Video, social media lead to arrest in SPARC theft

  • A still from a security camera shows a thief taking items from the South Peninsula Athletics and Recreation Complex about 1:30 a.m. Jan. 6. Homer Police allege that Johnney Boy Newman, 25, is the thief shown in this image.

Live security video and social media last week led to the arrest of a man suspected to have stolen from the South Peninsula Athletic and Recreation Center, the 12,000-square-foot indoor multi-use sports facility under construction near Homer Middle School.

On Jan. 6, Homer Police charged Johnney Boy Newman, 25, with one count of second-degree burglary for entering the SPARC unlawfully with intent to commit a crime. The case remains under investigation, said Homer Police Chief Mark Robl.

Police caught Newman after security video showing a man with a distinctive backpack enter the SPARC was circulated on Facebook and someone at the Homer Public Library saw Newman sitting at a computer with a similar backpack near him. Officer Larry Baxter took Newman into custody without incident. Newman remains at Wildwood Pretrial Facility in Kenai.

“In some ways he gave us a gift because we got a heck of a lot more serious about security,” SPARC organizer Daniel Zatz said about Newman.

Last week, Zatz and other SPARC volunteers realized items had gone missing from the construction site, including Makita tools and $400 construction lights. Zatz set up a security camera that also would send him an alert on his smartphone when someone triggered the camera after working hours. SpitWSpot donated Internet bandwidth for the security system.

About 1:30 a.m. Friday, Zatz got a notice. In real time, he watched a man wearing a bulky backpack enter the building and rummage through construction supplies and tools.

“I logged in and there was this fellow walking around inside,” Zatz said. “I called the police and they rushed over there. Unfortunately, he slipped out.”

About 3 a.m., Zatz put up a notice on the SPARC Facebook page with the video.

 

It shows a man in a ball cap and headlamp wearing a bulky backpack enter the SPARC. Strapped to his bag is a rolled up bedroll. The man looks around in piles of tools and construction material.

“He was seen in the video putting stuff in his pockets, but we’re not exactly sure what,” said Homer Police Chief Mark Robl said of the thief. “(Newman) claims he emptied his pockets before he left the building because he realized that was a bad thing to do.”

After posting the video on Facebook, Zatz said he quite a few people contacted him directly and said they knew the person in the video.

“We had his name from a lot of corners in town,” Zatz said.

At his arraignment on Saturday, Newman told the court he didn’t have an address or phone number. Newman graduated from Homer Flex School in 2010, and his criminal history dates back to that year. Robl said police believe Newman is homeless.

In a criminal complaint, Baxter said police got a call from the library about 11 a.m. Jan. 6 that the man with the distinctive backpack was there. Baxter said he recognized Newman from previous contacts. Baxter showed Newman a screen shot from the video and asked him to explain it. Newman told Baxter he had gone into the building looking for things to steal, but put them back and didn’t steal anything, Baxter wrote.

Robl said police found items suspected not to belong to Newman in his pack. Police also found drug paraphernalia such as syringes associated with heroin use, Robl said. Police suspect Newman of alcohol and drug abuse, Robl said.

According to online court records, Newman has three previous criminal charges. He pleaded guilty to a 2010 charge of fifth-degree misconduct involving a controlled substance and received a suspended imposition of sentence, meaning the charge would be dismissed if Newman did community work service and fulfilled other conditions. In 2013 the court dismissed the charge.

In July 2016, police charged Newman with fourth-degree theft. He pleaded guilty and received 10 days in jail with five days suspended. In September 2016 police charged him with third-degree theft, and he pleaded guilty and received 15 days in jail with 15 days suspended. Newman has been on probation since those convictions.

In his Facebook post about the theft, Zatz called the incident “a hiccup.” He put a positive spin on the theft.

“Number one, we can think of this as he did us a favor to get our security in place, and number two, we should all be incredibly lucky we have this space that has gone up that has this problem,” Zatz said.

The frame and fabric of the SPARC building went up before Christmas last year. Construction will start soon on an entry area, office and restrooms. A sand floor will be laid down and lights installed, and by mid-February the SPARC should be ready for use such as beach volleyball.

“Some people want to have luaus,” Zatz said.

Fund raising also will continue to purchase and install a rubberized floor so the SPARC can be used for soccer, pickleball and other sports. The Soccer Association of Homer spearheaded construction of SPARC. Zatz said they need to raise another $140,000 to complete the project. People wanting to donate or volunteer on the project can contact Zatz at 907-201-1766 or visit sparchomer.org.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.

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