Throwback Thursday: Burglary suspects tip off police with accidental 911 'butt-dial'

Jeff Bobo • Mar 16, 2017 at 11:47 AM


(The names have been changed to protect the guilty.)

ROGERSVILLE (April 4, 2005) — It wasn't psychic powers or intuition that had Hawkins County deputies waiting at the scene of a burglary before it happened early Friday morning at a Rogersville mobile home dealership.

It was a phone call from the would-be burglars themselves that tipped law enforcement to their criminal intentions, albeit accidentally.

Shortly before 3 a.m. Friday, one of the alleged burglars accidentally called 911 on the cell phone in his pocket while he and his accomplice were allegedly talking over plans for the morning heist.

Unbeknownst to the alleged burglars, Hawkins County 911 dispatchers overheard the entire scheme as it played out during a 40-minute conversation, and relayed the plans to deputies as they unfolded.

Hawkins County Sheriff's Department Deputies Mike Allen and Tony Allen were hiding in the woods near the Clayton Home mobile home dealership at 5218 Highway 11-W in Rogersville while Deputies Chad Gillenwater and Stacy Vaughan were out of sight nearby in their patrol cars.

About 3:30 a.m., (29-year-old Jason of Church Hill, and (38-year-old James of Church Hll), arrived at the dealership while deputies were watching.

The suspects allegedly entered one of the mobile homes on the lot, took out a refrigerator and set it on the ground outside. They then started to walk out of the dealership - investigators believe to wait for a pickup driven by an unknown accomplice to arrive and carry off the stolen refrigerator.

Instead of their accomplice arriving, however, the deputies descended on the scene in patrol cars and on foot. Although both men attempted to run, deputies eventually arrested one hiding in a nearby creek and another hiding in a thicket.

HCSD Detective Eve Jackson charged both men with burglary and theft over $500. She said Monday she was expecting the transcript from Benton and Arnold's conversation - all recorded by 911 Central Dispatch - to be available sometime this week.

Hopefully between that recording and the cell phone's recall memory, investigators will learn the identity of one or two possible accomplices.

"We found the cell phone in the creek, which we believe belongs to (Jason), and it's the kind with the numbers exposed," Jackson said. "Apparently with this type of phone if you hold down the number nine it automatically dials 911. So (James’) phone was in his front jeans pocket, and somehow the number nine got pressed, and Central Dispatch heard everything they said.”                                                   

She added, "I can't say exactly what's on the transcript because we haven't gotten it yet, but it was like a 40-minute conversation where Central clearly heard them planning the burglary. (Dispatchers) said they even heard one of them say, ‘When that cop moves we'll go in.' "

Jackson said both suspects had been dropped off at the crime scene by one individual who may or may not have known about the burglary plans, and according to their conversation overheard by dispatchers, another individual was coming in a pickup.

Based on the suspects' conversation, Jackson said she believes the burglary was related to a drug transaction supposedly being committed by the individual who (James) and (Jason) were waiting for. Jackson said she believes the alleged burglary was more like a side venture for (James) and (Jason), but the stolen refrigerator was going to be used in the drug transaction, probably for trade.

"So they came running out (of the mobile home dealership) to meet the person who was there to pick up the refrigerator, and instead it's the police," Jackson said. "You can imagine their surprise."

The refrigerator was valued at $800, but dealership personnel reported the damage caused during the burglary exceeded $1,000. Both men were arraigned Monday in Hawkins County Sessions Court.

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