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DC Police: When Video of the Bad Guy Isn't Enough

D.C. police gadly John Aravosis has heard of all too many cases like this: A house in the District is burglarized, the police know who the bad guy is, yet somehow the system concludes that nothing can be done.

But as common as this scenario may be, the experience a Kalorama woman is nonetheless startling, and if Mayor Adrian Fenty and new Police Chief Cathy Lanier are serious about changing the way policing is done in Washington, this is the perfect case on which to base some new ways of doing business:

Not only do the police reportedly have the perpetrator on video tape, they have his signature and name, all obtained while the burglar was getting rid of the stolen goods at a pawn shop. "It's abominable," says Aravosis. See for yourself: First, an email from the victim to Metropolitan Police , describing what happened (I've removed street addresses and some names)...

To: [Third District Police Commander] Mccoy, Larry (MPD)
Subject: RE: Burglary in our neighborhood and NO arrest

We got a call from Detective Covington last evening and he informed us that NO arrest would take place of Mr. J. (residing across the street with our neighbor) in the burglary of jewelry from our home because the pawn shop owner has refused to identify him from a group of photographs that he was shown. Detective Covington says this is the end of it and there is nothing further to be done. (This is in spite of the fact that Mr. J was supposed to be on video tape pawning the jewelry and they supposedly according to Detective Covington has his signature on the pawning documents--is it any wonder that it would not be in the best interests of the pawn shop owner to identify him).

Mr. Covington also reported the good news that they have recovered the gold and diamond ring that my husband's father left to him 42 years ago because the pawn shop owner suddenly remembered that it was in his possession because he had had it sent out for cleaning and had forgotten about it! The other ring, he claims, was melted
down for its gold content. Mr. Covington will be trying to determine today when he can return this ring. He has also informed us that we will be liable for the $2,000 that the pawn shop owner gave Mr. J. for the ring!

This is probably the end of the road for us in this matter. The good news is that one of the rings will probably be returned. The bad news is that there is a predator in the neighborhood whose car is parked right outside our front door as I write this. Although we realize that there is a limit to what law enforcement can do in matters such as this, this has left a really bad taste for us.

We wish to thank all of you for your support and assistance in this matter and wish it could have had a better closure for us all.

The victim got a quick reply from Police Lt. Michael Farish:

I did some checking this morning and I would like to clarify some issues you raised. The first being any expense to you and your husband. That information is inaccurate. There are certain parameters that pawn shops must operate under, and since the shop paid for stolen merchandise they are required to absorb the cost of what they paid the subject who pawned the ring. Once you receive the property release from Detective Covington you will be able to retrieve the ring from our agency.

Detective Covington informed you regarding the US Attorney's Office declining to pursue this case. With the pawn shop not identifying the suspect in the photospread they are unwilling to go forward. You are probably very correct in your assumption that it is not in the pawn shop's best interest to make an identification, but at this juncture it is an issue we cannot resolve.

There seem to be several issues with the pawn shop regarding the way the items were received. These issues have been brought to the attention of Lt. Michael Pavlik. Lt. Pavlik oversees the MPD Pawn Unit, and he is going to have the issues addressed with Detective Looper of his staff, she assisted Detective Covington. I have included Lt. Pavlik and Det. Looper in this email so everyone is fully aware of the efforts being made.

If I may be of any further assistance to you please contact me. Thank you.

The good news: The D.C. police department seems to be all over this case, responding quickly and with a real sense of wanting to do the right thing.

The bad news: Prosecutors appear to be letting the case go because of a recalcitrant pawnshop owner--certainly an obstacle that is fairly easy to overcome, even if it would take a bit of work and pressure.

Let's see what happens. Updates are welcome from all parties involved.

