Noe Valley Voice February 2000

Police Beat: 'Jim' Sits in Jail

By Officer Lois Perillo

Joseph Lawrence, aka "Jim the Con Man," is no longer ringing doorbells, thanks to the work of Police Inspector Mark Sullivan and all of you who called to report a man masquerading as a neighborhood block captain and soliciting funds for his "daughter's soccer team."

Inspector Sullivan secured a warrant for Lawrence's arrest upon learning that a man answering his description had stolen property by entering the homes of residents after they walked away from the door to get him money or a glass of water.

Lawrence was arrested and booked on two burglary charges in mid-December. He was also charged with three misdemeanors, including fraudulent solicitation, petty theft, and possession of narcotics (all from prior incidents).

Lawrence remains in county jail pending his court dates. But residents should still not let down their guard. Be sure to ask for identification before opening the door to strangers.

Chewing Gum Gang Hits Drugstores

On Saturday, Nov. 27, at 8:22 p.m., a man brandishing a blue steel revolver and wearing a ski mask robbed the Walgreen's on Castro Street while an accomplice stood lookout.

Despite police saturation of the area, the two suspects escaped, then went on to commit 12 more robberies over the next two weeks. They hit five other Walgreen's stores, Rite Aid, Safeway, Just Desserts, Blockbuster Video, Warehouse Video, a 7-11, and a Burger King, where the take was a (not exactly) whopping $10.

In one of the more recent robberies, the culprits were seen fleeing in a maroon Ford Mustang with gray primer on the rear. The gun-wielding robber wore a dark nylon jacket, possibly an anorak pullover type, with a zippered pouch in front where he puts the stolen money.

The armed suspect was dubbed the "Chewing Gum Bandit" because he often brings a pack of gum or candy to the counter before showing the gun and demanding money.

Gun-Toting Robber Busted

An 18-year-old man who was implicated in 15 street robberies during 14 days in November, including two in Noe Valley, was arrested on Dec. 15 and booked on multiple counts of robbery by Inspector Robert Totah. He remains in jail with bail set at $250,000.

However, his 17-year-old male accomplice, who allegedly drove the getaway car, may still be at large. This younger man has a connection to Noe Valley. He was arrested on May 18, 1999, for terrorist threats after he threatened to harm his former girlfriend, who lived on the 4600 block of 25th Street. At that time, he was booked at San Francisco's Youth Guidance Center.

But apparently he was out of custody by 1:15 a.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 10, when the first of the recent string of robberies occurred at 14th and Divisadero streets. The second robbery happened at 1:53 a.m. at Church and 26th streets, followed closely by a third on the first block of Liberty Street. The fourth and final robbery that day took place at Fifth and Folsom streets at 5:07 a.m.

Over the next two weeks, the robbers struck 11 more times, often accosting people who might be walking alone late at night. In the most serious incident, at 25th and Treat streets on Nov. 18 at 2:20 a.m., the gun-wielding robber held the weapon up to his intended victim's forehead, moved it to the side and next to his temple, and pulled the trigger. Luckily, the man escaped with only a flesh wound.

The trigger (boy) man, who turned 18 in the middle of this crime spree, was initially booked at Youth Guidance Center, then transferred to county jail, where he awaits his court date on charges of first-degree robbery and assault with a firearm.

Their Modus Operandi

The second Noe Valley robbery, which took place a little earlier -- around 2 a.m. -- on Nov. 18, was also scary. A 29-year-old man reported to police that he was dropped off by a cab near a friend's house at Liberty and Church streets. He then saw a dark blue Toyota pickup with a light-colored camper shell turn west on Liberty from Church Street. The pickup continued west, then parked about 20 feet away from the pedestrian on Liberty. The suspect got out of the car and approached the man, saying, "Give me all your shit or you're gonna die," as he put a gun to the man's head.

The targeted man surrendered his jacket and wallet and complied with the gunman's order to run east down Liberty while the pickup took off west. He immediately went to the safety of his friend's house, and later called police. The information he supplied -- descriptions of the suspect and vehicle -- led police to locate what they thought was a match for the pickup at 17th and Mission streets.

In an apparently unrelated incident, a man in his 20s stole a shoulder bag from a 40-year-old woman who was walking on the 4100 block of 25th Street at about 6 a.m. on Monday, Nov. 15. He snatched the purse by breaking the shoulder strap. With the woman in pursuit, the thief ran east on 25th Street and turned north onto Noe, where he hopped in an early '80s Chevrolet Vega and fled east on 24th Street.

Watchful Neighbor Foils Burglary

I'm sorry to report there were 11 burglaries during November and 8 in December within my coverage area of Noe Valley. But there could have been more, if it had not been for the quick thinking of a Dolores Street resident.

On Tuesday, Dec. 7, at 12:20 p.m. -- that's broad daylight -- a 35-year-old man and a 36-year-old man were arrested by sergeants Bob Barnes and Pablo Osslo. The culprits were caught in the act of burglarizing a flat on the 1000 block of Dolores Street, thanks to a neighbor's astute observations and prompt call to police.

The neighbor was first alerted to the suspicious behavior of the two men when his own doorbell rang. Before he answered it, he looked out the window and saw one of the suspects trying to open his door. He continued watching and saw both men walk north on Dolores, periodically turning doorknobs as they went. He observed one of them enter a house close to 23rd Street and exit moments later with a bicycle, then re-enter and emerge with a bulky blanket, before walking east on 23rd Street.

The witness notified the police and saw the officers stop the suspects on 23rd Street. The sergeants took the men into custody after the witness identified them as the ones he'd seen enter the house on Dolores. The bulky blanket concealed speakers, a TV remote, CDs, and mail taken from the burglarized flat. The sergeants noted that a glass pane adjacent to the door had been broken, allowing access to the inside front door lock.

Arrestees Franco Strap and Roberto Aguirre, who gave no local addresses, were both charged with burglary and receiving stolen property. They remain in jail, pending their February court dates.

Battery of a Cop

I arrested a 64-year-old man who took a swing at me at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 23, and charged him with battery of a police officer.

James Melton was booked on a felony count, later reduced to a misdemeanor. He spent six days in jail and was released on the agreement that he appear for his court dates. So far, he's keeping those dates.

Some of you may remember Melton. He wears thick glasses and slowly pushes a laundry cart filled with his possessions. According to merchants, he used to sleep in the public parking lot near Radio Shack. I have attempted several times to connect Melton with Social Services, but have been unsuccessful.

Well, Melton was a suspect in a theft case. When I asked him about it that night on 24th Street, he became intensely angry and repeatedly shouted obscenities before punching me in the arm. When he tried to hit me a second time, I drew my baton and called for backup. Melton kept his distance. When the other officers arrived, Melton decided to go peacefully.

A happy and healthy year 2000 to all! Let's continue to watch out for one another. I'll see you on patrol.

San Francisco Police Officer Lois Perillo covers her Noe Valley beat-- from Valencia to Grand View and 21st to Cesar Chavez -- on foot and on bicycle. If you would like to discuss a crime or safety problem, call her at 558-5404, the community policing line at Mission Station.