Fire-related theft suspects won't be going to trial
Surveillance video deemed insufficient evidence
May 13, 2021 | View PDF
It was greeted as good news locally when the Lane County deputies assigned to the McKenzie Valley arrested two suspects connected to thefts on fire-impacted properties in January.
“The McKenzie District deputies serve the community members in the McKenzie River Valley using a community policing model, which allows deputies to provide enhanced police services in addition to the services they already receive as Lane County residents,” Lane County Sheriff’s Sergeant Carrie Carver said at that time. She added, “This theft was able to be investigated because the McKenzie River Valley has district deputies dedicated to respond to and investigate crimes in that area.”
One of the crimes she referred to involved a safe owned by Jim “Cowboy” Watts of Finn Rock, whose house was destroyed in the Holiday Farm Fire. He reported someone had been tampering with the safe and several items in his workshop had been stolen.
When Deputy Sheriff Tom Speldrich went to the scene, he found several tools and crowbars were still stuck in the upper right hand corner of the safe’s door but it hadn’t been opened. Watts gave the deputy the license plate number for a black Chevy pickup a neighbor had seen in his driveway and authorized police to install two cameras on the property.
Later, an image from one camera showed a match for the plate the neighbor wrote down. The other camera took images of a man and woman who appeared to walk directly up to the safe, look at it and then leave.
During follow-up interviews another woman told Speldrich she recognized the man from the surveillance camera, which led police to 50-year-old Patrick Parvin of Eugene. During questioning, he confessed to being on the property and trying to pry open the safe with another man. He also told deputies the other man, 42-year-old Gerald Poundstone II, removed some tools and sockets from the property.
Both men were charged with both theft and criminal mischief, as well as criminal trespass for what deputies said they believed would be a solid case.
That’s probably what other people who have been installing security cameras after a rash of thefts in the McKenzie area think too. But it’s not that simple.
According to evaluations by the Lane County District Attorney’s Office, a case against Poundstone wasn’t filed because there was “insufficient evidence to prove charges beyond a reasonable doubt.”
In his opinion, Assistant DA David Mintz concluded prosecutors wouldn’t be able to prove the charges. He added that, “Given that the alleged stolen property was not recovered and there was no witness (aside from the co-suspect) to the alleged criminal acts, the case cannot be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.”
In evaluating Parvin, the other suspect in the investigation, the DA’s office also decided not to file a case but said they held open the option they might at a later time if any additional information is submitted. Without that happening, their decision was based on the stolen property not being recovered or its value determined as well as, “Nobody witnessed these two suspects commit the alleged criminal acts.”
Those sort of conclusions fall far short of what Watts was hoping for and add to his disappointment with trying to deal with thieves. Besides the value connected with the loss of his home in the fire, he says somebody has made off with close to $50,000 of his possessions. Several break-ins at his property had started before the fire and included one instance when robbers arrived with a moving van that they loaded up before making their getaway. Although he filed a report on what was going on, he said no one has been held accountable.
“Recovering stolen property is often important in theft prosecutions to determine what was stolen, its value, and who stole it,” Minx points out. The video in this case, he noted, “Did not capture the alleged criminal mischief, theft, or attempted theft.”
Watts says he’s afraid he isn’t the only person who won’t be able to make robbers accountable. “If the District Attorney is doing nothing that sends a very clear message to thieves,” he says. “I hope other people will tell them to prosecute these crimes.”