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Olga Peters/The Commons

Lt. Robert Kirkpatrick on duty.

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Taking 2,750 bags off the street

A car break-in leads to substantial seizure of heroin

BRATTLEBORO—Lt. Robert Kirkpatrick steers his Ford Explorer Police Interceptor through residential streets, searching the haunts of suspected car burglars.

Little does Kirkpatrick realize that this day’s activities will set off a sequence of events that will end with Brattleboro Police making four arrests and seizing 2,750 bags of suspected heroin, $3,257 in cash, and stolen property.

A call from dispatch comes in, informing Kirkpatrick of a smash-and-grab of a car at Living Memorial Park — the latest in a long list of vehicles that have been robbed, often during the noontime hour.

“I wish I could figure these guys out,” Kirkpatrick mumbles amid heavy sighs as he mentally works a swarm of information and patterns.

Through pulling old police reports, Kirkpatrick has pieced together the break-in patterns. On this day, Oct. 29, he suspects two thieves are breaking into cars for items to trade for drugs.

Hoping the suspected smash-and-grabbers have left Memorial Park for one of their stomping grounds, Kirkpatrick swings his vehicle onto Cedar Street.

Maybe they’ll be there, he says; maybe we can catch them.

Voices crackle on the radio — snippets of conversations and information among dispatch, officers, sheriffs, and troopers.

The 30-year law enforcement veteran passes the Harris Hill Ski Jump parking lot. It’s empty.

People forget what larceny does to a victim, Kirkpatrick says as he drives to the scene of the crime: Beyond the loss of potentially valuable or sentimental items, larceny harms people’s sense of safety and well-being.

Turning onto Western Avenue, Kirkpatrick spots a Honda with two male passengers who fit a description of the suspected thieves.

He calls a description of the car and license plate in to dispatch.

Kirkpatrick, however, hasn’t caught the plate’s final number, nor can he confirm the Honda is the one he’s looking for.

He arrives at the car at Living Memorial Park, and the victim of the crime and bystanders gather around the officer as he gathers information. Between 11:40 a.m. and noon, while the car’s owner was inside the skating rink, the thieves smashed the driver’s side window and took a purse, wallet, and cell phone.

One of the bystanders lends the car’s owner his cell phone so she can cancel her debit and credit cards.

Back in his police SUV, Kirkpatrick receives a call from one of his officers asking if he’s looking for a Honda with two male passengers.

The other officer tells Kirkpatrick that he has stopped the Honda on Western Avenue near Union Hill.

Checking the ‘Christmas list’

“We’re driving around right now — something is happening in town that’s illegal,” Kirkpatrick says.

According to multiple members of the Brattleboro Police Department, much of that illegal activity in town, like theft, traces back to drugs.

“To be a dealer you have to have clients,” Kirkpatrick says. And one consequence of drug addiction is that it leads to people caring more about getting their next round of drugs than they do about complying with the law or respecting the welfare of community members, he says.

It’s not uncommon, he says, for drug dealers to have what is called a “Christmas list.” They make known a list that contains items like iPads, televisions, or gift cards the dealer will trade for drugs.

Kirkpatrick joins Officer Ryan Washburn on Western Avenue. Sgt. Adam Belville joins them soon after.

They soon learn that the passenger, Lucas I. Bertolini of Brattleboro, has two arrest warrants in Vermont: one for leaving the scene of an accident and the other for giving false information to law enforcement.

Kirkpatrick asks the tall, skinny young man to get out of the car. He cuffs Bertolini.

Belville and Washburn talk to Bertolini, whose eyes blend into the dark, puffy bags under them. Washburn asks if Bertolini has anything sharp in his pockets.

Bertolini says something in return.

“They capped or they’re not capped?” asks Washburn.

In response to Bertolini’s answer, Washburn dons a pair of heavy gloves.

The officer removes items from the pockets of Bertolini’s sweatshirt and jeans. The selection of items make a small pile on the back of a Brattleboro police cruiser and includes spoons, syringes with orange caps, a substance that appears to be loose tobacco, and a lighter.

Soon, a baseball bat from the back of the car is added to the pile.

Next, one of the officers places a small stack of credit cards near the other items. On top of the stack: a driver’s license belonging to the driver of the car that was the latest target at Living Memorial Park.

The two officers lead Bertolini to Belville’s vehicle.

Kirkpatrick speaks to the car’s driver, James W. Crocker, who sits on the grassy slope near the sidewalk and extracts a red lollipop from his mouth before replying to the officer.

Washburn starts searching the car again. He holds something up as he speaks with Crocker.

Kirkpatrick returns to his vehicle, confident that “these are our boys”: the suspects in the string of break-ins. The officers found heroin in Crocker’s car right away, he says.

Crocker will be taken to the police department, read his Miranda rights, and “interrogated.”

Later, a press release from the police department announces that both Crocker, 32, and Bertolini, 28, “will be facing charges regarding these incidents pending further investigation.”

Hopefully, this one traffic stop will clear a number of cases, Kirkpatrick says.

The payoff

The traffic stop ultimately yields fruitful information, according to an Oct. 30 press release.

After further investigation, and with assistance from the Vermont State Police K-9 unit, police execute a search warrant for a house on Williams Street.

There, law enforcement find approximately 2,750 bags of heroin, as well as stolen property and $3,257 in cash. Police also find the phone stolen from the car at Living Memorial Park.

Tyquan Campos, 20, from New Jersey, is arrested for the possession of stolen property and trafficking and the sale of heroin. Jessica Rose, 26, of Brattleboro, is arrested and released on a citation for possessing heroin.

Kirkpatrick later speaks by phone about the arrests.

“That’s 2,750 hits of heroin that didn’t happen on the streets,” he says.

“Heroin is a problem,” he adds. “It’s a problem in big and small communities.”

When asked whether he knew that other officers, before the Oct. 29 search, had had concerns about the sale of drugs at the house on Williams Street, Kirkpatrick said that the BPD might know of such a problem anywhere in town.

But, he adds, the department often has to wait until it has enough evidence and proof to take action. It’s not worth moving forward on a case if it won’t stand up in court.

The drug problem permeates a number of police activities and responsibilities, Kirkpatrick says.

“Heroin addiction spurs other criminal activity because of the excessive need of those hooked on it,” he said.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #279 (Wednesday, November 5, 2014). This story appeared on page A1.

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