By Marc Fisher |  January 12, 2007; 7:36 AM ET
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

if I were the people involved here, and could not recover my stolen property, I would file a civil case against the original perpetrator, subpoena the videotape, subpoena the pawn shop owner, and make them all come to court and tell their story. In fact, whenever a criminal court is unwilling to bring charges, civil cases should be filed. somehow people should have to pay (after all, it worked for OJ)

Posted by: jj | January 12, 2007 8:19 AM

Det Donut should say to pawnshop owner you can either testify or we have a couple uniform officers outside for the next 30 days while we do an audit of your records.

Lazy good for nothing pigs. Obviously this is interfering with donut time and visits with gagging Annie. Doesnt matter the jurisdiction in DC, MD or VA its is the same sad story lazy good for nothing pigs who do squat when you are a crime victim. They are more than happy to run radar or laser traps to bring in revenue but doing real work is no go for them. Probably violates some agreement with the pigs union.

The victim needs to to have a discussion with pawn shop owner and then needs to settle the issue with the scumbag. Either do it themselves or have someone they know
put this scumbag on ice for a while. You cant commit burglaries if both arms are in casts up to your shoulder.

The reason the US attorney's office wont do anything is becasue of lazy no good pigs!

Posted by: vaherder | January 12, 2007 9:01 AM

Maybe by charging the pawnshop owner for possession of stolen property the decision to not testify may be reconsidered.

At any rate, the video evidence and signature should be more than enough to get a conviction.

Posted by: SoMD | January 12, 2007 9:28 AM

Why is the pawn shop owner not being charged with receiving stolen property? Charge the pawn shop owner to force his/her hand to identify the thief being accused.

I agree with the first post suggesting the victim seek civil damages agains the thief and the pawn shop owner.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2007 9:30 AM

One other thought - the police need to do a wall-to-wall inventory of this pawnshop for other stolen property, then visit the shop on a regular basis. Say once every couple of days, with no pattern to the visit schedule.

Posted by: SoMD | January 12, 2007 9:30 AM

I guess it is everywhere. I had my purse stolen in NOVA Christmas Eve from a shopping center. The crook used my credit card about seven times in an hour before I had a chance to report it stolen to the bank. It took Fairfax County police 30 minutes to show up even though we called 911. It has been about 3 weeks since the incident and I can't get a call back from the police about what is going on.

I talked to one of the merchants where the card was used and they have cameras. He said to have the police come in with a memory stick since we had the exact time of the charge so they could get an image of the person. Has anyone bothered? No. You almost feel like you have to do the work yourself to catch the guy. It is no wonder these crooks are repeat offenders-they know the police aren't going to do anything!!

Little crimes lead to big crimes.

Posted by: nova crime victim | January 12, 2007 9:39 AM

In general, I think pawn shops need to be intensely policed--they seem to largely operate as fencing operations for crackhead burglars.

Several years ago I had a $2000 guitar stolen. Although I eventually recovered it, the DCPD was essentially worthless. I did my own searching and investigation and found the stolen instrument in a local pawn shop myself. Although the police did alert the pawnshop that they couldn't sell the instrument, it took months and dozens of phonecalls to DCPD before I was finally able to badger a detective in the case into meeting me at the pawn shop and forcing the owner to return my property. As I was leaving the shop, the shady owner implored me to give him a "reward" for "saving" my property. Yeah, right--this guy accepted obviously stolen property from some crackhead and wanted a reward?

The one thing I learned from the entire episode is that you can't rely on the police or pawn shops to "do the right thing", and the only reason I had a successful outcome is because I took it upon myself to find the stolen property and harass the police into doing their jobs. The posters above who advocate taking matters into your own hands (within the law, of course) are right on track.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2007 9:53 AM

The FBI was just recently forced to close all of its investigations into the torrential outflow of classified information that spewed forth from the CIA over the last couple of years, due to the latter's refusal to cooperate with the investigators. Apparently the CIA is aware of who the "guilty" parties are, but it would be really bad for business if any senior CIA types were prosecuted, so they also refuse to pick anyone out of a lineup.

The CIA occasionally leaks classified information; pawn shops occasionally traffic in stolen property. That's the price we pay apparently. If you try to stop their illegal activities, you'll just end up impeding all the good work they do for our society.

