, telling residents he was looking for the suspect in an auto theft. Several residents got suspicious and called 911 — they thought he “lacked a police presence” and said when asked for I.D., he ignored them and kept talking.

When a real deputy spotted him, the imposter took off, eluding both a tracking dog and a helicopter search. According to the Times, “Investigators believe the man probably got into a nearby car and split. The sheriff’s office doesn’t know what the imposter was up to. One possibility is that he was looking for the supposed car thief and figured this was one way to find him. Or maybe “he was looking to get his kicks.””

And yes, impersonating a law enforcement officer is a crime.

Stupid Criminal Update: the hitchhiker, the kindness project, and the shooting that wasn’t

I wrote last year about the hitchhiker who claimed to have been shot while traveling the country and working on a book about kindness. Turned out Ray Dolin shot himself, either in a suicide attempt — his initial claim — or as a publicity stunt for his kindness project. Another man was arrested and briefly jailed — he happened to drive the same kind of truck Dolin described, but GPS data showed he hadn’t been in the area when the shooting occurred. Dolin was charged with a felony count of tampering with evidence and two misdemeanor charges, and pled guilty.

The AP reports he’s now received a four-year deferred sentence on the felony, which includes numerous conditions, and a six-month suspended sentence on the misdemeanors. He must continue mental health treatment, and was also ordered to pay more than $2,000 in fines and $5,583 restitution. Readers of Books, Crooks & Counselors know that a deferred sentence means the judge reserves authority to impose sentence later; at the end of the deferral period, if the offender has met all conditions, charges will be dismissed. This is not a typical case for deferral — a gun was involved, and an innocent man was caught up in the lies. No doubt Dolin’s apology, his cooperative behavior, and his apparent compliance with mental health treatment were factors in his favor.

Stupid Criminal Tricks #5 – Don’t break in to a federal courthouse

The Billings (Montana) Gazette gives us today’s Stupid Criminal Trick, reporting the case of a 24 year old man “who says he doesn’t remember breaking into the new federal courthouse while it was under construction.” He claimed to have been out with friends, then became separated from them, before blacking out. Meanwhile, though, he apparently broke three second-floor windows with a metal pipe and discharged a fire extinguisher, then passed out, wearing only jeans, on the first floor, where he was found and arrested.

He was initially charged with criminal trespass and burglary, but pled no contest to an amended charge of felony criminal mischief and offered a check for restitution–$10,738. He was given a 12-month deferred sentence and ordered to undergo a chemical dependency evaluation, and obtain any treatment recommended. The misdemeanor charge of criminal trespassing was dismissed.

As one commenter noted, that was a pricey fire extinguisher.

Lesson learned, we hope.

Stupid Criminal Tricks – cars, cameras, and dog hair

Missoula, Montana police recently put the bite on a serial car thief, with help from his cell phone — and his dog. The Missoulian reports that the man stole an SUV in Spokane, Washington and two more in Missoula, where he was arrested after being seen with one of the cars, which was under surveillance. (For readers not in Montana, the two cites are about 200 miles apart.) When police found the cars, they also found “dog-related items and dog hair with color, length and type consistent with a dog owned by Roth,” according to the newspaper’s account of court documents.

He had also taken pictures of the stolen cars with his cell phone.

And – in case you don’t think the guy was stupid enough – he was also charged with criminal possession of drug paraphernalia and driving a motor vehicle with a suspended or revoked license. Now, I don’t know if the drug paraphernalia was found in the stolen cars, or whether, like the leash, he just left it there. But you gotta know somebody’s gonna be looking for the car, right?

Put this in your comic novel–because you couldn’t write this in a serious mystery with a straight face.

A note on the admissibility of the dog hair evidence: a lab analysis and report will be required before the evidence can be admitted at trial, and the lab analyst will need to testify. But hair analysis–whether human or animal–is not new or unusual, and should not present any evidentiary issues. (Evidentiary issues – that’s legal talk for big doo-doo.)


Stupid Criminal Tricks #3 — check your pockets!

A Montana burglar used a credit card to pick a lock. Unfortunately, it was his own credit card — and he left it behind. Plus, the homeowner was at home, and spotted him. The Associated Press reports that he’s been arrested and charged with felony attempted burglary and misdemeanor disorderly conduct.

No charge for criminal stupidity — that’s free.

Stupid Criminal Tricks #2: Writer working on book about kindness shot while hitchhiking? Say it isn’t so!

Writer working on book about kindness shot while hitchhiking? Say it isn’t so!

It isn’t so.

Montanans were understandably upset by the report that a man hitchhiking the country to research a book on kindness was shot in our state. But boy, were we peeved when it turned out he shot himself as a publicity stunt. I’m sure others shared my gratification at how quickly law enforcement discovered the fraud and cleared the man falsely accused, although he was held on an unrelated charge of drunk driving.

The Missoulian reports that Valley County sheriff’s deputies didn’t find a gun or ammo in the pickup of the man accused–who was driving a pickup that matched the one described–and found his denial credible. They used his GPS to trace his route–which put him miles away from the shooting at the time the alleged victim claimed it occurred. So they went back to the scene and found a small pistol in a nearby field. They traced the gun to West Virginia, where the alleged victim had bought it days earlier.

According to an August 15 report in the Glasgow Courier, the alleged victim has now been charged with one count of felony tampering with evidence and two misdemeanor counts of making a false report and obstructing a peace officer. He pleaded not guilty. He was released on $10,000 bond and allowed to leave the state to live with a relative near a VA hospital where he can be treated. In typical western graciousness, the sheriff expressed hope that he get evaluation for mental problems

You can’t make some of this stuff up.

Update: Lee Newspapers report that Ray Dolin is scheduled to appear in court on Monday, October 29, and is expected to plead guilty.


Stupid Criminal Tricks # 1

So you’re charged with burglary, and you think it might be a good idea to call your victim and apologize. Well, okay. I see the point, though I wouldn’t recommend it. But if do make the call, don’t encourage the victim to skip the trial. 

A Montana man who made that call found himself charged with tampering with a witness – in addition to felony charges for bail jumping (two counts), criminal endangerment, assault on a peace officer and burglary, and misdemeanor charges of bail jumping and criminal trespass to vehicles. More details from the Daily Inter Lake in Kalispell.


 (Flathead County, Montana courthouse, from the David Berryman Courthouse Postcard Collection.)