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Racist graffiti case closed with no resolution
Dec. 15, 2017

BY GABE LICHT
Editor

DELANO, MN – It’s been more than nine months since a home in the 200 block of Second Street Southwest in Delano, where Latanza Douglas lived with her family, was burglarized and marred with racist slurs and symbols.

The Wright County Sheriff’s Office spent about eight months investigating the crime, completed the investigation with no resolution Nov. 14, and submitted the case to the Wright County Attorney’s Office Nov. 27 for review. Following that review, which did not generate any charges, the Delano Herald Journal obtained redacted reports, totaling 29 pages, related to the investigation.

Wright County Sheriff Joe Hagerty and Chief Deputy Todd Hoffman declined an invitation for an interview regarding the case.

“At this point, we are not doing any interviews,” Hoffman said.

Though the investigation did not lead to charges, Hoffman said he believes it was as complete as it could be.

“The detectives did a thorough investigation on the case,” Hoffman said. “Until we get new leads or information, the case will be closed. If there’s new details, it will be reopened.”

When asked how long similar cases are left open, Hoffman said, “There isn’t an exact science.”

“We wanted this case to come to a conclusion,” Hoffman continued.

Despite local and national news coverage of the crime and the establishment of a dedicated tip line, Hoffman said the sheriff’s office received no substantive leads.

“There were no leads to go on,” Hoffman said. “There was a lot of speculation, but no actual hard tips of any value. There were numerous theories being floated around out there, but nothing to go on.”

The crime was first reported at 7:58 p.m. March 12, and Deputy Eric Larson responded at 8:02 p.m.

Larson reported the garage door was open; items were pushed over throughout the house; spray paint had been used to damage furniture and TVs and write hate messages on the walls; and a note was located on the kitchen stovetop.

Detective Todd Findell, who was assigned to the case, reported the note said, “Get out n----s (swastika) Next time Fire Fire Fire We hate you (swastika) Sleep good n----.” He noted the “g” in the note had a unique long tail that terminated at the end with a loop that crossed the tail, and the same “g” was observed within the graffiti found on the wall of a room.

Deputy Joshua Hinton reported the phrase “n----- get out” was spray-painted on the east and north side of the residence. Attempts to locate the spray paint can were unsuccessful.

In addition to the damage, the reporting party said a laptop computer was missing; as was a tote bag containing about 20 pairs of sunglasses with cases, valued at about $200 each; a Nintendo DS gaming system; and an Xbox gaming system. The reporting party later said four iPods; Bose headphones, valued at $250; and four pairs of Nike Air Jordan shoes were also stolen.

Larson reported a slider door was open less than a half inch and the screen door was lying on the deck, but wrote, “There were no signs of forced entry at the doors. There were no broken or open windows.” There were also no pry marks or damage found on or around the overhead garage door.

Larson located shoeprints in the living and dining room areas that did not belong to anyone in the family. Deputies also searched for shoeprints and tire tracks outside, but reported it was snowing heavily at the time and no prints or tracks were found.

The major crimes investigation unit responded and processed the scene.

Larson’s report stated the reporting party said the entire family had left the house around 6 p.m. and returned around 8 p.m., while Sgt. Scott Halonen’s supporting narrative stated the reporting party told him the family left around 5 p.m.

Cell phone records show one member of the family placed a call at 4:41 p.m. utilizing a cell tower near Long Lake and Wayzata, received a call at 4:47 p.m. utilizing a cell tower near Plymouth, placed a call at 5:16 p.m. utilizing a cell tower located near Brooklyn Park, received a call at 5:30 p.m. utilizing a cell tower located near Fridley, placed a call at 7:01 p.m. utilizing a cell tower located near Brooklyn Park and Plymouth, and placed a call at 7:24 p.m. utilizing a cell tower located near Minnetonka and Wayzata, before utilizing a cell tower near Delano to place a 911 call at 7:58 p.m.

Findell reported that he was told the family picked up two people in Brooklyn Park and went to the Grand Ole Creamery in St. Paul for ice cream. The manager of the store did not recall seeing the family, and the store’s video surveillance was malfunctioning that day.

The reporting party stated that the garage door was closed when the family had left the house, and later told Findell both garage door remotes were accounted for and there was no keyless remote for the garage door. Larson reported seeing the garage door open with no cars in the driveway at 6:25 p.m., with the time confirmed by his squad car camera.

One neighbor reported leaving home around 6 p.m. and returning before 8 p.m. without noticing anything out of the ordinary. Another neighbor reported being inside most of the day, but that someone at his or her residence, who was no longer home, had shoveled the driveway at about 6:30 p.m. Deputy Andrew Lundeen requested that individual to call the sheriff’s office if he had noticed anything. The report does not state whether or not that individual reported anything to authorities.

Later, a juvenile reported seeing the graffiti on the back of the home between 4 and 5 p.m. March 11, and another individual confirmed that account. The report does not state if those individuals said why they had not reported the message to the residents at the home or authorities sooner.

When told about that discovery, a reporting party said, “That’s not possible,” noting that they were at the house all day March 11.

When asked if they had been harassed or threatened recently, a reporting party said they had recently seen a boy wearing a black mask and a girl peeking at them from outside the house, and that one of the children had been called a racist slur at school, which had been addressed by school personnel.

Shoe prints

On the morning of March 13, Halonen returned to the neighborhood to find shoe prints similar to those located in the house. Near a bus stop, similar prints were located and photographed for evidence. Detectives later interviewed a number of juveniles who regularly used that bus stop, and examined the treads of their shoes, but did not find a match or identify any suspects.

Sgt. Jason Kramber also reported that he and Findell spoke with every resident in the neighborhood who had a child on the bus the following morning, and that all allowed them to look at all tennis shoes within the residences.

