Neighbors in the Franklin Avenue neighborhood of Tisbury captured a “peeping Tom” suspect Monday night, following a wild chase through the woods and a struggle to hold the man until police arrived to take him into custody.
Reginaldo DeSouza, 26, of Tisbury was arraigned in Edgartown District Court Tuesday, on a charge of disorderly conduct and violation of the town bylaw that outlaws peeping Toms. The court entered not guilty pleas on his behalf.
Court officials and police said Mr. DeSouza looks remarkably like a composite sketch, released by police in October of last year, of a man wanted for similar crimes. At that time, police logged six very similar reports of a peeping Tom in the same area.
Federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued a detainee order for Mr. DeSouza, a native of Brazil. Under the provisions of that order, Mr. DeSouza could be held for up to 48 hours without bail, while ICE determines what action to take.
Assistant district attorney Laura Marshard asked the court to hold Mr. DeSouza on $5,000 bail.
Ms. Marshard said the detainee order, and the suspect’s reaction when confronted by neighbors, make him an obvious flight risk.
“The defendant was looking in windows,” Ms. Marshard said. “He was observed by the victim and someone else outside. He fled through the woods.”
District Court clerk-magistrate Liza Williamson set bail at $10,000, noting that the maximum punishment allowed by state law for the peeping tom charge is a $300 fine.
“Despite what the legislature has set as a penalty, I find this a very serious crime, one that will not be tolerated in this community,” Ms. Williamson said.
Attorney Ryan Searle, who represented Mr. DeSouza at the arraignment, objected to the bail order, for the court record, and asked for her client’s release on personal recognizance.
“He has $20 on his person,” Ms. Searle said. “Setting bail in anything more than a nominal amount would be effectively holding him without bail.”
Mr. DeSouza appeared to understand very little English. A court officer provided translations of the clerk magistrate’s explanations and orders and also translated his lawyer’s conversations with him.
Mr. DeSouza was ordered back to Edgartown District Court on Friday, where he will have a chance to appeal the bail, and a Portuguese interpreter will be available.
According to the police report, neighbors in the area of Franklin Avenue and Greenwood Avenue saw the suspect on Monday evening. A neighbor out for a smoke spotted him looking in a window on Franklin Terrace.
When confronted, Mr. DeSouza fled into the nearby woods, with the neighbors in pursuit, according to the police report. A neighbor who was standing on Franklin Terrace got a good look at the suspect and called police.
With Officer Kelley Kershaw, Officer Scott Ogden, and Sergeant Robert Fiske on the way, the neighbors pursued the suspect through the woods.
“The pursuit of the peeper lasted about a minute, and then they lost sight of him,” Officer Kershaw wrote in her report. “A few minutes later the man came out of the woods and started walking toward Franklin Street. They confronted him again, and the peeper took off.”
But, his pursuers, including Jeffrey Rancourt, a 23-year-old roofer, who became the point man in the chase and ultimately the person who brought Mr. DeSouza to earth, weren’t about to let Mr. DeSouza slip away.
Officer Kershaw was interviewing a witness when the pursuers called that witness on a mobile phone. They reported they had captured the suspect on Summer Street, but he was struggling to get away, and they had to fight to subdue him.
Mr. Rancourt describes the second chapter in the pursuit, after they’d lost the fleeing man, then found him again.
“So we slammed on the brakes, jumped out of the truck, and gave chase again. Again, heading toward Lake Street and right back where we were driving through, up toward Midland, and he was running through peoples’ yards, where like, I know the area real well, there’s clotheslines, someone has a rope fence.
“I just was on his tail, I watched his moves, I stayed right behind him, I ducked when he ducked. And he ran out of steam on Midland, turned a corner, picked up a big-ass rock like he was going to hit me with it …
“So I just walked up, you know. I slowed down, I was like, hey, relax, calm down, man, you know, come ‘ere, like, you need to talk to me.”
Then, “I walked up and grabbed him by his sweatshirt so he wasn’t going anywhere
“When he was approached by his pursuers he picked up a rock and then struggled with them,” Officer Kershaw wrote of the end of the chase, in a statement of fact included with her report. “I arrived at Summer Street, and took the suspect into custody. He was out of breath and sweating profusely. I took the suspect back to Franklin Terrace, where he was positively identified as the peeper.”
Officer Kershaw drove Mr. DeSouza to the Dukes County Jail, where he was booked and held for arraignment Tuesday morning.
How does Mr. Rancourt explain his intense commitment to the pursuit, something not every bystander might have done?
