With the battering of floodwaters earlier this month came a vulnerability for those occupied with clean-up efforts, those who were often without a secure roof and walls protecting their possessions. The door was wide open for thieves.
Even before the sunshine returned on Monday, May 3, looting was a concern. But while Metro police arrested at least nine on theft charges related to the flood, the worst never materialized.
Early reports of looting at the Farmers’ Market turned out to be vendors rushing to salvage their stock. Across Rosa Parks Boulevard from the Farmers’ Market, it wasn’t so much that merchandise was lifted from the store but that it had floated out.
As it turns out, unlike the major problem with looting and crime that followed Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Nashville citizens have appeared to weather our storm much like Midwesterners did as floodwaters pushed through Iowa and surrounding states in June 2008. Following that flood, police reported little in the way of flood-related crime.
Still, some in Nashville allegedly tried to “shop” other people’s possessions while they were left out to dry or while owners weren’t around.
Police made most of their flood-related thefts on May 7, when they nabbed Ronald Anderson and Joe Bolling, both 44, as they drove around Bellevue’s River Plantation subdivision in a pickup truck with various appliances that didn’t belong to them.
Later a Bellevue resident on General George Patton Road was working outside on his house when he told police he saw three men loading up the victim’s Craftsman lawnmower into a pickup truck and taking a black toolbox with more than $1,000 worth of tools in it.
Police arrested the men, identified as Jairo Armin Guzman, 23, Dermes Burdales Acosta, 29, and Eliazar Garcia, 37, on charges of theft.
On May 13, officers responded to Waterford Drive near the Cumberland River by Old Hickory Golf Club, following up on a report that two people posed as solicitors and approached flood victims with false paperwork. They had apparently also driven off with a police officer’s personal belongings.
According to an arrest warrant, when officers stopped the suspects’ Chevrolet Blazer, they found items “that were observed in the front yard of Sgt. Jason Pierpoint.”
The responding officers then went to Pierpoint’s home and called for him to do the same. The sergeant identified the items as those taken out of his yard and not ready for disposal — he hadn’t yet decided on what to keep and toss. Pierpoint told the officers he hadn’t given a man named John Christopher Cherry or a woman named Kimberly Michelle Bateman permission to be on his property, much less take his stuff.
Cherry, 37, told police he had a letter written by the owner of the items. When an officer called the number on Cherry’s letter, the female voice on the other line said she hadn’t written such a letter and owned no such items.
In Judge John Aaron Holt’s courtroom on Wednesday, Cherry pleaded no contest, Holt handed him 11 months and 29 days, and Pierpoint declined to comment on the incident.
At press time, the others arrested hadn’t yet gone before a judge.
With only nine arrests for what police considered flood-related thefts, Metro Nashville Police Department spokeswoman Kris Mumford said crime connected to the flood was really quite low. Mumford attributed the low rate to officers — as well as helicopters in the days immediately following the flood — patrolling flood-damaged areas 24 hours a day and citizens being asked to report anything out of the ordinary.
Neighbors have also been quick to call police when they see others walking off with items from their neighbors’ yards, Mumford said. With a consistent police presence in the hardest-hit areas, officers were also able to pick up on who belonged in the area and who didn’t.
On May 10, according to police, Valerie Peterson called to report 39-year-old Timothy Barbee and 57-year-old David Smith had loaded her washer and dryer, as well as stove, into a silver GMC pickup truck and driven off. Police caught up with the two at Sims Metal Management on Linder Industrial Drive, where they tried to sell the items for scrap metal.
Peterson later released her frustration before a WTVF-Channel 5 news camera.
“This is my life. This is everything I own,” she said. “When I see a looter come in here and pick up a box, it still belongs to me until I walk away from it. It still belongs to me.”
The nine arrested in Nashville on flood-related theft charges:
John Cherry, 37, arrested near Old Hickory, charged with theft under $500
Kimberly Bateman, arrested near Old Hickory, charged with theft under $500
Timothy Barbee, 39, arrested in north Nashville, charged with theft over $500
David Smith, 57, arrested in north Nashville, charged with theft over $500
Jairo Guzman, 23, arrested in Bellevue, charged with theft over $1,000
Dermes Acosta, 29, arrested in Bellevue, charged with theft over $1,000
Eliazar Garcia, 37, arrested in Bellevue, charged with theft over $1,000
Ronald Anderson, 44, arrested in Bellevue, charged with theft over $1,000
Joe Bolling, 44, arrested in Bellevue, charged with theft over $500