It was a blatant and gutsy crime considering the nation’s perspective on freedoms and what the flag represents. Three area men have been arrested and charged with stealing nearly a dozen American, state and prisoner of war flags during a crime spree earlier this month.
The three men, 19-year-old Norman B. Elverum formerly of Colorado, 22-year-old Michael W. White Jr. formerly of Colorado, and 31-year-old Richard L. Barker of Park Hills, were all arrested Tuesday afternoon following a nearly two week investigation. Now the three are charged with several counts of property damage and misdemeanor stealing.
“They said they stole flags from the county jail, courthouse, city hall and other places,” Detective Chris James said. The flags recovered include seven American flags, two P.O.W. flags and one Missouri flag. One of the U.S. flags is huge, nearly filling a conference room in the police station.
“The problem is, we haven’t had reports filed on the stolen flags. We know where some came from, but we have additional flags and (the suspects) said they couldn’t remember where all they had taken them from,” Police Chief Rick Baker said Wednesday morning.
The case started when police starting receiving several reports of property damage to vehicles and at least one business early on May 17. By day’s end they had taken 15 reports, most about broken windows in vehicles. Baker said that day that it looked as if someone had just driven or walked up to the vehicles and bashed the windows in with a baseball bat.
That same day the dispatchers started getting calls about flags being taken from city hall and the county jail. Officers were put on alert to watch closely over the next few nights for a dark colored Chevrolet Cavalier – because one had been seen leaving the scene of one of the vandalism incidents.
A couple days later a road officer with the Farmington Police Department stopped a car matching the description. He talked with the occupants, but they denied any involvement in the incidents. He asked for an address and contact number and both were given. Both, it turned out, would be false information.
While police moved on to searching out other possible leads in the case, they still felt the three men in the dark Cavalier were involved. It was nearly a week later before the real residence of the three was discovered and a detective stopped by to talk to the suspects again.
This time the investigator found the three in the yard of the residence playing with paintball guns. It didn’t take much talking before the three admitted to the May 16-17 crime spree and confessed they had just purchased the paintball guns and some slingshots to go on another vandalism trip before heading out of town and back to Colorado on Thursday. They reportedly said the traffic stop a week earlier had caused them to believe the police were getting to close to finding them out.
All group admitted to the earlier property damage and thefts and said they were intoxicated at the time. They gave confessions to the police detective, and were all subsequently arrested and booked at the county jail on $40,000 bond each.
Charges including property damage and misdemeanor stealing were filed to hold them until formal charges could be filed on Wednesday. Now the group awaits a court date.
Baker said letters will be sent to the 15 known victims of vandalism informing them that the suspect have been arrested. He encouraged anyone else who might have had damage done or a flag stolen on May 16 or 17 to come forward and contact the police department at 756-6686.