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Field Notes

Police chief credits 'heroes' doing their jobs in arrest of serial hotel robber

Police chief credits 'heroes' doing their jobs in arrest of serial hotel robber
Ernest Lee Dean
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Know the name Devon Edwards.

She is one of the heroes of today’s story.

It was around 4 a.m. Jan. 5 and Edwards - a 2-year veteran of the Cannon Beach Police Department - was doing a regular patrol when she noticed a car quickly pulling away from the Stephanie Inn.

She made sure the camera in her patrol car was operating and tried to give chase, but the car kept going. Suspecting something was up, she went inside where an employee had been tied up and robbed at gunpoint.

While the car got away, the camera captured an important bit of it for posterity – part of its license plate.

Also know the name Chris Wilbur, another hero.

Wilbur is a lieutenant with the Cannon Beach Police Department, and the tape of the partial license plate ended up on his desk.

He could make out part of the plate - there was a '6' in it - and that it was from California.

And that’s when he had the idea that it was a rental car. For the next several months, Lt. Wilbur subpoenaed records from rental car agencies and went through the records looking to match the plate.

At the same time, his colleagues went through town looking for more surveillance tape that might have caught the car.

While investigating the Stephanie Inn job, Wilbur became aware of other similar robberies – notably the robbery of the Silver Cloud Inn in N.W. Portland on Sept. 5 and the La Quinta in Wilsonville the following day.

In both cases, the robber had a gun, claimed to have a bomb and tied up the employees.

Wilbur started working with Detectives John Russell and Bruce Hawkinson from Portland and Detective Jeff Green from Wilsonville. In all, more than half a dozen cities – as well as the FBI – had resources devoted to the search.

After months of going through videos and rental car records, Wilbur, Hawkinson and the others knew who they were looking for.

On Friday, they found him.

The car they were looking for was spotted in North Portland. Robbery detectives and officers from the Police Bureau’s Special Emergency Reaction Team stopped 40-year-old Ernest Lee Dean at the intersection of N. Lombard and N. Delaware.

Dean has been booked into the Multnomah County Jail on first- and second-degree robbery charges and will be arraigned Monday.

More charges are expected. Besides the robberies in Cannon Beach, Portland and Wilsonville, Dean has been linked to robberies in Gresham, Hood River, Albany and Woodland, Washington.

Police say that search warrants executed Friday allowed them to turn up more evidence linking Dean to the robberies.

While Cannon Beach Chief Jason Schermerhorn singled out his officers in a conversation with KATU – “they worked so hard, put in so many hours,” he said - he added that this case was the perfect example of people working together.

“This has been a collaborative effort on so many levels,” Schermerhorn told KATU. “So many officers from so many jurisdictions working together is what made this arrest possible.”

Schermerhorn said that for a smaller department like his, being able to turn to large departments for help is crucial.

“We don’t have the resources or the training of some other places,” Schermerhorn said. “For us, it was really a learning-as-we-go experience.

“The ability to have daily contact with other detectives, to work with others and toss ideas around was so important.”

Schermerhorn told KATU that one of the important things about this case is it shows people that sometimes the most important aspect of police work is the unglamorous day-to-day drudgery of officers pouring through records.

“The heroes of this story are officers who noticed something and reacted, who spent months going through documents,” Schermerhorn told KATU. “Officers who took time out of their day to help others.

“It’s all good policing.”

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