Melvin Tyrone Young.

Nov. 2, 2009

By Jacob Quinn Sanders
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Melvin Tyrone Young has a thing for cars.

Sometimes he steals them. He’s pleaded guilty to that. Usually he just steals things from them: credit cards, an athletic jersey, spare change — whatever he can grab quickly. He’s pleaded guilty to that, too. Within the Little Rock Police Department, Young, 34, earned a reputation over the past decade as a prolific thief. He told an officer who arrested him in 2004 that he made $3,000 a week breaking into cars. According to officer Donna Lesher’s report, Young called himself the “big Kahuna.”

Little Rock police considered Young enough of a problem they made him the first person sent to jail in Faulkner County when the department began paying to rent beds there because overcrowding in the Pulaski County jail meant no room for most nonviolent prisoners.

That was two years ago. In the time since, Little Rock police have sent 1,123 prisoners to the Faulkner County jail, paying close to a half-million dollars for the privilege.

Young pleaded guilty to the theft and burglary charges that first took him there, was sentenced as a habitual offender to 10 years in prison and released on parole in July after less than two. He came back to Little Rock.

Now he sits again in a cell in the Faulkner County jail, arrested Oct. 23 after police said they found his fingerprints on a red 2004 Chevrolet Z-71 truck that had the rear passenger window broken out about two weeks after Young left prison. CDs and a DVD player were missing from the truck. Young has pleaded innocent.

“I get the feeling he’s been busier than that since he got out,” Little Rock police auto-theft task force detective Cristina Plummer said. “He seemed really surprised that that’s all we charged him with.”

A MOTHER’S STORY

Young’s mother, Christine Scott, almost gave up on her son the last time police arrested him. No one has called the police about Young more times than his mother — at least 15 times that were documented, usually to say he’d taken her car without permission.

A registered nurse who works at the State Hospital and who used to volunteer treating drug addicts in the Pulaski County jail, Scott, 52, could not remember the last time Young was at home on a holiday.

He was always in jail.

“Tyrone’s problem is not theft,” she said. “Tyrone’s problem is drugs.”

For years, Young smoked crack. One judge sentenced him to a rehabilitation program at Gyst House in Little Rock — “Gyst” is an acronym for “Get your s*** together” — but Scott said it was no help.

Most recently, she said, Young’s drug of choice was powder cocaine.

Scott said she told herself after police arrested her son in 2007 that she needed to leave his fate to God and stop dealing with him.

“But there I was, putting $30 in his account every two weeks when he was in prison,” she said.

When he came home on parole in July, Scott said, she hoped her son had changed. She hoped she might get the son back who had ironed his clothes since age 6, when she taught him how, sometimes dressing better than his teachers at school. She missed the clean-cut son who was working to become a chef, taking multiple jobs at places such as Scotty’s and Red Lobster.

No such luck.

“I bought him a computer,” she said. “He said he wanted to go back to school. But he sold that computer. Then he stole my TV. He also took a $380 digital camera I had. Tyrone didn’t change.”

Raising her only child as a single mother, Scott said she tried to teach Young to value education and work. And she thought she was getting through to him.

“He always looked after me,” she said. “He even taught me how to drive.”

Then Young got a custodial job at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. He was 21 or 22, his mother said. He moved out of their modest but comfortable brick-faced house in southwest Little Rock and into an apartment near the school’s campus. He made new friends in his new neighborhood.

“They taught him some things,” Scott said. “They introduced him to drugs and taught him how to steal. The police never knew his name before Tyrone met those new friends.”

FIRST ARRESTS

Little Rock police records show officers first arrested Young in 1998, when he was 23, on the misdemeanor charge of obstructing governmental operations. He pleaded guilty and paid a fine, the first of 17 convictions on his record.

The next year he found himself charged with two counts of forgery in June and unauthorized use of a vehicle and third-degree domestic battery — for hitting Scott when she wouldn’t give him a cigarette — two months later. He pleaded guilty again and again. And judges sentenced him to probation again and again, never giving him actual time in jail beyond time served awaiting trial.

