Monday, January 11, 2010

Ann Arbor area crime victims turn to craigslist for help solving cases

Jake Brinks wanted someone arrested after he was severely beaten outside an Ann Arbor home in a case of mistaken identity. Amy Downey wanted the thief who grabbed the Christmas gifts off the porch of her Ypsilanti Township home to return them. And Stu Collins wanted to find the puppy stolen from his Ypsilanti Township pet store. They are among dozens of crime victims in Ann Arbor and across Michigan who have recently posted advertisements on the popular Web site seeking help from the public on their cases.
They haven’t had success so far, but the free classified ads have provided more exposure to the unsolved crimes, an outlet to vent frustration and new hope. All three victims turned to craigslist after filing reports with police.
Ads across the state have included descriptions of suspects, names of witnesses, reward information and telephone numbers to call with tips. More than 20 such ads have been posted in the site's community section in the Ann Arbor and metro Detroit areas during the past month. The majority are for stolen pets or property.
“I’m just trying to figure out some way to find out who did it and to get them," said Brinks, whose jaw was broken when three men assaulted him Aug. 15 outside a Main Street home. Brinks, frustrated at the pace of the police investigation, posted an ad detailing the incident, mentioning names of two people he claims instigated the attack.“Hopefully, somebody will stumble across it that has some information from that night that I can pass on to the police department," he said.Ann Arbor police Lt. Mark St. Amour, who heads the department’s detective division, which is investigating Brinks’ case, wasn’t aware of the ad.St. Amour said he generally doesn’t see harm in victims posting ads, especially when a case “goes somewhat cold.”“This is just another venue where people can get the word out on what happened and possibly get a witness to come forward,” St. Amour said.Brinks, who is a project manager for a web development company, has been using craigslist for two years to view employment ads and look for clients.He posted the ad, “Assaulted and need some help…(Ann Arbor)” in the site's community section on Nov. 10.“Hello everyone…..I need some help,” the ad says. “On August 15th 2009 I was brutally assaulted by three males. I ended up in the hospital with my jaw broken in two places…the doctors claim a few more blows to the head could have killed me.”Brinks was attacked about 2 a.m. on a porch, shortly after arriving at a party. His attackers were among a group of men looking to settle a dispute from earlier in the night. Police say the dispute had nothing to do with Brinks.Brinks, who also suffered a cut over his eye that required numerous stitches, has no health insurance and is facing roughly $40,000 in medical bills.“If you have any information that would help to lead to the arrest of the assailants PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE e-mail me,” the ad says. “Let’s not find out what happens to the next victim of this foolishness. We need to put a stop to this ignorance.”Amy Downey, a mother of four young children, posted an ad after Christmas gifts donated through a church group were stolen from her porch. The gifts were valued at $300.Four bags containing clothing, toys and gift certificates were dropped off at her Roxbury Drive home on Christmas Eve while Downey was out of town visiting family.
She was hoping the ad would prompt someone responsible or a witness to come forward.“I thought I could post it and maybe embarrass the people that stole it,” she said. “I called the police and was done with that. I didn’t know what else I could do.”Downey posted her ad “Stolen: Christmas gifts for my family (Ypsi Twp)” in the site's community section on Christmas night."For the person who took it, knowing that the items inside were toys and kids clothes, as well as gift certificates for us to enjoy….shame on you," the ad says. "...My kids have resorted to saying we were visited by the grinch."Downey, who works part-time as a teaching assistant, said she's been using craigslist for a year. She has recently been looking for a place to live because her house is being foreclosed on.Thankfully, she said, other church groups pitched in to make Christmas special for her children.
“It’s been a rough year for us,” she said. “Who is gonna take toys from kids on Christmas Eve?”
Derrick Jackson, director of community engagement for the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Department, which is investigating the theft, said some ads can be helpful.
But Jackson questioned others, including the ad "Searching for a criminal (Redford)" posted in the site's community section in the metro Detroit area Dec. 11.
A victim of a car break-in wrote that someone stole a laptop, camera, GPS unit and other items and left in a light gray work van.
"Offering a reward that will lead me to my laptop or the thief," the ad says. "Police do not need to be involved, I will handle it from there."
Jackson said, "Providing information for citizens to keep themselves safe is one thing, but encouraging citizens to make arrests and get involved could be dangerous."Stu Collins, owner of Pet City Pets on Ecorse Road, posted an ad Oct. 26 - the day three people visited his store and stole a 14-week-old Australian Shepherd.His ad included a description of those involved, details about their car, license plate information and his contact information.“Pup is very friendly but probably scared,” the ad says. “…we hate to think of how such low-lifes would take care of a dog.”Collins has been using craigslist for four years, including to buy and sell cars. It was the second time in less than a year he posted an ad on craigslist for a stolen puppy without success.
He said he's concerned for the welfare of the pup.“Somebody who’s gonna steal a puppy is probably not gonna be a good owner,” he said. “What kind of morals do they have? It’s like stealing a Bible or something."Lee Higgins covers crime and courts for Reach him at (734) 623-2527 or by e-mail at

A few current craigslist ads from across the state:• Searching for a criminal (Redford)
snowmobile stolen (Goodells)
Statue stolen (Flint)
Stolen 1985 GT Mach One custom (Kalamazoo)
Reward For Stolen Burton Dominant - $200 (Boyne Highlands)
Stolen 91 GMC Suburban (Redford/Detroit)
Reward!!!! My 3 Dogs Were Stolen!! (Taylor)
Stolen Christmas Decorations (Fraser: Garfield between 14 & 15 mile)
Stolen truck (Detroit)