Bike thief sting goes viral on YouTube
Fri, 17 Aug 2012 12:11p.m.
By Gene Johnson
Jake Gillum loves his bike. So when it got stolen in Portland, Oregon, while he was on a date, he was determined to get it back.
The quest seemed hopeless, but a week of poring over online postings for his 2009 carbon fibre Fuji paid off when he spotted the road bike offered for sale in Seattle. That sparked an elaborate interstate sting operation last weekend in which Gillum not only got his bicycle back but used it to chase down the suspect before police arrested him.
Gillum documented it all on YouTube with the username Simon Jackson.
Story continues below the video.
"This is why you don't steal from bicyclists!" Gillum shouts as he trails the suspect while recording with his phone. "Because we care about our rides! Because I will go 160 miles to get my US$2,500 bike back! You are going to jail!"
In an interview Thursday, the 28-year-old added: "Best feeling in the world, seeing that guy get locked in the police car."
The success of the sting heartened bicyclists around the world as the video spread. Such stings are far from unheard of - there have been at least four in Seattle alone recently, two involving the same suspect - but they don't typically wind up on video that goes viral.
In May, Dave O'Hern got one of his two stolen bikes back when its new owner took it to a repair shop that recognised a crack in the frame. The new owner, University of Washington law student Noel Merfeld, helped O'Hern set up a sting to catch the guy Merfeld bought it from. Police showed up and arrested a man who had been arrested in a similar bust two months earlier.
Also in Seattle, Matt Goyer retrieved his stolen bicycle last month after seeing it on Craigslist. The seller let him take it for a test spin - and Goyer never looked back.
"People have a right to reclaim their stolen property. It belongs to them," said Seattle police spokesman Sean Whitcomb. "Obviously, the first and best method to do that is through the police."
Gillum's ordeal began August 3 in Portland when he realised his bike was missing and filed a police report. He has no car and uses it to travel to odd jobs and yard work around town, as well as for exercise. Over the next week, he checked online obsessively and on August 9 saw it advertised in Seattle.
"I flipped out - just started jumping in the air and yelling," Gillum said. "Immediately I thought, `I have to go up there and get it, no matter what.'"
He talked it over with friends, as well as his dad, who gave him some sage advice: Don't be an idiot. Don't beat up the guy.
A plot began to take shape.
Gillum and two friends, Chris Williams and Williams' younger brother, Shannon Hardie, created the online persona Simon Jackson with a fake email account. They also used a cellphone app to call the seller and make it appear they were calling from Seattle. When the seller sent photos of the bike, Gillum became even more certain it was his.
The trio drove north and met the seller outside a grocery store. The others called police as Gillum started chatting with the seller, later identified as Craig Eric Ackerman, also of Portland.
Gillum said that about 40 minutes later, police still hadn't arrived and the seller seemed to be getting nervous, so Gillum agreed to buy it and said he needed to walk inside a nearby bank. A teller told him she would call security, and Gillum walked back outside and began filming.
"Here's the deal. I live in Portland, and you stole my bicycle," Gillum says.
"All right," the nervous seller replies. "I don't know what you want me to say."
"I would like you to apologise."
"For stealing my bicycle."
The seller insisted he lives in Seattle and bought the bicycle off Craigslist, though he acknowledged knowing it was stolen. When Gillum says police are on the way, Ackerman runs away, so Gillum hops on his newly recovered bike, starts chasing and repeats: "He cannot get away from me!"
Police arrived and arrested Ackerman for investigation of possessing and trafficking in stolen property. He has not been charged, and his lawyer, Holli Giffin, declined to comment because of the pending investigation, except to say, "We have a lot of concerns about the way things have been portrayed."
Whitcomb, the police spokesman, cautioned people against using stings unless they're absolutely sure they're right, which can be difficult using a picture on an internet message board.
"Personal injury is not worth your bike," he said.
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