Police work in Martha’s Vineyard towns runs heavily to drug arrests, operating under, theft, and disorderly conduct rising occasionally to assault. The lag between the crime and an arrest is often short.
Sometimes though, successful investigations are built on inventive sleuthing techniques and the persistence of motivated police officers rooted in their communities.
That was the story last week when, following weeks of electronic surveillance, Edgartown Police detective Michael Snowden arrested a man he said is responsible for a series of late-night thefts of scrap copper wire valued at $6,500, from a local electrical contractor over the past two months.
On Sunday, December 1, police arrested Jose C. Dias of Oak Bluffs on five counts of larceny over $250. Police said that on five separate occasions, from October 18 until December 1, Mr. Dias stole copper wire from the grounds of the Schwab Electric building located on East Line Road in the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Business Park.
Detective Snowden said the communications database for Mr. Dias, a Brazilian national, listed four different dates of birth. Police used the date listed in his passport and called him 35 years old.
According to the police report and copies of receipts, Mr. Dias and two other individuals made repeated trips to the Cody and Tobin scrap yard in New Bedford to sell copper wire as scrap metal.
Detective Snowden said the investigation is continuing. He advised anyone who has noticed scrap metal missing from a job site to contact police.
Captured on camera
The police investigation began on October 18 when electrical contractor David Schwab called police to report the theft of some copper wire from outside of his shop. Mr. Schwab provided police with surveillance footage.
“The video surveillance showed the suspect walked through the woods towards the copper pile, grabbed a massive amount of spaghetti type copper wire and then dragged the copper wire through the woods towards the vacant lot leaving copper debris in his path,” Detective Snowden said in his report.
On November 9, Mr. Schwab reported another theft. Once again the suspect wore a hood and used the same path to get to his vehicle parked in the adjoining Cazault Company lot. Police photographed a footprint and identified the shoe print “to be a Nike Shock sneaker,” approximate size 10½;.
On November 12, the suspect loaded the copper wire into a barrel and walked it towards the Cazault’s lot. “I again located a Nike Shock sneaker foot print in the snow, which was photographed,” Detective Snowden said. Police also reviewed airport video surveillance.
“The video surveillance showed, in the time frame, a white caravan driving slowly past Schwab’s shop towards the Mobile station. When the vehicle got to the Mobile station, it turned around and went directly back towards Schwab’s shop, where it stopped, shut off its lights and backed into Cazault’s vacant building lot; the same lot where I located debris of copper wire from the previous thefts. The vehicle remained there for the duration of the theft.”
In real time
In response to the theft, Mr. Schwab upgraded his surveillance cameras and software so that Edgartown Police and Schwab employees could monitor the copper pile through a live video feed using a computer or mobile device. Detective Snowden was able to monitor the lot at any time of the day or night.
At 4 am on the Friday morning after Thanksgiving the thief struck again. “The suspect filled barrel after barrel, stuffing it with copper wire; it lasted about an hour,” Mr. Snowden said. “As the suspect filled one barrel, he would walk it towards Cazaults lot and come back with an empty barrel … Due to the upgrade in the surveillance cameras I was able to observe that the suspect was wearing light colored Nike Shock sneakers. I also observed that the suspect had light colored skin, no facial hair, black hair, and a large nose.”
On Sunday December 1, at approximately 7:30 pm, David Schwab, received a call from his son, Jason, who had looked at the live video feed and saw a theft in progress. Edgartown police responded.
Although he was off duty, Detective Snowden joined the search for the thief as police began canvassing the Business Park. Police soon located a white caravan that was an exact match of the same vehicle caught on video.
“The vehicle was unoccupied at this time, but the engine was still warm to the touch,” he wrote in his report. “The back bench seats to the van were folded up, obviously to make more room to place the barrels inside the van. The vehicle’s registration came back to a Jose Dias with an address of 71 Alpine Ave., Oak Bluffs.”