Posted by: athea | January 12, 2007 9:54 AM

This is a problem that we have seen time and time again and it's actually two problems. One, the detectives unit within MPD it atrocious. They answer to no one but themselves (the detectives assigned to the various districts do not report to the commander of that district and do not take their commands from him/her either). Also, the city's attonery's (OAG) are notorious about not papering cases, not writing stay-away orders, etc.

Posted by: Adams Morgan | January 12, 2007 10:07 AM

DC needs to have a concealed weapons law not a law banning discrimination against residents with a criminal record. Sorry you have a criminal record I will not hire you depending on the charge. And I am sure the proposed law doesnt apply to hiring MPD officers. Oh wait they all have criminal records! Bad Officer Donut!

Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2007 10:36 AM

I guess this is why we have the phrase, COP OUT.
After serving in the Air Force, I know there are some good people who wear the uniform, and there are some bad. Unfortunately there seem to be an awful lot of bad who make it difficult if not impossible for the good to make progress in fighting corruption. However, the battles must be fought and we must not give up. The same can no doubt be said of the police force, or people in general. The problem lies in an overwhelming number of people who are not willing to do their job to the best of their abilities, or with integrity- from the person bagging groceries, to customer service reps, to elected officials. People need to fight the urge to go with the flow and become powerless sheep. Stop voting party. Make a stand if you are mistreated. The more who do, the louder the voice we will eventually have. Others will say it is useless and try to discourage, but if we roll over and do not try because of being set back or discouraged, then what kind of human beings are we? Do not let them keep you down. It will take time, but change can occur, and the more people held accountable for their failure to do their jobs properly, the better. In their defense, I am sure the allocation of resources has a big part to play in how well an organization functions. In that case, follow the money trail to the top and find out what is being done to fix problems, and hold those responsible accountable. Do not settle for being ignored. Do not cave at the obsticals they throw at you in your pursuit of what is right. Do not be sheep that have become fed up with the system to the point where they do not even bother to vote because they can only attempt to choose the lesser of two evils. The technology is here now for a grass roots movement for change for people willing to get rid of corruption. Sit on the sidelines no longer.

Posted by: Chris | January 12, 2007 10:39 AM

Clearly, none of these commenters is a lawyer.

For one, it's called prosecutorial discretion - this country gives the agencies responsible for prosecuting crime (which is different from the police, who are responsible for enforcing the law or obtaining custody of those that are suspected of breaking the law). Prosecutors review the evidence of a case and decide to proceed or not based on their professional judgment of whether the case is worth pursuing. Yes, it seems unfair to someone who was a victim, but these same people complain about wasting taxpayers' resources by pursuing "unworthy" cases. It's a judgment call, and someone has to make it; rather than putting it to popular vote, we let the prosecutors make the judgment.

And there is a lot of misinformed opining going on here about the criminal process and laws regarding stolen property.

Posted by: OD | January 12, 2007 10:43 AM

Somebody stole my lunch the fridge, and can you believe this? NO RESPONSE FROM MPD! I'm mean, come on, this was a roast beef sandwich on pumpernickel. This wasn't turkey on white. I put a lot of time and energy into my sandwich. It makes me sick...

Posted by: K | January 12, 2007 10:44 AM

Isn't the pawn shop owner obstructing justice or something? Why can't he be charged with that if he's refusing to cooperate?

I also thought pawn shops were required to keep an inventory of some sort to be reviewed by the police dept. for stolen property anyway.

