A ruling yesterday by a Multnomah County judge marks a turning point in Portland’s ongoing battle against bike thieves.
Leroy Parsons, a prolific criminal and Portland’s most brazen bike thief, was sentenced to 30 months in prison. That’s the longest sentence ever handed down for bike theft according to Multnomah County Senior Deputy District Attorney Jim Hayden. Hayden and his team also convinced the judge to give Parsons a five-year probation period, much longer than sentencing guidelines dictate.
The sentence was the result of years of hard work by downtown bike patrol officers and it marks a significant change in how the DA’s office handles bike theft cases. It’s also a big win for Portland’s Bike Theft Task Force.
I spoke with DA Hayden on the phone this morning to understand more about why this case matters.
“I hope would-be thieves will realize we are going to start looking at these cases differently.”
— Jim Hayden, Senior Deputy District Attorney
Hayden said they could have gotten an even longer sentence if they’d gone to trial with the case (Parsons faced 16 total counts including nine felonies for theft, drug possession, and other crimes); but trials are always risky, especially since several of the bike theft victims currently live out of state.
And for Hayden, the goal was to make sure Parsons got to prison and gets started on a drug treatment program. So they hammered out an agreement. If Parsons does his drug treatment he’ll be eligible to leave prison in 18 months.
His five-year probation started yesterday and it comes with some unique conditions. If Parsons wants a bike when he gets out, he’ll have to first clear it with his probation officer. He also must be able to produce a receipt for the bike and it cannot have a scratched-away serial number.
If Parsons violates any of these conditions he’ll be sent back to prison for 30 months.
If you’re worried Parsons will just go right back at it once he hits the streets, Hayden pointed out that, “In effect, [Portland Police Officer David] Sanders becomes his probation officer.”
Ofcr. Sanders is the man Hayden credits with finally putting Parsons behind bars (we first profiled Sanders in October 2014). Hayden said that Sanders will know which bike Parsons is allowed to have. “And if he sees him with any other bike, Sanders can just call up his probation officer and see if it checks out.”
According to Hayden if it wasn’t for the work of Sanders and the other downtown bike cops, this case would not have come together. “Sanders was determined and he never gave up,” he said, “that’s really why we’re here today.” Sanders and his partner Dave Bryant are leaders of the Portland Bike Theft Task Force.
And in fact, it was a bike ride with Officer Sanders that Hayden says changed his perspective.
“For me, the lightbulb went off about bike theft when I went out and rode with those guys. It dawned on me how hard they were working on this and that I needed to do more… It was time for the DA’s office to step up.”
Hayden said in the past they looked at bike theft cases individually, and never took the time to build larger cases and connect dots between multiple thefts. Looked at in isolation, a bike theft doesn’t look very bad. It’s much more serious when you step back and see the larger problem.
“I looked back and saw some old cases we hadn’t done anything with,” Hayden said. “And I realized that I need to look at Leroy Parsons differently. I began to see him as a bike theft problem… We had to change our view of how to prosecute the case. We got smart about how to do this, and that made a big diifference.”
Hayden sees this as a working template his office and the police will use going forward. He’s also a member of Portland’s Bike Theft Task Force, a group that notched another big win back in September with the bust of a major chop shop operation.
While this is good news for the DA and bike theft prevention advocates, the big question is, will Parsons’ sentence trickle down onto the street and scare bike thieves? “I hope it does,” Hayden said. “I hope would-be thieves will realize we are going to start looking at these cases differently. Especially since we have officers like Sanders out there, we’ll start looking at these thefts and putting them together.”
While Hayden is pleased with how this case ended up, he’s less sanguine about what he sees as the larger issue at work here: streetside camps where stacks of (often stolen) bikes and bike parts end up. “We have so many of these transient camps. If there are fewer camps where people are trying to make a buck to feed their addictions and if people had a place to go they wouldn’t need to tear bikes apart.”
— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – firstname.lastname@example.org