Police arrested a Modesto man — a former Oakdale Public Works employee — accused of stealing SWAT gear and equipment from a storage locker housed within the Oakdale Police Department, igniting a fire storm of questions and concerns in regards to the procedures followed for evidence and equipment lock up.
How did 34-year-old Yuri Pearson have access to the body armor, load-bearing vest, firearms, shields, long batons, and gas canisters, to name a few of the items found in Pearson’s Modesto home?
Were the items improperly stored or was the access to them readily accessible to anyone who happened to know where they were stored?
Oakdale Police Chief Marty West answers these questions with a succinct, “No” and “No.”
West explained how it all came about, saying there were at least three gas canisters that were set to be disposed of as they had expired but they were locked inside Locker 13 with the intention of using them at the range for training purposes.
But when the remodel started, the cabinets as well as the wall where the cabinets were hung, were torn out and placed in the old Bianchi Room for storage.
The large room became a catch-all for anything that didn’t have an immediate spot during the remodel.
Due to tough times money was tight, West said.
“The things that the contractor wouldn’t do because it wasn’t put on the original bid, the Public Works Department filled in. And those guys did a really great job.”
Pearson was among the five different Public Works employees tapped to help with the remodel.
“We had stuff all over the place. It was a mess,” West admitted. “But the locker was locked and Yuri would’ve had to bust the lock to get access to the items.”
West surmised that since Pearson had sanctioned access to the construction zone, it wouldn’t have raised eyebrows for him to haul off materials.
“With all the noise and banging going, he could’ve broke the lock off and no one would’ve noticed,” West said.
West and Officer Danny Taylor were the first to puzzle over the missing materials even before Pearson was arrested, noting that a load bearing vest with plain identifying markings, hadn’t been where it should be.
“But the file cabinets were all over the place,” West said. “It was hard to find anything for awhile.”
Yet, with everything going on, the true depth of the theft hadn’t been discovered until Modesto Police had discovered the items in Pearson’s house during a search. At that time, officers found 18 firearms, many of them loaded and accessible to Pearson’s young children, as well as the OPD property.
The irony, West noted, was that the department had expressed concern over the number of subcontractors having access to the station. To mitigate that concern, the department had ID cards made for each of the subcontractors hired for the remodel work.
“We didn’t expect that a city employee would be the one we’d have to worry about,” West said.
Since the discovery of the theft, West said the department has initiated an internal audit of inventory to ensure that all city property within the station has been accounted for.
“We’re going to go through and check everything to the best of our ability,” West shared. “So far nothing else seems to be missing.”
West also wanted to stress that the evidence room is routinely audited and the security of that area was not compromised.
“It’s really a credit to our officers. They’re very sensitive about who they let into the department. Basically, Yuri broke into a locked locker and decided to see what was in it. It’s disappointing but we’re comfortable in knowing things were locked up properly.”
Pearson turned himself in to authorities and was booked at Stanislaus County Jail; further court action is pending.