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It was an arrest that never should have been made, but against many odds it was. A classic example of how teamwork, communications, training, experience, luck, “Murphy’s Law,” and perhaps faith turned a bad situation into one where some justice was served. It also gives truth to the saying that maybe we only catch the dumb ones, but there are a lot of them out there.

Graveyard shift in any jurisdiction can be boring with some occasional excitement. In the early morning hours of a warm summer night, many years back, I, along with the rest of the watch responded to a radio call of “a woman screaming” on the north end of the university where we were employed. A check of the area revealed nothing unusual or out of the ordinary and a few minutes later my fellow officers and I resumed patrol.

Several minutes later I was again dispatched to the same location to meet the victim of a robbery. This particular area was an isolated group of old single-family bungalows that the university had purchased, and was being temporarily used as classrooms, offices, and storage facilities. My victim was a custodian assigned to clean that particular complex. She was a female in her mid-30’s, and considering what she underwent, she was fairly well composed at the time. A major problem with this incident was her English skills were limited.

Even with these obstacles, the victim was slowly able to relate that as she was leaving the building, the suspect came up behind her, stuck a pistol in her back and demanded money. The custodian offered all her money… one dollar and the suspect told her that wasn’t enough and physically propelled her back inside, and shut the door. He ordered her to disrobe and when she was slow to comply, he slapped her face. At that point an unidentified night watchman, making a “clock run” started to enter the office, and seeing the pair inside, immediately exited without notifying anyone what he saw. This act scared off the robber who ran from the area in a northerly direction.

The custodian put her clothes back on and called her supervisor, who notified us and a sketchy crime broadcast was aired. By now, perhaps 30-minutes had elapsed, giving the suspect time to be far away, perhaps in the next county. As soon as I assembled the pertinent facts I put out a supplemental crime broadcast, with a better description, direction of travel, along with the fact that he was armed with a small-caliber shiny handgun. I then started to drive the victim to our station for a more complete interview and to complete the crime and arrest report.

Meanwhile, two of my fellow officers conducted a search of the area and about ½-mile north of the campus they saw a man matching the description. Upon seeing the two patrol vehicles, this individual turned and ran in the opposite direction. The officers hemmed the guy in some heavy foliage next to a dormitory mallway, ordered him on the ground in a prone position, and handcuffed him without incident. A search of the area recovered a loaded, chrome-plated .25 caliber pistol within inches of the suspect. The officers advised me they had a possible suspect detained and I headed to their location to see if the victim could identify the suspect, which she did. Later, she identified the recovered pistol as probably the gun in the suspect used in the robbery.

We drove back to the station, and not having a female officer on-duty that night, let alone an officer that was fluent in her language, I continued the investigation, as I had established some rapport with the victim. At this point, my only option was to use her male supervisor as a translator to clarify certain facts, which weren’t ideal conditions, but sometimes one must work with what you have at the time. The victim maintained that she had been robbed, and aside from being slapped and forced to disrobe, nothing else happened to her. I had some serious doubts about what actually happened, as during my original investigation it appeared that a struggle had taken place inside the office. I called the on-call sex crimes detective, who advised me if the victim wasn’t going to admit to being raped, there was little that could be done. So the suspect was booked for the robbery of the custodian’s one dollar bill.

Two weeks later, one of the officers was subpoenaed to the suspect’s preliminary hearing. He had the same doubts that I did and related them to the prosecuting attorney, adding that he’d bet his next paycheck that more happened than what she reported. He continued; “…if you put her with a female translator, you’ll find she had been raped!” The prosecutor took his word, and the victim finally admitted to the translator, and at the preliminary hearing that she had been raped, but was too ashamed to admit it.

The case went to trial and everyone involved was subpoenaed. When the suspect learned that all three of the involved officers were going to testify, he pled guilty to the robbery and to the rape, accepting the prosecutor’s plea offer, which was still a long prison sentence as he was a career criminal. It also goes to prove that maybe there are a lot of dumb crooks out there. During my interview, the victim attempted, however due to the language barrier, she couldn’t quite convey at the time there was something unusual about the suspect’s shirt. He worked for a trucking company. Both his employer’s name as well as his name was embroidered on the front of the uniform shirt he was wearing when he was arrested.
— JB, CA

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