Arrests made in string of salon burglaries

By Adam Spencer, The Triplicate May 22, 2014 04:06 pm

Handbags, jeans and electronic equipment reported stolen were found at the house where burglary suspect Benjamin Brittain was arrested, Crescent City Police officials say. Photo courtesy of Crescent City Police Department
Handbags, jeans and electronic equipment reported stolen were found at the house where burglary suspect Benjamin Brittain was arrested, Crescent City Police officials say. Photo courtesy of Crescent City Police Department
Police: Suspects also had items stolen from City Hall, school dist. 

Crescent City Police arrested two suspects Saturday in connection with a string of recent burglaries of local hair salons as well as burglaries of Crescent City Hall last week and a Del Norte County Unified School District building. 

Crescent City Police Chief Doug Plack heralded the cooperation between law enforcement, business owners and anonymous community tipsters in leading to the arrests of the suspected burglars.

“It’s a partnership. The police department and the community needs to work together, and that’s exactly what transpired here in order for us to make these apprehensions,” Plack said. “The police department, business owners and the community work together, communicating, exchanging ideas and information to rid the community of these individuals that prey on the good people of our community to fuel their own addictions and not give a second thought to what devastation they cause on others.”

Police served a search warrant to a residence on the 1800 block of Blackwell Lane on Saturday morning where they found Benjamin Brittain, 26, of Crescent City, attempting to escape by climbing out of a window, according to Plack. Police apprehended and arrested Brittain before he made his escape.

Brittain matched the description of the suspect captured on video last week while burglarizing city hall, where an Apple iPad and other items were stolen.

Melissa McDonald, also 26, of Crescent City, and who also lives at the Blackwell residence, was arrested later on Saturday in front of the Jordan Recovery Center, Plack said.

Thousands of dollars worth of designer jeans, purses, curling irons, business checks and other items associated with at least three recently burglarized hair salons were inside the house on Blackwell. There have been burglaries at five local salons since mid-February, Plack said.

Police also found a digital projector, electronic equipment, calculators, keys, and suitcases that were stolen from the Two Trees school district building and items related to the burglary of city hall last week, Plack said.

Stolen items connected to a local plumbing and heating business and a chiropractic office were also found at the Blackwell residence, Plack said.

“We’re talking about three months that they’ve created havoc in the community by breaking into businesses, and the police department is committed to curtail that type of activity now and into the future,” Plack said.

Police also recovered nine social security cards and five ID cards that police suspect could be used for identity theft, Plack said.

A small amount of methamphetamine and a meth pipe were also found at the residence, Plack said. 

“If people want to know what fuels these types of crimes, it’s no surprise that it’s drugs,” Plack said.

Brittain and McDonald are both being charged with burglary and possession of stolen property, while Brittain also faces charges of possession of a controlled substance and possession of narcotic paraphernalia.

The Del Norte County Sheriff’s Office and law enforcement rangers from Redwood National and State Parks were also involved in the case, which was led by Crescent City Police Officer Justin Gill.

The arrests were supported by anonymous tips linking McDonald to the selling of stolen merchandise and the monitoring of social media, newspaper classifieds and other sources were goods are sold.

‘Really disheartening’

Joy Phillips of Shear Joy Salon came to work on April 25 to find her entire store turned upside down. The back door was wide open and most of her fashion merchandise: purses, 70 pairs of pants, wallets and belts had been taken along with a few hundred dollars in cash.

While Margie Reynolds was opening up Turning Heads Beauty Salon recently, she noticed a man hanging around the front of her store. To her, it looked like he was casing the place. 

After confronting the man without success, she called police to have him moved along. Crescent City Police checked the man’s identification, but without any crimes to arrest him on, they simply asked him to clear out.

Later that night, Turning Heads was burglarized top to bottom.

“It’s like they knew where my cash drawer was,” Reynolds said. “It’s really disheartening to come in and know someone had control of your place.”

Reynolds said she feels like its time for business owners to stand up for their own property. 

Chief Plack couldn’t agree more.

‘First line of defense’

With a police force stretched thin due to tight budgets, Chief Plack said that it’s important for the community to be the “eyes and ears” for the police force, and that businesses should take preventive measures, like regularly inspecting security doors, windows and alarms systems, to make sure they are working.

“People need to be the first line of defense,” Plack said.

In a coastal environment, security doors in particular can get rusted, becoming easy targets for criminals wielding crowbars.

Phillips, of Shear Joy, said that her door was rusted and in need of replacement. 

“It just got old and started to rust away; they actually pushed thru it,” Phillips said.

Plack also emphasized the importance of businesses having an up-to-date, detailed inventory of the merchandise they have in stock in order to clearly identify what has been stolen after a burglary and so that the items can be returned if they are recovered, like in this case.

“This is where it’s important for each business owner to have a good inventory of the merchandise that they sell so law enforcement can trace that information back to cases,” Plack said. “We have other property that may be connected to other salons, and it would be in their best interest to tell us what went missing.”

Plack also issued a warning to anyone who may have purchased the stolen items: come forward now to avoid any possible charges of possession of stolen items.

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