Posted by: jrobinson | January 12, 2007 10:58 AM

Mark, you or the victions should contact the DC police and the D.C. U.S. Attorney Office and request specifically the identity of the Assistant U.S. Attorney who declined the prosecution. If they won't to tell you, file a FOIA request to find out. The victim should contact BOTH the specific AUSA and his or her branch chief, stating your concerns and disbelief that they refuse to go forward when there appears to be sufficient evidence for an indictment. Also mention that you are concerned of your safety because of your daily contact with someone that you know committed a felony. The vast majority of the time a perpretrator is shown that he is on video committing a crime, they plead guilty, so I don't know why they need to have the shop owner testify. Further, an AUSA can supoena the shop owner before a grand jury, or offer them immunity. This sounds just like an absolutely lazy prosecutor that only wants cases that are gift wrapped for them. If this situation is reported to their branch chief, higher supervisors, the Office of Inspector General, or even the U.S. Attorney, I expect the AUSA would diligently pursue the case as he or she should have from the beginning.

Posted by: k | January 12, 2007 11:02 AM

Which pawn shop? Why not name it?

For that matter, why not drop Mr. J's name? What's he going to do sue?

It's a minor property crime, sure, but then again time and again these burglars become murderers when they happen upon the homeowner.

Posted by: RJ | January 12, 2007 11:05 AM

OD, clearly we do not need to be lawyers to know the difference between what is right and what is wrong. When overwhelming evidence exists identifying a wrong, and those responsible in righting the wrong fail to well and faithfully discharge the duties of the offices they have sworn themselves to, something is clearly wrong and people need to be held accountable. It is understandable how those charged with protecting us can not always be there to prevent a crime, but when such steps are not made to redress a wrong or bring justice simply because they choose not to do their jobs, we do not need to be lawyers to see that wrong is being done.

Posted by: Chris | January 12, 2007 11:09 AM

Hmm...pawn shop owner is in possession of stolen merchandise, refuses to identify person who sold it to him, which is different than saying he doesn't recognize anyone in the line-up. Seems like an enterprising prosecuter could use a conspiracy charge to lean on him a little bit, even if such a charge wouldn't stick in the long run.

Posted by: jw | January 12, 2007 11:14 AM

I do not feel all that bad for the Kalorama woman or Aravois. This is why many of us live in suburban MD or VA. Those two probably mock those of us who made that choice, but I guess they are starting to see more and more why so many people find DC frustrating and not a place for a sane person to live.

Posted by: she should just move out of dc | January 12, 2007 12:07 PM


I'm just saying that we give prosecutors the discretion whether to pursue cases. Perhaps this assistant U.S. attorney is shirking his/her responsibility. But perhaps, in his/her professional opinion, there isn't enough evidence to pursue the case. Just because you made a snap judgment based on a blog post doesn't mean that the evidence would hold up in a court of law.

Sometimes there are outrages of injustice. Sometimes there is just a misinformed outraged public.

Posted by: OD | January 12, 2007 12:21 PM

A "minor property crime?" A minor property crime is when my car window was smashed ($75) so someone could steal a multi-pack of toilet paper from the back.

The pawnshop gave $2000 for the ring that was recovered; it must be worth at least twice that, probably more. Another ring, and perhaps other jewelry, was stolen as well. That's grand theft, not a minor thing. Additionally, at least one of these items had significant sentimental value as well. Insurance can't cover that loss, and we all suffer (through our homeowner's rates) when burglary is treated as an insurance matter rather than a criminal one.

Posted by: GJ | January 12, 2007 12:36 PM

Thank you for clarifying- unfortunately, I have seen far too much corruption everywhere and think the most likely explanation is not that the case is not worth prosecuting. Based on the trend towards apathy I have seen and personally encountered with public and private service, and the unwillingness for authorities to step in and fight against corruption and abuse of power, it is most likely that they are just treading enough water to not get fired. Then again, firing people who do not do their jobs would require effort- and that effort is not likely to manifest. However, there is the chance that there is more to the story and the law is justified in not following up on this. Again, based on what has been presented to us, we can only reach the conclusion that someone is not doing their job... I find that easy to believe.

Posted by: Chris | January 12, 2007 12:37 PM

Forget that condescending "you must not be lawyers" crap. And this story of official indifference to property crimes is not an isolated or atypical example.