“But yeah, I mean, you know, I’ve got a big problem with that [peeping Toms].” he says. “I grew up here, it’s my home, you know? And Vineyard Haven’s where I grew up. I’ve got a lot of respect for my hometown. And you know, you peep in someone’s windows, like, I look at my home, it’s my sanctuary, that’s my safe spot. And that’s how I feel everybody else should feel about their home, you know? And if he’s peeping in people’s windows, that messes some people up, you know? Some people are never the same after that, you know? If you don’t feel safe in your own home, well that’s not right, you know? So we gave chase, man, we gave chase with everything we had, and we caught that [deleted]. He was not too happy.”
Tisbury police chief Dan Hanavan complimented the alert citizens who pursued the suspect and ended his flight. The police chief also offered a word of caution.
“I want to praise the citizens who helped catch the peeper suspect and the quick response of the officers,” Chief Hanavan said in a telephone call Wednesday. “But in any situation involving possible criminal behavior, people need to make sure they call the police right away.”
Public played a role
In October, police asked for the public’s help in identifying a peeping Tom reported in six different incidents from September 22 to October 22.
Twice the suspect was spotted and chased, once by several police officers and once by a neighbor. Both times he gave his pursuers the slip.
Last September, (Sept. 15, 2010, “Oak Bluffs man arrested for assaults, peeping”) Oak Bluffs police chased and arrested a man wanted in connection with at least 100 “peeping Tom” complaints over the course of six to eight years, as well as two breaking and entering cases that involved assaults on women.
That arrest also began with a vigilant resident. An Oak Bluffs homeowner set up an elaborate surveillance system, told police about the system, and forwarded pictures of the suspect later identified as Irton A. DeSouza, 35, of Oak Bluffs, to police.
For Mr. DeSouza, bail was set at $60,000, and a fingerprint check when he was processed into jail revealed that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement had issued a detainer.
Irton DeSouza, who is no relation to Reginaldo DeSouza, has been held at the Dukes County Jail since his arrest, pending disposition of his case. He is scheduled to appear in court on Friday, March 8, in connection with a plea agreement.
A complete account of the pursuit of the “peeper” by Mr. Rancourt appears below.
Citizen tells his story
One of Reginaldo DeSouza’s pursuers on Tuesday was Jeffrey Rancourt, 23. Mr. Rancourt says he “bangs nails” for a living. He’s a roofer.
In a conversation yesterday with a Times writer, Mr. Rancourt offered a footstep-by-footstep, backyard-by-backyard account of the crimestoppers episode in Vineyard Haven.
“So I mean basically what happened is, he was peeping into one of my best friends’ windows and [my] friend was at the end of his driveway smoking a cigarette and watched the kid do everything, you know, circle the house and peeping in.
“So he confronted the kid, and the kid was like, ‘Oh, I think my friend lives cross the street, and walked into the street and hauled ass. So right then and there, we knew that something fishy was going on. So my friend Jake, who actually lives at the house that was being peeped in, he called us, and we were just coming down the end of Greenwood — that’s me, my girlfriend Marie Clements, and my friend Zack Bonner.
“We were coming down Greenwood and [Jake] called us and said, a peeping Tom was just peeping in my windows. So we just busted a left real quick and met up with him on his road, on Tashmoo Ave, and stopped where we seen him walking, where he had seen the kid go into the woods. And we stopped there, and a guy came out of his house, and we told him there’s a peeper walking around, and you know, started informing people.
“Me and my girlfriend — me, Marie and Zack — jumped in the truck, we started circling the neighborhood, trying to flush him out, and my buddy Jake called me a couple of minutes later, and said he witnessed him — he was sitting in the bushes right next to us when we first pulled up. Jake started walking back to his house and kind of stayed slow and waited and watched the kid run across the street through the woods — and through those woods, the next road is Franklin Terrace.
“So Jake looped around through his yard, to not start running through the woods after him, to be quiet and easy about it so back-up could show up, and called us and told us that he was out on Franklin Terrace, and that he was walking behind him. We were coming up through the power lines, so we came up the back side of Franklin Terrace and caught up with them, and we all pretty much caught up to him at the same time.
“As we were coming up at the road, Jake started running towards him, and we pulled up on him, stopped quick, and we gave chase, and he was running through everybody’s yards. That boy’s been doing it for a while. He had like tunnels through people’s bushes. We’re running in pitch black, and we’re at a full run, and he knew every obstacle, every turn, every little thing, you know? He’s been running through these yards for a while.
“And I was right on him, and then I busted my ass coming through one of the little tunnels through one of the bushes, and that’s where he gained a few feet on us and was able to crouch down, and he hid from us.So I circled around a few houses; everybody met up back on Franklin Terrace. The people’s yard we ran through, they were out in their yard, in the backyard gardening when all of us came booking it through their yard. So it was kind of interesting, you know?
“The poor people are getting the last couple of flowers in the ground, getting ready for the spring. She works long days, you know, and had a little bit of time at night, and all of a sudden she said she heard a bunch of screaming in the road and then footsteps running through the yard, and then all of us booked it right past them all.
