March 14, 2008 in City

Deputy takes burglary personally

Meghann M. Cuniff Staff writer

Posing as a Craigslist buyer to get a better look at the suspects. Driving by their home. Questioning store clerks. Tracking down surveillance footage and possible witnesses.

A Spokane County sheriff’s deputy took those steps and others to solve an early February car burglary in which a woman’s purse with $300 and credit cards was stolen.

But the investigative juggernaut wasn’t fueled by county money, nor was Deputy Daryl Smith out to help a random victim.

The burglarized car was his own. The stolen items? His wife’s.

“He messed with the wrong car, because I wasn’t stopping until I had him,” Smith said.

Four detectives and a sergeant searched a Spokane home last week following a month-long investigation Smith spearheaded on his days off.

During the search of the couple’s Nora Avenue home, police found items they recognized from other stolen property reports, including about 50 purses tacked to a wall in the home “like a hunter does with deer heads,” Smith said.

An arrest warrant is expected to be issued soon for Ty M. Olds, 35, and Jessica L. Burt, 29, said Detective Mark Newton of the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office. Attempts to reach Olds and Burt were unsuccessful.

Smith knew the police wouldn’t have time for a thorough investigation after he found his car window smashed and his wife’s purse missing in early February. So he spent weeks finding enough evidence for a search warrant.

“I never did anything that a normal citizen can’t do,” Smith said. “But the normal citizen will usually just report it, call their insurance company and go about their business. I wanted the dirtbags, is what it boiled down to.”

After getting a list of the stores the thieves hit using his stolen cards, Smith visited each store looking for receipts and surveillance video footage. He got a name of one of the suspects after an Albertsons grocery store security manager traced a customer card that had been used with Smith’s stolen Spokane Law Enforcement Credit Union card.

He found the woman’s criminal mug shot and matched it with the woman featured in store surveillance footage. But the address Smith found for the woman was outdated.

The apartment’s new residents told him they weren’t sure where she had moved, but that it must be somewhere close because they saw her frequently.

Within 90 seconds of driving away from that apartment, Smith looked up and saw a woman who looked like Burt standing in the front-room window of a house.

Hoping to get a better look, he went to the woman’s door and told her he was looking for a woman advertising a laptop computer on Craigslist. She said she didn’t know what he was talking about, but Smith had what he needed. He was positive the woman was Burt, the same woman featured in the surveillance footage. But he needed to get her accomplice.

It didn’t take long. He drove by the Nora Avenue house the next morning and spotted a man standing in the front yard, clad in the same jacket and beanie hat the man in the surveillance footage wore. It was Olds.

Detectives submitted a search warrant for the home soon after.

Detective skills and plain old luck played big roles in the investigation.

Smith’s mother can be used as a witness, if needed. A Rite Aid clerk told Smith the suspects had made a scene when the stolen card was declined. That clerk identified the suspects from surveillance footage Smith showed him.

“My mom got this just bewildered look on her face when I was telling her this,” he said.

She was behind the suspects at the Rite Aid checkout stand when they tried to use the card, and she also recognized them from the footage.

The investigation took weeks. And that’s the kind of time police just don’t have for single incident property crimes, Smith said. It was his work while off duty that sealed the case, he said.

“Before I even took it to the detective’s office I had it all wrapped up in a neat package for them,” Smith said.

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