I am a lawyer, and I am exasperated at the extent to which both the MPD and the prosecutors have, to use Moynihan's famous phrase, "defined deviancy down" and become complacent about crimes against property.

Rudy Giuliani got a lot of things wrong, but one thing he got right was the idea that tolerance of smaller crimes leads to bigger ones. The culture of "we can't be bothered with this small stuff" that seems to permeate MPD, OAG and the US Attorney's office needs to be changed -- it is a change that is no less important than community policing.

And having an elected district attorney would help, too.

Posted by: Meridian | January 12, 2007 12:48 PM

Elected district attorneys always make the right choices when prosecuting cases -- just see how well that's turning out for the City of Durham. Their DA seems to have done a bang up job prosecuting that Duke rape case that he filed on the eve of election day.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2007 12:53 PM

As appealing as "throw the bum in jail" may appear, there are a lot of factors that need to be taken into consideration. I think a lot of us, lawyers and non-lawyers alike, have our perceptions skewed by TV court dramas where the victim always gets in their day in court. But if you pay a little more attention to those shows you'll note that another common element is the gruff senior prosecutor who chastises his subordinates not to waste time on cases they can't win. I imagine that some of the same people who are here raising the stereotype of do-nothing, donut-snorting cops would hackle if they knew the US attorneys spent tens of thousands of dollars to prosecute -- and lose -- case where the original loss suffered was $2,000.00 and they knew going in that the evidence was flimsy. Not to long ago the US Attorney thought they had enough evidence to convict Doug Jemal of corruption charges, but they lost. And what was Mr. Fisher's reaction? To congratulate them for vigorously pursuing the letter of the law? If I remember correctly he pilloried the prosecutor in several columns for wasting the taxpayers' money on a case that they knew they couldn't have won.

In the case here, maybe the victim could pursue a little alternative justice, and I don't mean hiring some muscle to beat up the perpetrator. I remember the story a couple of years ago where some woman in South Korea refused to clean up after her dog on a subway platform. A couple of people snapped her photo with their cell phone, and within a couple of days it was posted all over the country. I think the woman even had to pull out of school. Maybe she could find some similar way to publicize the malfeasance of this pawnshop owner and her neighbor.

Posted by: Paul | January 12, 2007 1:41 PM

If bureaucratic apathy truely is the reason this case is not being pursued, it seems to me that there is a simple answer: persistance. If someone isnt pursuing the case because its easier, make it hard. Call them and politely ask what their progress is. Ask why they are not prosecuting. Call the police and ask if they have done anything to find more evidence.

Dont give up. Call anyone and everyone related to the case. Call the police, call the prosecutors, call the mayor. Fentys administration seems like they might fight for the little man. It can never hurt to ask, and it cant hurt to ask twice, a dozen times, or a hundred times.

Posted by: JPH | January 12, 2007 1:50 PM

Have an ironclad alibi.

Torch the pawnshop and the car.

Don't call DCFD until $2000 in damage has been done.

Send a postcard to each offending party's home address and the message, "Too bad about your business/car..."

Posted by: Custodiet | January 12, 2007 3:07 PM

I am a District resident, and I hope that the police and U.S. Attorney's Office prosecute the burglar in this case. It is disturbing that it takes a lot of publicity for them to do their jobs. I think that the news media should do more than simply report that murders are down in Washington, D.C. Yes, that is very good news, but there is a great deal of crime against persons and property in Washington that is unsolved. There are no arrests and no prosecutions in many cases. Many residents are crime victims including myself. The police were very hostile to me when I reported that my auto was torched a few years ago. Three uniform officers from the Metropolitan Police Fourth District insisted that many parked cars in Washington "self-ignite". So, it was not listed as a crime. I find it tiresome that some D.C. politicians and police officials congratulate themselves for the decline in the homicide rate, while there are so many other crimes.