“So he got away then. I circled back around, I found everybody out at the road, and they said, oh, don’t worry, the cops are coming, don’t worry. I was like, what are you, out of your mind? I just looked at my buddy Zack and said, get in the truck, we’re going.
“I went and grabbed a spotlight and just canvassed Vineyard Haven. You know, I tried to think of where he was going to be heading, and me and my buddy Zack were coming out a back road that comes onto Summer Street, and then it crosses over through Oak to Midland, and we came out at Midland, turned, heading toward Saint Augustine’s Church, and that’s where we met up with him again.
“We were pulling up — we were driving down the road, and we’re like, is that him? Is that really him? Like, no way. And he was out in the open, not even 20 minutes after we had chased him the first time.
“So we slammed on the brakes, jumped out of the truck, and gave chase again. Again, heading toward Lake Street and right back where we were driving through, up toward Midland, and he was running through peoples’ yards, where like, I know the area real well, there’s clotheslines, someone has a rope fence. I just was on his tail, I watched his moves, I stayed right behind him, I ducked when he ducked. And he ran out of steam on Midland, turned a corner, picked up a big-ass rock like he was going to hit me with it, so I just walked up, you know. I slowed down, I was like, hey, relax, calm down, man, you know, come ‘ere, like, you need to talk to me.
“I walked up and grabbed him by his sweatshirt so he wasn’t going anywhere, and he tried, you know, ‘Why you chase me?’ I was like, man, you messed up. You’re peeping in windows. ‘Ah, no, no, I’m sorry, no more.’ I was like, no, you messed up, man, you’re in trouble. He’s like, ‘No more, sorry, no more.’
“And I started yelling for my buddy Zack, and he was going back to get the truck; he couldn’t really keep up with me. And the homeowner of the yard that we were in came out, and I yelled to him, call the cops, he’s a peeping Tom, call the cops, and come help me, because the kid, as soon as the guy came out and I told him he’s a peeping Tom, he started fighting with me.
“And the guy yelled to his wife to call the cops, and he came out and he wouldn’t grab anybody, because he didn’t know who the bad guy was. He thought a couple of kids showed up in his yard and started fighting, and I was being firm and stern, ‘He’s a peeping Tom, grab him!’ And he just wouldn’t.
His wife’s standing there on the phone, and then I see my buddy Zack drive up the road in my truck, and I yelled at his wife, ‘Get him in the truck,’ because her husband wouldn’t help me, you know? And then his neighbor came out and was, like, what’s going on?
“I was like, ‘He’s a peeping Tom, somebody help me!’ And at that point, the kid tried biting me in the arm and lunging away from me at the same time. So, I took his lunge, I kicked his feet out from under him, and pretty much dropped him on his face in the dirt in a headlock, and left him there. I just held him there.
“Finally the guy helped me and, you know, put a knee in his back and twisted his arm behind him so he’d stop squirming so much. I was whupped. I mean, we ran two, three miles, you know, and then I fought with him for five minutes. The guy sat there and watched me fight with the kid, because you know, he didn’t want to grab the wrong guy.
“So he finally, finally helped me out. Within moments, my buddy Zack was coming back down the road, I yelled to him — he had the window open so he heard me — and at the same time, the cops were pulling up.
“So you know, it all kind of wrapped up really quick once the guy finally helped me out and everybody showed up.
“But yeah, I mean, you know, I’ve got a big problem with that. I grew up here, it’s my home, you know? And Vineyard Haven’s where I grew up. I’ve got a lot of respect for my hometown. And you know, you peep in someone’s windows, like, I look at my home, it’s my sanctuary, that’s my safe spot. And that’s how I feel everybody else should feel about their home, you know? And if he’s peeping in people’s windows, that messes some people up, you know? Some people are never the same after that, you know? If you don’t feel safe in your own home, well that’s not right, you know?
“So we gave chase, man, we gave chase with everything we had, and we caught that … He was not too happy.
“Was I afraid? Hell no. It was a game. We instilled fear the whole time, chasing him down — come on, you want to play games? Run boy, come on, come on, keep running. No. Fear, man? There’s no fear around here. I’m not worried about him pulling a knife out on me or a gun. It’s not like that around here, you know?
“Like I said, I got a big problem with people making people feel uncomfortable in their home, you know. It’s not good. And I definitely don’t want people to think, oh, it’s a Brazilian guy, and you know, make it look bad on the Brazilian community, because I have so many Brazilian friends out here, it’s crazy. They’re awesome people, you know? Just like any other American, there’s just always a bad apple, you know? You can’t win ’em all.
“Obviously, he’s been doing it for a while, and that really bothers me, you know? Because I live pretty close to the area, too, of where he was peeping around, so it’s unnerving.”
“Thanks, I’m glad you helped grab this guy,” a reporter said
“Not a problem,” Mr. Rancourt replied.