By Steve Holt, Staff Writer
Approximately $3,000-5,000 worth of equipment stolen from the Don Morris Center in early March is still outstanding, but as of May, the alleged burglars had been apprehended, said ACU Police chief Jimmy Ellison.
According to Ellison, one ACU student and another non-student were arrested over the summer for at least four counts of burglary of a building over a 4-5 week period.
“Both of those guys were contacted, brought in, interviewed and confessed,” Ellison said. “Both of those guys were filed on for multiple counts of burglary of a building, and the criminal cases were filed with the Taylor County district attorney. The charges were accepted, and both of those individuals were arrested.”
Dr. Cheryl Bacon, chair of the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, said she was glad neither of the suspects was a student in the department.
“At the same time,” she said, “it’s a tragedy when anyone makes such poor decisions.”
The next step
The case is currently in the court system awaiting the next step in the process, Ellison said; the next step is typically a choice by the defendants to either plead guilty or go to trial.
Brandon Phillips, senior art major from Arlington, and Abilene resident Matthew McBride-no relation to the former ACU student of the same name-are accused of entering the Don Morris Center on Sunday, March 10, as well as at least three additional days, and stealing an estimated $25,000 worth of equipment from the first and third floor offices. Laptop computers, hard drives, expensive camera equipment and cash were among the many items taken from the building, which contains several card and key activated locked doors. Ellison said the suspects gained access into the offices with a stolen master key to the building, which had been missing for two years.
“A lot of times, people don’t take key control as seriously as it needs to be taken,” Ellison said. “We do a good job of key control at ACU, but we certainly could do better at maintaining a tighter system and really expressing to people how critical it is that they maintain that key system.”
The first stealing spree, Ellison said, was the biggest, but several more items were stolen in the following weeks. It was the suspects’ return to the building that eventually led to their identification and arrest, Ellison said. Predicting the suspect or suspects would return to the building after the initial burglary, Ellison and his staff used video and live surveillance to identify the men they believed to be the culprits.
Recovering the goods
In late April, about three-quarters of the stolen property was recovered by ACU Police, but the department continued its search for the remainder of the property into June. Ellison said two Abilene houses believed to contain some of the stolen property were searched in June, and an anonymous tip led to the search of a Midland home. Police were unsuccessful in finding stolen property in any of the searches, Ellison said.
“We turned up a few leads, but they didn’t pan out,” Ellison said.
One of the suspects’ motives for the series of burglaries was to create high-quality videos, Ellison said. Despite several of each item being stolen, Ellison said the crime and cover-up was still believed to have been committed by only the two young men.
“I think it would be fair to say their motive was to come in and steal some things for a particular reason. After they got in and made a successful run one night, greed got the best of them,” Ellison said. “They made their initial hit, got some things they were initially after, then they came back two or three more times. That’s when we were able to catch them.”
Bacon praised the efforts of Ellison and the ACU Police.
“I have no doubt that the only reason we got the equipment back was because they were tenacious in their pursuit of this case,” Bacon said.
Ellison said the JMC incident in the spring can serve as a lesson to other departments.
“Here at ACU, I’ve tried to use this as a springboard to convey to academic departments the importance of making sure their buildings are locked and that their control is tight,” Ellison said. “Our campus police department does a great job of maintaining a safe campus. We have a lot of buildings with a lot of doors, and seven or eight police officers cannot do it alone-we have got to depend on people to lock their buildings and maintain them.”