And as time passed, Young didn’t stop. He also began getting arrested more frequently.

Little Rock police arrested him five times in 2004 alone on 32 separate charges, police and court records show, which ranged from failure to appear for a court hearing to theft of property and theft by receiving. Prosecutors dropped some of the counts and Young pleaded guilty to the rest, still netting only probation and fines.

Police reports describing his arrests almost invariably say police found him with a backpack, screwdrivers and perhaps an all-purpose tool.

When Young was arrested, his explanations of the situation could be a little thin.

Found getting out of the driver’s seat of a stolen 2004 Chevrolet Tahoe near Interstate 30 and Roosevelt Road on Oct. 23, 2005, to unload clothes from the SUV into a car parked alongside, Young tried to tell officer Christopher Johannes he owned the Chevy, according to a police report.

“I didn’t steal that car,” Young said in the report. “I bought it from a crackhead.”

The Tahoe’s true owner identified the SUV, according to the report. Police arrested Young, who at the time had two active warrants in Little Rock for his arrest, each for stealing items from cars.

As he usually did, Young struck a deal. He pleaded guilty to two counts of theft of property and one count of theft by receiving.

This one, however, came with incarceration. The court sentenced Young in December 2005 to 10 years in prison, with eight years of the sentence suspended. Young was released on parole July 9, 2007.

BACK TO JAIL

Less than three months after being granted parole in 2007, Young was in jail in Faulkner County after Little Rock police found him breaking into a car in the River Market district.

Young was the first prisoner Little Rock police sent to Faulkner County. Six months earlier, in April 2007, North Little Rock became the first Pulaski County city to send prisoners there. Each city pays Faulkner County $30 a day per prisoner in addition to the $2 million the cities pay to use the Pulaski County jail.

Through June 2009, the most recent number available, North Little Rock and Little Rock had sent a nearly identical number of prisoners there. But through September, North Little Rock had outspent Little Rock by almost $200,000 — $653,000 for North Little Rock, $468,000 for Little Rock — in part because its prisoners tended to stay longer.

Most of the prisoners sent face charges such as burglary, theft by receiving, breaking or entering. Police tend not to send people they arrest for the first time, only those they believe will commit more and more crimes based on their histories, like Young.

“It’s been a fantastic program for us,” said Little Rock police officer Tom Tullos, the department’s court liaison who helps manage the program.

He said the department cannot show the program’s impact on crime statistics.

“I wouldn’t know how to begin to do that,” he said.

But the impact on officer morale, Tullos said, is profound.

“It used to be that an officer knew his suspect would be back on the street before the end of his shift,” Tullos said. “That’s deflating. In the two years we’ve been doing this, officers in certain situations have a tool they can use to make sure the people that really need to be in a jail stay there as long as possible.”

Citing the lack of progress with efforts to open significantly more prisoner beds in the Pulaski County jail, both departments plan to continue the program indefinitely.

‘BEST PLACE FOR HIM’

Scott said she’s happy there is a place in jail for her son.

“It’s the best place for him, other than maybe the military,” she said.

When Young is in jail, she doesn’t worry about him overdosing or picking the wrong fight and ending up dead.

She feels at peace with her son locked up, she said.

“I was Tyrone’s safety net,” she said. “I’m not going to be his safety net any more.”

Young has been calling from jail, she said. “I haven’t taken any of his calls,” his mother said.

Like she told herself two years ago, Scott said she has no desire to see or speak to Young unless he can prove that he has changed. There is too much pain, too much wasted effort, in trying to get him to be a different man, she said.

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Comments
  1. […] thought this might be the right time. It was. The story ran on the front page, the only staff story there that […]

  2. […] is a guy I’ve wanted to write about for a while. Nothing quite as dramatic as what happened with this story, but still. A SWAT sniper who lost his shooting hand during a demonstration for Boy Scouts when a […]

  3. Francesca Sanders says:

    The cycle of this kind of stuff needs to get reported. Good job.

  4. Unadulterated words, some truthful words dude. You rocked my day!

  5. your writing skills suck, your sentence structure,……your unnecessary content.

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