West Seattle totem theft: Suspect arrested again, home searched

(1 of 2 police cars that were still in the neighborhood when we arrived)
Here’s why police converged on Palm Avenue in North Admiral earlier this morning: They had a search warrant for the home of the suspect in the Nov. 30 theft of West Seattle Rotary Viewpoint Park‘s 18-foot totem pole (inset Rotary photo). The search was wrapping up when we arrived, and we didn’t see anything being brought out while we were there, but Southwest Precinct Lt. Steve Paulsen tells us officers have arrested the 69-year-old man again – this time in connection with the theft of the totem pole found on a trailer in Oregon along with the West Seattle totem (as we reported last week, that second pole turned out to have been stolen from outside the Renton Fred Meyer store). As with the first arrest, he was not at his home when police arrived, but was taken into custody elsewhere in West Seattle, and has been booked into King County Jail. We are not identifying the suspect until he is officially charged; we are checking frequently with King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office spokesperson Dan Donohoe, who just told us the case has yet to be referred (with ongoing investigations, that’s not unusual). We’ll update the latest developments if/when more information is available. Meantime, if you’re catching up on the backstory, here are links to some of our previous coverage:

Original story on then-suspected theft (published Dec. 3)
Theft suspect arrested (Dec. 9)
Stolen pole found in Oregon with (then-) mystery pole (Dec. 10)
Stolen poles brought back from Oregon (Dec. 14)
Second pole identified as having been stolen from Renton (Dec. 15)
Stolen West Seattle pole won’t be re-installed immediately (Dec. 17)

1:17 PM UPDATE: Lt. Paulsen says additional search warrants have been served in connection with the case – two in Black Diamond. No word yet if anything was found.

25 Replies to "West Seattle totem theft: Suspect arrested again, home searched"

  • ktstine December 22, 2009 (2:52 pm)

    How come they aren’t naming the suspect? If he has been arrested shouldn’t it be public?

    • WSB December 22, 2009 (3:00 pm)

      It’s certainly in a police report. However, the standard for media, which we kept in my corporate-media jobs and keep here on WSB, is that we do not identify suspects in most cases (and there are always exceptions) until they are charged. The barrier for arrest is lower than the barrier for charging – if a prosecutor determines there is enough evidence to charge you with a crime, they are saying they believe there’s enough evidence that you are quite likely guilty. Different standards for arrests – you could be arrested but released and never charged – TR

  • Gina December 22, 2009 (3:11 pm)

    I have an idea who it might be from the location. Making a bet with myself.

  • elliott December 22, 2009 (3:16 pm)

    Where in West Seattle was the suspect arrested, and what were the circumstances?

    • WSB December 22, 2009 (3:32 pm)

      The circumstances were an arrest warrant, as was the case before, and all we know about the location was that it was somewhere on Harbor.

  • nate December 22, 2009 (3:20 pm)

    Gina – does that photo look like the 1400 block of Palm to you?

  • ScottA December 22, 2009 (8:38 pm)

    I tried to cross reference the KC Jail Inmate Lookup Service for Dec 9 with today for the same name but it’s too clunky (by design I’m sure) and I don’t really know if the guy was arrested in Seattle on both dates.

    Thanks WSB for all the coverage – not just this interesting saga – but everything you do!

    • WSB December 22, 2009 (8:43 pm)

      He was not booked into jail after the first arrest. Not everyone is. (And thanks for the kind words!)

  • looking for logic December 23, 2009 (8:42 am)

    What is this guy’s motivation?

  • Gina December 23, 2009 (8:57 am)

    The person I was thinking of doesn’t live there anymore (checked out the KC property parcel viewer.) But it sure looks like 1300-1400 mid Palm Ave. Think the police cars are parked in front of the house that is divided into multiple dwelling units, do NOT think the suspect lives there.

  • on board December 23, 2009 (10:54 am)

    Agree, thanks WSB for everything you do! Without WSB, I don’t think this case would have ever been pursued as much as it has.

