A string of early morning newspaper thefts in downtown Charleston may have ended Sunday after a police stakeout and a bait newspaper led to an arrest.
The thefts, which date to the fall of 2018, captured lots of attention in the Radcliffeborough neighborhood because Smith Street homeowner Carole Buchanan has been posting surveillance camera videos of her Post and Courier and Wall Street Journal being stolen.
“They took it seriously, even though it was just a minor crime," she said Monday. "I appreciate that."
Recently, a thief was seen on the videos using a stick, and later an umbrella, to fish newspapers out from behind Buchanan's locked metal gate.
According to the Charleston Police Department, Sgt. Michael Niblock was parked on the corner of Smith Street before 6 a.m. Sunday, watching, when a man came walking down Smith Street carrying a 5-foot aluminum pole and a backpack.
When he stuck the pole through Buchanan's gate, the trap was sprung.
Robert Dwayne Sutton, 61, of Coming Street was arrested and initially charged with petit larceny, a misdemeanor. The charge was later enhanced, police said, due to prior convictions for shoplifting.
State law calls for certain property crimes to be upgraded to felonies after three or more convictions.
Newspaper distributor John Brown was at the scene and witnessed what happened.
"He stuck the stick inside the gate, and that’s when the officer rolled up," Brown said. "I drove up and they were putting handcuffs on him."
Distributor Mitzi Brown, John's wife, said thieves may start with newspapers — typically, reselling them for cash — but can progress to stealing packages, plants, bicycles and other things.
"We're just tired of it," she said.
John Brown said he's had to deal with persistent newspaper thievery before.
“I’ve staked out lots of houses, but I’m 66 with a bad knee, so they outrun me," he said.