7 Investigates: Criminal cases at student apartments repeatedly - KLTV.com-Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville, Texas | ETX News

7 Investigates: Criminal cases at student apartments repeatedly closed without arrests

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TYLER, TX (KLTV) - There are some apartment complexes housing East Texas students that are notorious for high crime rates. Tyler Police are called to two complexes, in particular, hundreds of times a year.

Some of those calls result in criminal investigations, but cases are closed without any arrests being made. Police reports from crimes committed at Varsity Place Apartments and Village at the U, formerly Cambridge and recently renamed Eagle's Landing, revealed a common trend.

Tyler Police say they run into all kinds of challenges when investigating cases involving students. They say, sometimes, students give them fake phone numbers, don't show up for meetings or just stop returning calls so their cases are closed.  However, those same students say they're more cooperative than police records show.

Tyler is a college town whether you realize it or not. With students coming and going every couple of years, the southeast side of the city is a revolving door. What those students leave behind -- at the apartments they call home -- are crime stats unrivaled by any other apartment complex in the city.

"I don't really feel safe at night and I work nights, so when I come home...there's like parties going on and I get harassed if I'm walking. I've been asked for drugs before," explains Tyler Junior College student Chloe Hodge.

The problem goes beyond loud noise and parties. Stacks of police reports paint a picture of frequent burglaries, thefts and assaults. On those reports -- again and again -- are the words "exceptionally cleared," meaning nothing came of the case and the investigation was closed.

"We have cases coming in to our investigators every single day so they just keep piling up and up. So, these cases they're investigating, if you're the victim and you make no attempt to contact me to continue the investigation, I've gotta move on because if I don't we'll fall so far behind," explains Officer Don Martin at the Tyler Police Department.

In the reports, there was a common trend among these "exceptionally cleared" cases:
  • Students didn't call police back
  • Students stood up investigators at appointments
  • Victims didn't want to press charges

We set out to ask these students why they bothered to call the police and file reports if they weren't going to follow through with their claims. That's how we met Haley Hall, the victim of a residential burglary in 2012.  Hall came back from Christmas break to find her apartment wiped clean of her belongings.

"Nothing was there. Blank. As if I never moved in... everything was gone," recalls Hall.

The police report listed the missing items from frozen food to her shower curtain, bath rug and appliances that actually belonged to Cambridge, the apartment complex.

"I walked down that hallway and I noticed my microwave was gone. The Cambridge microwave [and] a little end table was gone so I called the office and they were like, 'You need to make a police report,' because if I didn't report it they would have billed me for those since that's Cambridge property," Hall explains.

Left behind at the scene was a Tyler Junior College student ID. Hall believed it belonged to the suspect, so she handed it over to police. Hall says two days after that, an investigator called to tell her some bad news.

"He said,  'Even though the stuff was stolen, we can't just barge into the apartment and look for your stuff and see if it's there, so really it's just your word against theirs there's nothing we can do,'" Hall explains. "So I'm like, 'Well, okay. That sucks,'" she says.

However, according to the police report, the case wasn't closed because of a lack of evidence. The report stated Hall did not provide police with the information they needed to continue their investigation, like more names of people possibly involved and another list of stolen property.

The police report clearly states, "I advised Hall I needed this information within ten days."

Hall's response, "That last sentence... I do not remember him saying at all. Totally made up."

Hall says she had never been told anything about a 10 day deadline or any other information police were waiting for on her end. Hall's case, like many others, was exceptionally cleared.

"I was waiting to hear from him," Hall insists.

Hall says she never would have stopped pursuing the case if she wasn't under the impression it was over.

"Based on the conversation we had on that phone, it seemed like it all ends right there...pretty much nothing else they could do, so that's why I let it go," she explains.

In another police report, documenting a theft in November 2012, the victim reported his Nikon camera stolen. Police found the camera at a local pawn shop and were able to identify the seller. Six days later, the case was "cleared by exception" because the victim never said he wanted to pursue charges.

The victim has a different story regarding the stolen camera. In an email he says, "[Police] just left a message on [the suspect's phone]. After that they did no further investigation. They let me know that after three weeks I could not file anything against him due to the time period."

Tyler Police stand by their reports, saying if the report says the students weren't cooperating, then they were not cooperating.

"It's disheartening to us that we come out, do the initial investigation, then it's turned over to detectives, they get involved with it and they're doing their investigation spending hours on it and the person says, 'Well, you know, I don't wanna do this anymore. I'm outta school or moving back to my hometown. I just want to drop the whole thing.' Then, we spent all that time and we have no one to take it to court," says Officer Martin.

After reading though all of the reports Tyler Police would release to us, we couldn't deny that some of them seem pretty petty. For example, in one report, a student called police not once but twice because another student took hot links out of her refrigerator without permission.

The apartment complexes that primarily house students have made a conscious effort to battle crime, and statistics suggest their efforts might be working. Tyler Police say the numbers of calls their officers respond to at Varsity Place and Cambridge/Village at the U/Eagle's Landing have decreased over the last two years.

Now that one complex, Eagle's Landing, is owned by the University of Texas at Tyler, students hope the crime rates will continue to go down.

"I didn't come out here to worry about my stuff being stolen in my own apartment. I came out here to get a degree and go to college and that's my main priority and it shouldn't be anything else," says Hall.

Hall says the whole ordeal still bothers her, even though she does not want her stuff back at this point. She says she thinks that the person responsible shouldn't think they can get away with taking things that don't belong to them.

Tyler Police say all of their case records and reports are accurate because they go above and beyond to make sure they're doing things by the book. The police department says there are only 21 law enforcement agencies in the state that are accredited by CALEA and TPD is one of them. CALEA is a national organization that examines law enforcement organizations and awards them for high standards.

The student journalists at Tyler Junior College are writing up their own report on this investigation. Their story will be published on Monday, May 12th. If you want to check that out, you will be able to find it here.

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