April 23, 2009 in City

Program helps pharmacies prevent robberies, gather evidence

Meghann M. Cuniff Staff writer
 
Kathy Plonka photo

Patrick and Carrie Augerlavoie were accused of robbing a pharmacy last summer, but Carrie’s charges were dropped and Patrick was acquitted.
(Full-size photo)

Free class is tonight

What: Criminal investigators and pharmacists are invited to a free robbery- prevention class tonight at the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office Training Center.

Where, when: 10319 E. Appleway Ave., Spokane Valley, from 6:30 to 8 p.m.

Sponsor: RxPatrol, a prescription drug crime prevention program funded by Purdue Pharma, the Stamford, Conn.-based company that makes OxyContin and admitted in 2007 to lying about the drug’s addictiveness.

Notable: No registration is required; the class is open to pharmacy store employees and law enforcement personnnel.

Faded tattoos on his right hand and a chipped tooth may have helped save a Hayden Lake man from a lengthy prison sentence.

Patrick Augerlavoie, 32, spent nearly six months in Kootenai County Jail after police arrested him and his wife, Carrie, 30, last summer on charges stemming from a robbery and a separate attempted robbery at the Coeur d’Alene Safeway.

Carrie Augerlavoie’s charges were dropped, and a jury took less than three hours to acquit Patrick Augerlavoie this month after a two-day trial in Kootenai County District Court.

“Ultimately the system worked, which is great,” said Patrick Augerlavoie’s lawyer, Peter Jones, of Spokane. “But he got to spend five months in jail for something he wasn’t guilty of.”

Circumstantial evidence pointed to the couple, but the prosecution’s case hinged on just one eyewitness. No forensic evidence tied Augerlavoie to the crime, and the store had no surveillance cameras that could have corroborated or refuted the eyewitness’s recollections.

“You rely so much on technology and forensics, but a lot of the times you’re dealt a hand and that’s what you have,” said Richard Conklin, a Stamford, Conn., police captain who teaches robbery prevention classes through RxPatrol, a program funded by the company that makes OxyContin.

The program is designed to thwart pharmacy robberies by helping police and prosecutors overcome shaky eyewitness accounts and other common problems, and in the process help those who might otherwise be wrongly accused. A class tonight in Spokane Valley aims to prevent the crimes and help build solid cases against the real culprits by showing pharmacists how to arrange surveillance cameras, remember useful perpetrator descriptions and other tactics.

“You have to do things like this to help out the investigation,” Conklin said.

One eyewitness

The Augerlavoies were arrested Sept. 3 after Patrick Augerlavoie asked about the OxyContin policy at the Medicine Man Pharmacy on Ironwood Boulevard.

Pharmacy owner Brian Jorgensen had been warned of a green van whose occupants had tried to rob the Safeway that morning, so when he saw Augerlavoie leave and walk toward a green van, he grabbed a gun and hopped in his car to pursue him, said Chief Deputy Prosecutor Marty Raap.

After police arrested the couple, the Safeway employee who’d witnessed that morning’s robbery attempt as well as an OxyContin robbery Aug. 28 identified Patrick and Carrie Augerlavoie as the robbers through a photo line up. Carrie Augerlavoie spent a month in jail before her charge was dismissed; Patrick Augerlavoie was jailed until mid-February.

Patrick Augerlavoie was acquitted April 1 of robbery in connection with the Aug. 28 holdup at Safeway, which carries a maximum life sentence in Idaho.

Judge Fred Gibler ruled the jury wasn’t allowed to hear about the attempted robbery at Safeway that morning or know that Augerlavoie’s van matched the description of that getaway van, Raap said.

Nor did jurors hear that the eyewitness who identified Patrick Augerlavoie also identified his wife in a separate incident, which Raap called “a big piece of evidence that made my witness a lot more believable.”

That, coupled with lack of forensic evidence like fingerprints from the note the robber handled, may have contributed to the acquittal, Raap said.

But Jones pointed to the witness’s testimony that she hadn’t seen tattoos on the robber’s hands when he handed her the note, then grabbed a bottle of OxyContin pills.

Jones also noted that the witness said the robber wore a lip piercing.

While Augerlavoie has a piercing in the same spot, he told the jury he can’t wear jewelry there because of a chipped tooth.

“The issue basically came down to ‘Can you believe the teller when she said, ‘That’s him’?” Raap said. “I did believe her.”

Debates like the one held in Augerlavoie’s case could be prevented with well-placed surveillance cameras, experts say. The store added cameras after the crimes, Raap said.

‘We can’t get a job’

The couple had OxyContin prescriptions when they went to the Medicine Man Pharmacy but said in an interview Wednesday they haven’t used presciption or illicit drugs in months. Patrick Augerlavoie was prescribed the drug following a car accident and two back surgeries.

He’d previously been prescribed hydrocodone and methadone, among other drugs, and said the prescription drugs put him in a fog. He got sober in jail.

Now, the father of four said, “we can do things with our kids and I remember it.”

Neither Augerlavoie has a job and said they’ve lost friends who still believe they had something to do with the crimes. Their children, ages 8, 10, 12 and 14, were cared for by their grandparents after the arrest and don’t like to see either parent leave the home.

“We can’t get a job. We can’t go somewhere without someone saying ‘Oh, my God, go get the manager,’ ” Carrie Augerlavoie said.

Carrie Augerlavoie was convicted on a weapons charge that came six months before her robbery arrest when she was stopped with an unlicensed gun and a small amount of methamphetamine in her purse. She said the drugs weren’t hers and the charge was dismissed.

Patrick Augerlavoie, who was convicted of grand theft in California that was reduced from a robbery charge, told jurors about his struggles with OxyContin. But, Jones said, his history doesn’t change the fact that the state had little evidence tying him to the crime. And just because Augerlavoie struggled with prescription drugs doesn’t mean he committed the robbery, Jones said. “He took ownership for the problems that he has in his life,” Jones said. “This isn’t one of them.”

Meghann M. Cuniff can be reached at (509) 459-5534 or meghannc@spokesman.com.


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