Edgartown and Oak Bluffs police arrived at the address, a duplex. The upstairs tenants told police that a man by the name of Jose lived in the downstairs apartment and he and his wife drove a white caravan.
Edgartown Det./Sgt. Chris Dolby and Mr. Snowden walked around to the back of the house where they found small bits of copper wire that matched that stolen from the scene and two empty trash barrels matching those used to carry the copper wire from the scene, according to the report.
Detective Snowden returned to the station. While there, Sgt. Dolby called and said that Mr. Dias’s wife, Jannete Correa and his seven-year-old daughter had just returned home. Ms. Correa, through translation by the daughter, “informed Sgt. Dolby that Jose had dropped them off at church a while ago and he was supposed to pick them up, but never showed.” Ms. Correa said she had just received a call from Mr. Dias “stating that their vehicle had been stolen. Jannete informed Jose that the vehicle was at the Edgartown Police Station and that he should go there to report it.”
Voice of innocence
At approximately 10 pm, Jose Abreu and his wife arrived at the station. Mr. Abreu told Detective Snowden that he was the cousin of Jose Dias and he wanted to retrieve his vehicle. “Abreu informed me that Jose was in the vehicle, at which point I requested he come into the station to speak with me. When Jose entered the station, he was wearing a gray hooded sweatshirt, jeans, and sneakers.”
Meanwhile, Sgt. Dolby called Mr. Snowden to report on his conversation with the wife and daughter after they invited him into the apartment. “While in the apartment he observed a pair of Nike Shocks sticking out of the closet,” detective Snowden said. “Due to a strong language barrier, the daughter was translating for her mother. Sgt. Dolby stated that the daughter was very bright and well-spoken for a seven-year-old. Eventually Jannete began getting worried and continued asking Sgt. Dolby what was going on, due to translation through the daughter Sgt. Dolby delayed as long as he could. Eventually Sgt. Dolby told Jannete that her husband has been taking wire that does not belong to him and that we just located his vehicle in an area where the wire had been taken. At this point the daughter stated, ‘My daddy takes barrels of wire off Island all the time.’”
Police notified Mr. Dias of his Miranda Rights in Portuguese and in English. He denied having anything to do with stealing copper wire, according to the report. “Jose informed me he had dropped his wife and daughter off at church and then returned home to take a shower. When he got out of the shower he realized that his vehicle had been stolen. Jose did admit to me that he had been off Island to sell copper and other types of scrap, but he had not done so for over a month.”
Police arrested Jose Dias Sunday night and transported him to the Dukes County Jail. On Monday, December 2, he was released on $700 bail. He was arraigned December 5 in Edgartown district court. That next day, Friday, police arrested Mr. Dias for driving without a license, Mr. Snowden said.
Police follow up
On December 2, Detective Snowden contacted the yard manager at Cody and Tobin in New Bedford. The yard secretary said she recognized the description of Mr. Dias and told police he had been there frequently over the past few months and was always accompanied by two other men, Nelson Rodrigues and Ricardo Pereira. Yard procedure was to make a copy of the seller’s identification.
The yard secretary provided police with two receipt slips dated November 16 and November 30 that included copies of Mr. Dias’s Brazilian passport and the amount of wire copper he sold, according to the police report. She also provided receipts for an October 12 transaction with Mr. Pereira and receipts for purchases on Nov. 1 and Nov. 18 with Mr. Rodrigues. In each case the men provided Washington state driver’s licenses.
Police are continuing to investigate their involvement.
Detective Snowden said the investigation was time-consuming but worthwhile. He said Mr. Schwab takes pride in his copper pile and allows his employees to sell the scrap to make some additional money, so the real losers were the employees. “He’s a good guy and helps out the community quite a bit,” Detective Snowden said. “He helps out his workers this way.”
Mr. Schwab had equal praise for the police. “They were relentless,” he told The Times in a telephone conversation Tuesday. “I can’t say enough about the Edgartown Police.”