Routine call about suspicious car turns into nice surprise for Fullerton PD, CSUF officers

By Greg Hardesty

The parked car looked suspicious.

Two people – a man and a woman — were sitting inside the silver 1998 Honda Civic CRX at Old River Road and Victoria Drive near Cal State Fullerton.

It was shortly before 4 p.m. on Nov. 11.

Det. Emmanuel “Manny” Pulido, part of the Fullerton PD’s Directed Enforcement Team, was working undercover on burglary suppression following a spate of recent residential break-ins in the area.

That’s when Pulido and his partners, Sgt. Tony Bogart and Det. Bryan Bybee, saw the car.

The trio radioed in to have uniformed officers come and question the occupants.

A basic call – as routine as they get.

But the call turned out to be a fruitful arrest for FPD Officer Cary Tong and Corp. Dan Heying, and an even bigger bonanza for their law enforcement brethren who work for the University Police at Cal State Fullerton, a separate agency.

For the past six months, CSF police — whose 27 sworn officers protect a small city of 42,000 students and staff members — had been perplexed by a rash of burglaries of personal property from locked classrooms and offices, primarily inside the College of the Arts and the Department of Kinesiology, part of the College of Health and Human Development, said Capt. Scot Willey of the University Police.

Sgt. Tak Kim is honored with a Walk of Honor at the Fullerton Police Department for his 32 years of service during a retirement gathering.

Officer Cary Tong got creative with his questioning of the subjects, which led to the seizure of property stolen from Cal State Fulleron. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Laptops and iPods.

Video recorders, hard drives, textbooks.

Even volleyball shorts.

The missing items had become a supreme source of frustration to professors and students who had lost countless hours of work stored on their electronic devices.

Some administrators griped and asked what university police were doing to catch the burglars.

University cops beefed up surveillance and put out alerts, but they didn’t have much.

Until Nov. 11.

Tong walked up to the Honda Civic and questioned the occupants.

Aaron Dixon, 40, and Amber Bass, 31, told police they were boyfriend and girlfriend and living out of their car. They said they were homeless, although Bass occasionally told cops she worked as a massage therapist.

Tong noticed there were numerous electronic items in the vehicle, but Dixon refused to let him search his car. Since Dixon was not on parole or probation, he had the right to not submit to a vehicle search.

Tong got creative with his questioning.

He asked about two Apple MacBooks he saw in the car.

Dixon told the officer he owned them and was trying to sell them.

Tong asked Dixon how much he wanted for them, saying he and his wife were on the market for computers.

Dixon offered to sell one MacBook for $700 and the other for $600.

Tong asked Dixon if he could examine the laptops.

Officers from Fullerton PD and La Habra PD work together to help to clear out homeless living in flood-prone flood control channels that are dangerous should the rains come.

Corp. Dan Heying, along with Officer Cary Tong, work on the FDP’s Homeless Liaison Unit. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Dixon obliged.

Ding ding ding.

Big mistake.

Tong ran the serial numbers on the MacBooks and they turned up reported stolen.

He and Heying then arrested Dixon and Bass on being in possession of stolen property.

Pulido, the undercover FPD detective, then responded with Bogart and Bybee to assist Tong and Heying in their stolen-property investigation.

Pulido’s team found more MacBook Pro laptops, iPads and lots of other electronic equipment.

The two MacBook Pros that Tong and Heying discovered had been reported stolen by CSF police.

“We then quickly realized this was more of a Cal State Fullerton Police case,” Pulido said. “The car was completely filled up from the bottom to the top (with items). I don’t know how (Dixon and Bass) were able to sit in the car.”

CSF Det. Sgt. Nigel Williams, Det. Paul McClain and Det. Autumn Hollyfield got involved.

Turns out Dixon and Bass were not strangers to the CSF cops.

A former CSF student, Dixon often had been seen milling around classrooms and told to leave, Willey said. Bass often was with him.

The two suspects told police they owned the two laptops and that the other sizable amount of property in their car had either been purchased by them or been found in trash bins on the campus.

Dixon told police he made money by selling the items on Craigslist.

In an ongoing investigation, CSF police so far have linked the stolen items to at least a dozen victims and have recovered 63 items that belong to CSF or its employees, Willey said.

“A lot of the property has been determined to have been stolen, but we haven’t located all of the victims yet,” he said.

In addition to the stolen items, CSF cops also found in the car state-issued keys belonging to the university — keys the suspects allegedly stole and used to gain entry to locked rooms.

“This was a big deal for us,” Willey said of the bust. “Since (Nov. 11), we haven’t seen any further thefts of this kind. We feel a huge amount of gratitude toward the Fullerton PD.

“These days, (police officers) are being judged for every stop they make. This is a great example of what an investigative stop can lead to.”

Even a “routine” one.