“We were able to identify three shoes with similar tread patterns, and we were able to eliminate them from the burglary,” Kramber wrote.

Video cameras

Findell reported there were three video cameras in the home that were all unplugged.

Footage of who may have unplugged the cameras was not available, as the reporting party told Findell the cameras were not working properly due to an electrical short.

According to a representative from the electrical contracting company, an electrician visited the home March 17, and did not find any problem with the circuit, but swapped out two breakers as a precaution.

ADT records showed successful tests of the surveillance system March 1 through March 11 at 5:35 a.m. At 9:41 p.m. March 11, the report indicated a low battery.

An ADT representative said it was not possible to confirm what had caused the service outage, but that it appeared to be a power issue. The representative said there is a backup battery that will last only a short period of time.

Records from ADT showed an automated call was placed at 9:13 a.m. March 12 to advise of the loss of power, but the call went to voicemail. The system was reset at 8:26 a.m. March 14.

Evidence?

A cigarette package was found partially buried in snow beneath a patio chair on the deck. The reporting party said nobody from the home smoked, the package was not there before March 12, and nobody from the home had touched it since it had been discovered.

Findell photographed it and placed it into an evidence bag with a gloved hand.

The lab reported an insufficient amount of DNA to continue testing.

Investigators also attempted to locate the Xbox that was stolen by tracking gamer tags that had been used by individuals in the home. Microsoft’s Law Enforcement National Security Team reported it was unable to locate the two gamer tags in their system.

While the spray paint can was not located, investigators attempted to identify individuals who had purchased spray paint at the local hardware store in the previous 30 days.

Findell located one name, which matched a home in the general neighborhood of the complainant’s residence, who had purchased black spray paint Feb. 18. The report does not state if that individual, or anyone in that individual’s home, was interviewed regarding the case.

Family members interviewed

Both adults who lived at the home were interviewed. One reported working for the State of Minnesota, while the other reported working for 18 years with children from multiple counties. That person said people he had worked with would not drive to Delano to target the home.

Juveniles who lived at the home were also questioned.

One said the tread pattern of the shoe prints that was left was similar to the tread from a Vlado brand shoe. That juvenile hadn’t communicated with anybody through cell phone that they would be away from the house March 12.

Another juvenile said the only people they call live near St. Paul’s east side and wouldn’t come all the way to Delano. That juvenile also said there was not any discussion about moving prior to the burglary.

Those juveniles’ cell phone records did not include anything of evidentiary value, according to the report.

A third juvenile said they saw three people in the house upon arriving home, including one in the window wearing a black mask.

An adult later said that juvenile does not tell the truth and should not be believed.

Findell also evaluated handwriting samples from those juveniles and found no similarities to the note left at the residence.

Builder interviewed

Findell interviewed the builder of the home, who was not identified in the report, but was previously identified as Naresh Uppal.

Uppal told Findell he was working to relocate the family to a residence in a different community that he would be selling to Douglas on contract for deed, as he had done for the Delano home, for a price of about $2,700 per month.

Uppal offered a reward of $2,500 to help find the people responsible.

He said he visited the home March 14 and began ordering repairs.

Uppal reported that a GoFundMe page had been established. Findell later reported the campaign was closed after raising $34,825.

When asked if anyone in the home had expressed concern about living in Delano or had mentioned they wanted to move, he said someone in the home was frustrated with traffic and the long commute for work.

Findell reported that Uppal seemed surprised to learn the surveillance cameras were not functioning at the time of the crime.

During a subsequent interview Sept. 8, Uppal reportedly told Findell it cost $120,000 to do the home swap.

“Nobody gave me a dollar,” Uppal reportedly told Findell. “The only thing I got was a pat on the back from Gov. Dayton. If I did anything wrong, don’t you think in six months something would have came up?”

Findell contacted Uppal a third time Sept. 21, and requested that he visit the sheriff’s office with copies of the contract for deed documents for the sale of the Delano home and documentation for the GoFundMe fundraising report.

“I sensed (redacted) was annoyed at my request and was quick to point out it was office staff, not (redacted), who had arranged the GoFundMe campaign,” Findell wrote.

Uppal reportedly requested a meeting at a home building site in Delano, but Findell requested a meeting at the sheriff’s office. Uppal reportedly stated he was with a banker at the moment and was unable to schedule a meeting, so Findell offered to send an email to schedule a meeting. That email went unanswered, as did two other phone calls and a letter.

Attempts to reach the Douglases in October and November were also unsuccessful.

Investigative summary

“Exhaustive follow-up investigation was conducted with no identified suspects,” Findell wrote in his report.

Much of the summary focused on the relationship between Uppal and the Douglases “due to the complexity of that relationship,” which included disputes over the GoFundMe donations.

“Shortly after the incident, (redacted) started a GoFundMe campaign on behalf of (redacted),” Findell wrote. “(Redacted) claimed (redacted) was not informed before the campaign was started. (Redacted)’s understanding from (redacted) was that the proceeds from the campaign would assist with costs associated to the burglary and helping acquire the new residence. After the campaign ended, (redacted) told me that the funds from the GoFundMe campaign were not being used as anticipated and indicated the relationship with (redacted) had soured.”

Limited updates

Throughout the investigation of the case, the sheriff’s office provided limited updates.

During an April 20 address to members of the Delano Area Chamber of Commerce, Hagerty said he was confident his department would solve the case.

He said investigators were exploring a number of possibilities.

“We’re looking at former foster care kids. We’re looking at relationships with everybody in the family,” Hagerty said. “We’re casting a wide net. We’re not looking for a result that we want to find. You don’t just make assumptions that way.”

It was not apparent from reviewing the investigative reports that former foster care kids were interviewed or investigated.

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