Opinion

Stupid criminal stunts amuse Whidbey's cops

"It's not news to law enforcement officers that many criminals are not the brightest bulbs on the Christmas tree.Island County Sheriff Mike Hawley helped confirm that a few years ago when he pretended to be a police dog in pursuit of a thief. He lost the fleeing South Whidbey criminal in a patch of woods. Alone and out of options in the dark of night, Hawley ordered the man to come out of the woods before he sent in police dogs. Lacking a dog at the moment, Hawley improvised, barking Woof, woof into his car's loudspeaker. The fugitive surrendered himself, convinced it was the only way to save himself from the jaws of a police German shepherd.Incidents like this in counties and cities across the nation inspired Fox TV to create America's Dumbest Criminals a few years ago. So far, they have not run out of material. In fact, say law local enforcement officers, Fox could do an entire show on just Whidbey Island.Island County Sheriff's Inspector Chris Ellis has more than his share of knee-slapping stories after working for more than 20 years with the Sheriff's Office and the Langley Police Department. Only once in all those years did a law breaker's stupidity do him any good. While working traffic patrol on Highway 525 years ago, Ellis stopped a man for speeding. Approaching the car, Ellis found the man banging his head on the steering wheel. Ellis asked if the man had a medical problem. The man said he was just trying to think of a good excuse for why he was speeding. I told him I had to go back to my car and run his license, so he could take the time to think up an excuse, Ellis said.By the time Ellis walked back to the man's car, the man had his excuse ready.He said, 'My wife is getting pregnant this afternoon and I want to be there when it happens,' Ellis said. That was good enough for me, so I gave him a warning.Last year, a 911 call from a pair of marijuana growers living in Scatchet Head set the stage for laughter in the sheriff's office. A man and woman called deputies to their home after hearing what they thought was a prowler. When deputies and detectives arrived at the house, the couple invited them in to have a look around. One sniff inside the home let them know that the would-be burglary victims were either terrified of burglars or just plain dumb. In the basement, the officers found an indoor marijuana grow operation. The couple was arrested and taken to Island County Jail.Drugs do strange things to the criminal mind, Ellis said. Once, Ellis and several deputies broke in on a South Whidbey drug and alcohol party held by a number of juveniles in the woods. Ellis walked up and stood shoulder-to-shoulder with a boy smoking a marijuana. The boy looked at Ellis, looked away and toked on his joint, looked back, then looked away again and took another toke.So I said, 'Whoa, the cops are here,' Ellis said. And the guy looked at me and said, 'Whoa, I thought I was seeing things.'June 9, 1998 is another date that will live forever in criminal stupidity. That evening, Deputy Mike Birchfield chased two suspects driving a stolen car through Freeland until the thieves crashed the car at the intersection of Scott and Newman roads. Another car thief working with the two that Birchfield chased followed the chase from behind rather than making an easy escape. After the crash, the woman driver parked the truck she had stolen nearby and walked past several parked police cars to see if her cohorts were injured. Officers on the scene quickly discovered who she was and arrested her.The one South Whidbey crime that is now part of law enforcement legend is the one committed by a drunken bandit wielding a bow and arrow. Several years ago, a man held up a clerk at arrowpoint at the Bayview Exxon convenience store in hopes of stealing a beer. When the clerk ran from the store, the man wildly shot two arrows in her general direction. Mike Hawley, a deputy at the time, arrived at the scene minutes later. He found an empty store and two arrows stuck in the parking lot asphalt, and discovered that the bandit had broken into a nearby drugstore and had taken any number of pills from various containers on the store's shelves. Guessing what had happened, Hawley and other officers searched the surrounding area. They found no one until daybreak, when Hawley was standing at a nearby roadside. Bleary eyed from a long night's duty, he was shocked to see a man stagger from some bushes, then collapse unconscious in a drug- and alcohol-induced stupor. The Exxon clerk later emerged from some other bushes, still scared that she might get shot.They're dumb up north, tooBy Jessie Stensland, staff reporterNorth Whidbey criminals aren't any more intelligent than those on South Whidbey. And the law officers there have the tales to prove it.One such story comes from Oak Harbor Police Chief Tony Barge. Three years ago, a North Whidbey couple found a complete stranger asleep on their couch. Barge said the man was burglarizing the home but got so drunk while doing it that he passed out. He was so drunk, in fact, that he drank a bottle of olive oil - along with a bottle of wine - thinking the oil was liquor. The man was asleep on the couch, snoring with the TV on and cradling an empty bottle of olive oil, when the deputy arrived and arrested him.Another North Whidbey burglar who got caught at the scene of the crime did so not out of intoxication, but out of a lack of architectural knowledge. In 1989, Coupeville Police officers responded to a break-in at the school district building on Goldie Road, but found no suspects on-scene when they arrived. However, a police dog brought into the building kept barking at a particular wall. The officers looked all over - even checking the air ducts - but they couldn't find anyone. Finally, an officer stuck his head above the ceiling panels, happened to look down, and saw the burglar stuck in the wall.Coupeville Marshal Lanny Marlborough said the man had been crawling around in the ceiling panels and somehow fell into the 12- to 14-inch space between the walls. The man was so jammed in that the fire department had to cut him out of the sheetrock. If they hadn't found him, Marlborough said the man would surely have died.A couple of years ago, a crime suspect who apparently wasn't thinking clearly escaped from a deputy's patrol car after he had been arrested. The problem was, his arms were handcuffed behind his back.The man turned himself in the next day after he couldn't find a way to get the handcuffs off."

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