‘These people are opportunists’: Police make two more arrests in north Spokane Safeway bike theft sting
For the fourth time in at least a year, Spokane police planted a bike outside the Safeway grocery store at Mission Avenue and Hamilton Street in northeast Spokane, hoping to bait people into walking away with an expensive new toy.
The most recent operation happened Monday afternoon, when officers placed an $800 bike on the south side of the store, eventually arresting two people – Dustin T. Baughman and Aaron S. Radnor. They appeared Tuesday in Spokane County Superior Court on charges of second-degree theft and possession of a controlled substance.
Similar to other stings, this one was led by Cpl. Ron Van Tassel, who has worked with a group of about six unpaid reserve officers on several operations since August, when three people were arrested at the same store trying to steal a Specialized Epic bike borrowed from local retailer Wheel Sport, valued at $1,900.
A third sting was executed on Black Friday weekend. However, Van Tassel said it didn’t net any arrests.
“Apparently, it was horrible weekend to do it,” he said. “There were a million people out.”
In each instance, officers placed the bait bike up against the building and sat in nearby parked cars. Van Tassel said people often would walk up to the bike, leave, then return minutes later and try to quickly walk away with the item. In some cases, he said they would put on some type of mask, or ask someone else to steal it for them.
Officers also monitored multiple people riding through the parking lot and looking through parked cars. The store and surrounding area are a known hot spot for property crimes.
“Tons of thefts,” he said of the particular Safeway. “Tons of drug activity.”
Radnor, 30, approached the bike and put a handkerchief over his face before grabbing it and spinning away, court records say. He was stopped shortly after by officers, who found “numerous items of paraphernalia” in his backpack, including a syringe with clear liquid inside that tested positive for meth.
Radnor has no felony criminal history in Spokane County.
Baughman, 23, told police he grabbed the bike only after a man “approached him moments prior to the theft and told the defendant that if he stole the bike, the male would pay for it,” say court records.
“The defendant said he went to the store with the intention of taking the bike to get money.”
It’s unclear whether the man who reportedly told him to steal the bike was apprehended.
Baughman also had meth in his bag, records state. He previously was charged in August for felony drug possession, but was granted a spot in the county’s drug court in March. After failing to show for a series of court dates, an arrest warrant was issued.
News of last year’s bike sting hit just as officials in Chicago were wrestling with public backlash after they used a bait truck loaded with Nike shoes to lure thieves in a predominantly black neighborhood.
Asked last year whether Van Tassel considered the Spokane bike sting a form of entrapment, he disagreed, saying he believed it to be a proactive way to arrest people who would steal bikes anyway.
“These people would do this whether it’s our bike or someone else’s bike,” he said at the time. “These people are opportunists. They’re going to take anything that’s not bolted down.”
Of the three people arrested and charged last year with felony theft, none remains in the Spokane County Jail.
One woman, 26-year-old Victoria Langlois, requested a bench trial in February and won. Police say she called on Ericka Garber, 36, to steal the bait bike for her, but prosecutors apparently didn’t have enough evidence to net a conviction.
“The state failed to meet its burden,” wrote Superior Court Judge Michael Price in his decision.
The charges were dismissed with prejudice, meaning prosecutors cannot refile against Langlois.
Van Tassel, who testified during the trial, said he was disappointed in the judge’s decision.
“Just by the letter of the law, he didn’t feel she could be prosecuted for it,” he said. “I still disagree, but I’m not a judge.”
Garber, who had no felony history before her arrest, pleaded guilty in January to second-degree theft.
Jonathan Trefz, 35, is scheduled to be on an early case resolution docket later this year. His case has been delayed multiple times after prosecutors say he has failed to show for court hearings, prompting an arrest warrant and further stints in jail.