Posted by: Jeff | January 12, 2007 4:21 PM

To the commenter who said to move out of DC....
um, are you really that naive to think this only happens in the District? My parents live in small town Ohio and had their house broken into last week. Mom had some good jewelry stolen, some small change and her medications. Oh, and the police there haven't found anything out either. They basically said "guess you have some hoodlums in the area."
God, get over yourself. Its idiots like you who give the suburbs a bad reputation (and by bad, I mean "stupid"). There's crime everywhere and more times than we'd like, justice doesn't prevail.
BTW, I live in the suburbs too - I'm just as worried about crime now as I was when I lived in the District for 8 years.

Posted by: Yeah, crime only happens in DC.... | January 12, 2007 4:26 PM

Wonder how George Pelecanos would resolve this situation in one of his novels.

Posted by: dirrtysw | January 12, 2007 4:33 PM

Another reason why I am always prepared to take care of justice myself. Forget the useless cops and the stupid liberals running this city. It is a shame that I would probably be the one to end up in jail for DC firearms violations, LOL!

Posted by: john of ne | January 16, 2007 12:10 AM

I found this editorial while searching the web for advice on what to do when the police are too lazy to arrest someone for property theft. I can appreciate the frustration because I have recently experienced it myself. I in my case, I'm more frustrated with the principle of the mater, than my particular incident.

People are condemned to death with far less evidence, but yet I am being told that there is not enough evidence to press charges. The person was caught on video. I caught the person with the properly, and called the police. He had the property in his position when they arrived. The Delray Beach FL police office was just too lazy to do anything about this. When I inquired why he would not arrest this person, he got in my face and told me not to tell him how to do his job. My frustration is that he is being paid with my hard-earned tax dollars and he is not doing his job.

Yes, it is a statistically supported fact that prosecuting small crime drastically reduces the number of bigger crimes. When they (the police and the criminals) keep getting away with it, until some punk is racing around in a stolen car and kills someone with it.

The above advice about pursuing civil action is useless. These crack heads are not going to have any money.

So what if the DA looses some personal property theft cases? There would be more convictions, and less crime. The lazy public officials, who are being paid with our hard earned tax dollars, are the ones who are ultimately responsible.

I've never heard a taxpayer complaint about the DA spending too much money pursuing theft of personal property. It's baseless cases like the Duke "rape" case that people have a problem with. They can spend a million dollars to charge college students, with a productive career ahead of them, when the don't have a shred of credible evidence. Yet, they can't be bothered with the scumbags stealing the personal property that we worked hard to pay for.

I would advice anyone to write assertive, but considerate letters, rather than making phone calls; this way, their will be a paper trail.

The Police Benevolent Association provides expensive legal representation for bad cops. The next time they call, I am going to tell them that I'm saving my money to replace the personal property they the police can't be bothered to protect. I suspect that it would have an impact if most people would respond in a similar manor. You can give your money to a charity where more of your money will go people who really deserve it.

Time Magazine has declared each of us as the person of the year. Their decision was influenced by the fact that we have to power to create our own media, especially on the web. Let's start putting, incidents, names, faces, and faces on the web. Publish the name of the pawn shop owner on the web. Write a letter to an elected official and publish the response on the web. If we can create a paper trail that leads to an elected official, we might be able to get something done about this; especially if we make a stink about this at election time.

Bumper sticker stock can be purchased at the office supply stores. Fight Property Crime, DON'T VOTE FOR for .....

Perhaps creating posters of officer Doughnut Hole (With his picture in the middle of the doughnut), and placing them around town will get some attention. We could point out that he is the one ultimately responsible for the high volume of property crime we have around here. A web site, with names of the officials responsible might be a good idea too. Perhaps I could attend a political campaign rally and publicly ask a politician if he intends to do about this problem.

Let your officials know that you are not happy. Write a letter to internal affairs and tell them you are not happy. They are are required to respond. If not, go up the food chain. Show these officials that blowing us off does not make life easier for them. Anyone who chooses to be a sheep is responsible too.

Posted by: Too many lazy cops in Delray Beach FL | January 23, 2007 1:49 PM

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