  • GD December 23, 2009 (11:43 am)

    WSB made this case. Putting it on the front page, so to speak, gave it a lot of exposure. With all the criminal activity SPD has to work on daily, who knows if this would have been solved as quickly, or before the totem would disappear or be damaged. Tracy and Pat, West Seattle thanks you and keep up the good work.

  • I. Ponder December 23, 2009 (1:17 pm)

    Motivation? I saw a “rule of thumb” value at $1,500 per foot. So it’s worth between $15,000-$20,000 for starters. Maybe more. Those wings may be over and over that estimate. It’ll be interesting to find out how much it sold for. If you watch Antiques Road Show you will get an idea of how there is a market for all sorts of things. Cultural antiquities have a higher value than newly carved objects by unknown artists. That’s why the pole was sanded (to make it look like an authentic native antiquity).

    I hate scammers and thieves.

    • WSB December 23, 2009 (1:28 pm)

      I have to caution people here, please do not leap to conclusions. Easy to do while court documents are awaited but we have not published anything suggesting these poles were sold. (I don’t know if they were or were not but also have not heard, while reporting and researching the story, any suggestion that they were.) Also trying to guess who on the jail register was the suspect – trust me, from a long history of research, it’s not as open and shut as it looks and the person you might think is obvious, might turn out not to be, and you could be ascribing an erroneous record to someone – as happened with a comment we have had to delete because the court record the commenter was guessing belonged to the suspect, was NOT his. Please trust that we are reporting everything we can find, but I strongly believe in the policy – ours, and almost every corporate-news-media outlet for which I worked over 30 years – of not identifying suspects until they are charged, unless there are compelling reasons of public safety (police looking for murder suspects and issuing photos/names, for example). Yes, there are sometimes reasons for other exceptions. No such reason has presented itself in this case. Someday, heaven forbid, you might be the person who is arrested but never charged, and if there are any of us left who still follow the policy, you might be thankful for it. That doesn’t happen in a large percentage of cases but enough to be an important part of “innocent until proven guilty.” Thanks for your patience – TR

  • I. Ponder December 23, 2009 (1:46 pm)

    All of us become armchair detectives as this case proceeds. Suspense builds.

    This story shows the value of and interest in local journalism.

  • WSB December 23, 2009 (2:14 pm)

    And in fact … I’ve just obtained the probable-cause document that was filed in connection with the bail hearing. What witnesses are quoted as saying, suggests that the alleged motive was personal use – to display in the suspect’s rural King County house. Will be summarizing the document shortly. It’s still not charging papers, and my patient (I’m hounding him daily) contact at the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office says the case hasn’t been referred yet, which means no sooner than next week, so those are not imminent – TR

  • I. Ponder December 23, 2009 (2:22 pm)

    The reason I don’t believe it was stolen for personal use is that the WS pole was immediately sanded. I don’t think a person would do that immediately after stealing for personal use, but would for re-sale, to increase perceived value/authenticy. My guess is the culprit’s attorney has pushed the “personal use” thing because of lesser consequences.

    Also, if it was stolen to display at a King County house, what was it doing in Oregon?

  • WM December 23, 2009 (4:34 pm)

    We don’t know that it was sanded. That was an assumption made by a commenter after looking at the photos. Photos can be very deceptive. The photo of the pole displayed in West Seattle is an older photo, not a current photo from right before the pole was stolen. I think everyone will be a bit surprised when the real story comes out.

  • Leroniusmonkfish December 23, 2009 (5:42 pm)

    Surprise me!

  • donanderson December 23, 2009 (8:25 pm)

    Not sanded, if sanded it would look like new wood, not weathered like it shows now.

  • Dietrich S December 23, 2009 (9:41 pm)

    “Personal use” for a totem pole…the mind wanders…

  • BettytheYeti December 24, 2009 (8:17 am)

    Yes Virginia there is a Santa Claus. But no; there will be no totem pole under you tree! I’m with L-monkfish Surprize me.

  • Katie January 1, 2010 (10:18 pm)

    I doubt it was sanded; just weathered. It was up since 1976!

  • Diane January 16, 2010 (2:21 pm)

    Have there been any up dates on the situation regarding the theft of the totem poles?

Sorry, comment time is over.