Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A Tour of Our Justice System

(Or, One Reason We Have Criminals On Our Streets)

I've been following a Norristown police case--or I should say, Montgomery County, because the defendant's been arrested in 4 different communities over the last 2 months. The reason I began following it (besides being a mystery writer with an interest in police work) is that the person misappropriated a good chunk of money from a Norristown volunteer organization. We all know how hard our organizations work to raise money, so I take it as a personal affront against the town.

I don't say "allegedly misappropriated" because the criminal has admitted doing it. The funds were discovered missing over the summer, and the theft reported to the police, but that, it turns out was only the beginning of the story. I'm not going to mention names, because the defendant hasn't come up for trial yet and I don't want to jeopardize any of the cases.

The organization gave the Norristown police all the documentation they had, but before the paperwork was even done, the thief was arrested twice for other crimes. Here's an excerpt from a September Montgomery News article:

"A Norristown man was arrested Sept. 1 following a police chase by officers responding to a call at 8:41 p.m. to be on the lookout for a blue Chevy Suburban occupied by two white men involved in a retail theft at the Walgreens in East Norriton, police said. A Whitpain officer located the vehicle eastbound on Township Line Road...After a brief chase,...stopped and identified as the man involved in the retail theft, police said. He also appeared to be intoxicated and was taken to Mercy Suburban for a blood test, and charges of driving under the influence are pending against him, police said. In addition, he was charged with fleeing and eluding, receiving stolen property, possession of heroin, possession of paraphernalia and traffic offenses, police said... bail was set at $10,000 unsecured.

"The next day, Sept. 2, Hatfield Township police sent out a request to help identify a suspect in an attempted theft of a case of cigarettes valued at $1,650, which occurred in August, police said. From the photos and description of the vehicle, the thief appeared to be [the defendant] and the information was passed along to Hatfield Township, which obtained an arrest warrant, police said."

Here are the court summaries of those arrests:

Arrest: 9/1/13, Whitpain police
Felony - Fleeing from an officer
Misdemeanors - Receiving stolen property, DUI, 2 counts possession, 3 counts drug use, 2 counts of attempted theft, attempted receiving stolen property. Listed as using 2 aliases and as having a prior arrest in 2002.
Unsecured bail for $10,000 ("Unsecured" means the defendant didn't have to put a downpayment on the bail--he only signed a paper saying he'd return for his court appearances.)

While he was in jail, on 9/2, Hatfield police arrested him. 3 more felony counts - Petty theft, receiving stolen property, theft by failure to make required disposition of funds. Unsecured bail in the amount of $25,000. He was released on 9/12.

Meanwhile the Norristown detectives lost the documentation for the local case and the organization faxed them a second copy.

The felon's next court date was 9/23. He failed to show. This should have brought an automatic contempt charge and a warrant should have been issued for his arrest. That never happened.

Skip to the first week of October, the defendant was arrested AGAIN, in West Norriton. Felony - 2 counts of retail theft. At his hearing, his failure to show wasn't mentioned. He was again issued unsecured bail in the amount of $25,000 and let go.

Meanwhile, Norristown AGAIN asked the organization to fax their documentation.  Apparently we have a black hole down at 235 East Airy that swallows evidence.

On 11/16, the perp was arrested AGAIN, this time in Upper Merion on more counts of theft. I didn't get hold of those court documents to know the exact charges, but last Thursday, he was released on unsecured bail AGAIN.

The charges and warrant for the earlier failure to show still haven't been issued. Norristown still hasn't gotten their act together to file charges or issue a warrant for the misappropriation of funds.

So here we have a drug user charged with at least 6 felony counts, arrested by 4 different police departments (Norristown could make it 5), who has already failed to appear for one court date. He's out driving around Norristown and the surrounding area, probably planning where he's going to steal from next. Montgomery County courts just keep giving him unsecured bail and letting him go. Partially the fault of the judges', but mainly the DA's office, I suspect, for not connecting the dots and aggressively pressing the cases, and not following up to see that a contempt charge was issued.

I'm guessing if the felon were black or Hispanic, things would be different. All our guy seems to have to do is bat his baby blues at a judge and he walks.

As for the Norristown police? I don't know, maybe they don't think they have a strong enough case. Maybe they're waiting for the other charges to stick. But losing the documentation, more than once? Chief Talbot, please tell me that's going to stop.

So think about this when you consider whether we should have a drug counseling center on Main Street. It would sure be convenient for drug users like this man, going between the center and the places he steals from and the courthouse, who'll just let him go over and over again. He could do all his activities within 4 blocks.

Can you understand why new businesses won't want to come to Main St. if that center opens? Why existing businesses might leave?

Go to the Zoning Board meeting tonight at 7 pm in Municipal Hall and say no to Gaudenzia.

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