Today’s wintry commute reminded me of a series of stories I wrote years ago involving a guy, his car and a “snowy” situation. As a general-assignment reporter in a smaller city, you often end up on the police beat — whether you want to or not. It can be excruciating at times typing in the mundane details of petty crimes, but it can also have its surprisingly entertaining moments. This was one of them:
(This is a series of articles written over several days as the story developed. Read from the top down.)
POLICE BLOTTER: Nanticoke Police reported that a city resident, Josh Hallas, reported a theft from his vehicle. When asked to describe the stolen items, Hallas said it was “snowing” in the vehicle. Pressed to clarify that, Hallas eventually explained he was missing a brick of cocaine he had purchased the previous day. The investigation is ongoing.
Nanticoke police say Joshua Hallas reported cocaine stolen from car. Hallas denies that.
By RORY SWEENEY
Joshua Hallas is waiting for a retraction from the Nanticoke Police Department, but police say he shouldn’t hold his breath.
The best he can hope for is that the department never finds property they say he reported stolen.
Police reported Sunday that Hallas, 24, of West Ridge Street, came to police headquarters Saturday to report that his 1987 Mercury Grand Marquis had been moved overnight and that some items were taken. Pressed for further information, Hallas said it was “snowing” in his car, in reference to an item stolen from the car.
Finally, according to the police report, he said a $6,500 brick of cocaine, which he had purchased during a trip to Philadelphia the previous day, was missing.
The incident was printed in the Times Leader on Monday.
Upon learning of the printed report late that afternoon, Hallas said he went to police headquarters again, but this time to complain about the article.
He says the incident “didn’t happen.”
Told that the Times Leader’s policy is to print retractions on police incident reports only after receiving an official retraction from the police department, Hallas said, “You’ll have one (Tuesday).”
According to Nanticoke police Capt. William Shultz: “It’s not gonna happen.
“The article stands as is. What he says is what he says, and there’s no way we’re going to do a retraction.”
Shultz told Hallas the most he would do was discuss the situation with Chief James Cheshinski.
Shultz said that when Hallas came to the station Monday, Hallas claimed he wanted to report a stolen stereo the first time he came, on Saturday. There was no mention of a stolen stereo in the police report.
Regarding the stolen cocaine brick, Shultz said Hallas wanted that to be confidential.
“He claims he wanted to report a stereo stolen … and in the process gave up that information about the drugs,” Shultz said.
He said Hallas is well known to the department and has been involved with them before on drug issues, but “nothing that he’s been arrested for.”
He said the confusion might have come because Hallas is often on the record one moment with his statements and then off the record the next.
He said it would be difficult to charge Hallas with drug possession without evidence and said the vehicle had “apparently not” been checked for residues. He didn’t know if it would be checked.
However, Schultz said that if, through an interview, Hallas’ story about the drugs turns out to be untrue, he could be charged with making a false report.
Joshua Hallas’ theft report might land him in trouble.
The 24-year-old, of 49 W. Ridge St., reported on Saturday that overnight someone moved his 1987 Mercury Grand Marquis, which was left unlocked.
After checking the car, he realized something was missing. He told police, in reference to the stolen item, it had been “snowing,” in his car. He then added that a $6,500 brick of cocaine was missing, which he had purchased during a trip to Philadelphia the previous day, police said.
The investigation continues and possible charges are pending, police said.
Police say man’s coke story no joke
Ever hear Josh Hallas’ joke about the brick of cocaine stolen from his car?
Neither had the city’s police department – which is why they weren’t laughing when the 24-year-old told them Tuesday that he was being sarcastic when he mentioned a missing $6,500 brick of cocaine in his theft report on Saturday.
“They embellished that totally; they took it out of proportion,” Hallas said, adding he had consumed “a couple” of beers before making his report. “I was just being a wisea--. … We were joking about it.”
So can the police take a joke?
“You mean a lie?” asked Capt. William Shultz.
Shultz said if the cocaine had been found, Hallas could have faced drug charges.
Shultz will give Hallas a second chance to report the thefts from his vehicle this morning.
This time, Hallas says he plans to leave out the part about the cocaine. But that might not get him off the hook.
If Hallas changes his story, Shultz said “he will be charged” with making false reports to law enforcement officers.
Hallas disputes what police have already reported.
For starters, police said he lives on West Ridge Street, but he said he resides at a house in Dallas most of the time.|
In a police report issued Sunday, Hallas told police that he had driven to Philadelphia and purchased cocaine on Friday. On Tuesday, Hallas maintained he never went to Philadelphia or bought cocaine, nor did he tell police he went to Philadelphia to buy cocaine. And he said he didn’t mention it was “snowing” in the car in reference to the stolen drugs, as reported by police.
What was really stolen from his car, Hallas said Tuesday, were his auto inspection stickers, a stereo from the back seat, and Xanax, a tranquilizer, for which he said he has a prescription.
