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Crime Notes: Citizen's arrest

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A suspected car burglar is in custody after a group of citizens who saw him breaking into cars followed him and detained him until police arrived.

A man at the apartments near 2900 N. Perkins Road had stepped outside for a smoke when he saw Trentin Eli Neely, 20, digging through a car, according to police reports. At first he didn’t think anything of it, the witness told police. When Neely started trying to get into another vehicle, the witness he yelled at Neely and asked him what he was doing. When Neely ran off, the witness got the owner of the car and followed.

They were joined by a group of people who also claimed to have seen Neely breaking into cars.

The witness told police the group confronted Neely near a gas station in the area. When Neely tried to run, they grabbed his backpack, pulled him to the ground and held him there until police arrived.

When Stillwater police officers arrived to the call of a disturbance at the gas station, they found Neely on his stomach with a group of people standing around him. After asking permission to search Neely’s backpack, they found several items stolen from the cars at the apartment complex, a box of syringes and a bottle containing methamphetamine residue. The officers arrested Neely on charges of third degree burglary and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Capt. Kyle Gibbs of the Stillwater Police Department said this kind of activism is extremely rare.

“I cannot remember the last time I heard about this,” Gibbs said.

In Oklahoma, it is legal to make a citizen’s arrest. If you see a person committing a felony or have “reasonable cause” for believe that the person has committed a felony, you can detain that person and turn them over to police. It’s even legal to use reasonable force to detain a suspect if they ignore verbal commands, Gibbs said.

But Gibbs doesn’t encourage it.

“While it was legally okay, tactically it may have been a little bit unsound,” Gibbs said.

Gibbs said it’s impossible to know if a suspect of a crime is armed, or if they are going to become violent when you try to detain them.

“It’s a huge, huge risk when you go to detain a suspect of a crime,” Gibbs said.

Instead, Gibbs encourages people who see a crime being committed to attempt to interrupt the crime – by yelling, perhaps – and then keep an eye on the suspect until the police arrive.

“Nothing in your car is worth risking your life for,” Gibbs said.

In this case, everything worked out perfectly, Gibbs said. He commended the citizens involved, who were, as he said, “neighbors looking out for neighbors.”

Neely had his first court appearance on Feb. 8. Bond was set at $10,000.

news.ed@ocolly.com