Four suspects indicted after RUPD investigation into eight on-campus burglaries
The Rice University Police Department voted not to unionize May 17.
A grand jury indicted four male suspects for their alleged involvement in a rash of on-campus burglaries last year which totaled $20,534 in damages, according to Rice University Police Department Chief of Police James Tate.
The four suspects, now awaiting trial after last Monday’s indictment, could face felony charges and up to $10,000 in fines if found guilty of the charges brought against them by RUPD. A resolution of the case would also account for all reported on-campus burglaries in 2018, according to RUPD Lieutenant of Investigations Derrick McClinton.
Tate said indictment is rare for cases of burglary due to lack of video and eyewitness evidence. In 2018, 10.6 percent of burglary cases in the West South Central region of the United States led to an arrest or were cleared through exceptional means.
Around November 2018, reports of burglaries within residential colleges began emerging on colleges’ Facebook pages. Krithi Pachipala, a Will Rice College sophomore, reported that she ran into the suspects leaving her room. After confronting them, Pachipala said she realized they weren’t from Rice.
“When I realize they were probably trying to steal my laptop, I was super angry and asked them to empty their pockets and tell me why they were here,” Pachipala said. “I also asked what college they were from and they said Rice, giving away they didn’t even go here.”
The eight burglary incidents, which all occurred between Nov. 13 and Dec. 8, resulted in $20,534 in total damages, according to Tate. Five of the burglaries occurred at Will Rice, two at Wiess College and one at McMurtry College. In total, twelve laptops, two phones and an iPad were stolen, but three laptops were recovered in the investigation, according to McClinton. The suspects allegedly also committed a burglary at the University of Houston in December, according to University of Houston Police Department Captain Bret Collier..
McClinton said that the suspects would enter dorms after students swiped into them and would search for unsecured, unlocked doors.
“There's a culture where students feel safe when they're inside, but again, if [the suspects] follow someone in through an exterior door, then they have access to all the floors,” McClinton said. “These guys look young, [like] college-aged students, so you're not going to be suspicious [and will] hold the door open for [them].”
One of the laptop burglaries occurred in a student’s room while that student was sleeping, according to McClinton.
“In a perfect world, we'd get everyone's property back,” McClinton said. “I'm just glad that no one got hurt in this process.”
The burglaries were also accompanied by concerns of racial profiling after a student and another student’s boyfriend were erroneously stopped by or reported to RUPD after thefts at McMurtry and Wiess, respectively.
McClinton said that the proximity of Will Rice and Wiess to Entrance 3 likely made them easier targets for burglary.
“They probably came in through Entrance 3 and parked close to campus, assuming from the vicinity of the colleges they hit,” McClinton said. “They’d just get on campus and walk around and try to follow students into the colleges and then go looking for unsecured doors.”
The yearlong investigation was spearheaded by McClinton, who said that by tracking the GPS locator of a stolen laptop, he was able to pinpoint a local repair shop that was in the process of wiping the laptop. From there, McClinton tracked down the laptop seller who visited the repair shop, who then gave him the contact of the first suspect, a 21-year-old male responsible for pawning the stolen laptops for cash to the seller.
McClinton said the first suspect initially identified two of the three other suspects, a 23-year-old male and a 25-year-old male, from photographs taken by on-campus security cameras and later identified the third, a 20-year-old male, in a joint interview with the University of Houston Police Department.
McClinton said that video evidence from some of the robberies showed the suspects operating separately and together. Coupled with Pachipala’s eyewitness evidence, the video evidence led to their eventual arrests, according to McClinton.
“The district attorney’s office likes video — they like any kind of proof that you have to substantiate a case, so having the video was real important,” McClinton said.
Tate said that increased vigilance around locking doors and awareness while swiping into buildings helped reduce burglary cases this year.
“I would like to thank the dean of undergraduates, her whole team, all the magisters — I thought they did a great job in getting the word out at that time to remind everyone to secure [their] doors [and] property,” Tate said.
Editor’s Note: We have chosen to not use the suspects’ full names, as they have not been found guilty in a court of law as of publication.
[12/11/2019 4:51 p.m. This article has been updated with Collier’s confirmation of the UH robbery.
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