He said his 1987 Mercury Grand Marquis, which can’t be locked, was moved slightly from where he parked it Friday night, which led him to believe someone took the vehicle and later returned it.
Hallas, who works as a carpenter for a local construction company, said the ordeal has left him “burnt out.” He said his employer hasn’t allowed him to work since police released the reports.
“I’d rather have (making false reports) charges than have this out there,” he said. “My a-- is on the line.”
Shultz chuckled at the jam Hallas got himself into.
“He’s said so many things,” Shultz said, laughing. “One way or another, maybe he’s going to be arrested.”
Man to be charged with making false reports to Nanticoke police
Cocaine story leads to charges
Remember the joke where the carpenter walks into a police station and says he lied about a brick of cocaine being stolen from his unlocked car?
You know, the one with the punch line: And then he was charged with making false reports to law enforcement officers.
Josh Hallas’ initial report Saturday that $6,500 worth of cocaine was stolen, plus his alleged remark about it “snowing” in his car, turned out to be a snow job, according to police Capt. William Shultz.
Shultz re-interviewed Hallas on Wednesday to get to the “meat and potatoes” of the matter.
Hallas, 24, changed his statement, saying only auto inspection stickers, a portable stereo and prescription Xanax, a tranquilizer, worth an estimated total of $400, were stolen from his 1987 Mercury Grand Marquis overnight Friday.
“He gave me a statement that he lied to the police,” Shultz said.
That admission could potentially cost Hallas $2,500 in fines and up to a year in jail.
Shultz said Hallas was allowed to leave after the interview, but will be charged.
If convicted, Hallas would probably not face jail time, but he could face fines and would “definitely” be on probation, Shultz said.
Hallas couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.
Hallas said Tuesday that he’d “rather have the charges than have (the stolen cocaine story) out there” because his “a-- is on the line” with his employer, who wouldn’t allow him to return to work.
He characterized the situation as an offhand, “sarcastic remark” that police “embellished” in their report.
“I was just being a wisea--. … We were joking about it,” he said Tuesday.
Shultz didn’t get the humor.
“He refers to it as joking around,” Shultz said. “Either you lied or you told the truth.”
The drama has captured the attention of producers at CourtTV, who Shultz said called his office interested in doing a story.
Shultz said he inspected Hallas’ car and found no drug residue. He said he was trying to verify that the car had, in fact, been inspected by a garage and that Hallas has a valid prescription for Xanax.
Man: I’m scapegoat for cops
Josh Hallas says Nanticoke police are using him as an example to show they are doing something in their fight against drugs in the city.
Though he has admitted to lying to police about cocaine stolen from his car, Josh Hallas said he believes he’s been unjustly targeted by a police department looking to score a public victory in its fight against drugs.
“Basically that’s how it goes,” Hallas said Thursday. “You think police officers are there to help you; sometimes they seem to be there to screw you.
“I think they might be using me as a scapegoat because there’s pressure on them … to reduce the amount of drug activity. They’re using me as an example to make it look public that they are doing something.”
According to police, Hallas reported on Saturday that a $6,500 brick of cocaine was stolen from his unlocked car.
Hallas maintains the report was “embellished” and his comment was a “sarcastic remark” while he and the reporting officer “were joking about it.”
Hallas said he really came in to report items stolen from his unlocked 1987 Mercury Grand Marquis: a portable stereo, an auto inspection sticker and Xanax, a tranquilizer for which police confirmed he has a prescription.
On Wednesday, Hallas admitted to lying about the cocaine during a second interview with police and will be charged with making false reports.
“The police officer who took the (original) report did not blow it out of proportion,” police Capt. William Shultz said. “Evidently, all he was in there to complain about was the cocaine.”
Hallas said he’s “financially screwed right now” and needs “something in the newspaper stating that I’m a decent person” before he is allowed to return to his carpentry job.
Shultz wasn’t ready to make that endorsement. “How am I to say he’s a decent person or not a decent person? He’s been arrested before. I’ve personally never had any issues with him, and he did cooperate during this investigation,” he said.
Hallas said several times to a reporter that he is not a drug user and has never been arrested before, but Luzerne County records and police reports show otherwise.
Shultz said Hallas has been arrested in Nanticoke twice before, both in 2003, on charges including assault and receiving stolen property. Shultz said Hallas pleaded guilty to the stolen property charge, but he couldn’t recall how the assault case was resolved.
He has been charged in at least seven other incidents, most recently on Jan. 16 in Wilkes-Barre in which police said he admitted to being a heroin user after an officer found a spoon with heroin residue and a syringe in his truck. Police charged him with possession of drug paraphernalia.
Shultz said the previous charges could affect Hallas’ penalty if he is convicted of the false reports charge, which carries a maximum of one year in jail and a $2,500 fine.
“We’re here to do our job. We didn’t go looking for him, he came to us,” Shultz said. “We’re certainly not going to use him as a scapegoat. He’s going to say anything he wants to at this point.”