Rail Company Releases Videos of Alleged ‘Bait Truck’ Thefts, Will Stop Using Tactic Amid Controversy

Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson said the department would "take a hard look" at the practice, which drew pushback from activists and local leaders

What to Know

  • Norfolk Southern Railroad released three videos of the suspects charged in connection with its "bait truck" operation on Aug. 2 and 3
  • The rail company said it doesn't plan to use the tactic again after it drew condemnation from community leaders and activists
  • Chicago police Supt. Eddie Johnson said the department would "take a hard look" at the practice over complaints of "entrapment"

Note: One of the videos released is at the top of the page, while the other two can be viewed closer to the bottom. 

The railroad company behind the use of a “bait truck” on Chicago's South Side last week released three videos Friday that appeared to show the suspects who were arrested in the operation breaking into the truck, saying in a statement that it will no longer employ the controversial tactic after it drew condemnation from community activists and local leaders.

“Norfolk Southern recognizes that, despite the need to safeguard freight in the area, this operation eroded trust between law enforcement and the community,” Norfolk Southern Railroad spokeswoman Susan Terpay said in a statement. “We sincerely regret that our actions caused further unease, and we don’t plan to use this method in the future.”

Three people were arrested in the operation, which authorities said the railroad conducted on Aug. 2 and 3 with assistance from the Chicago Police Department. The effort was aimed at apprehending thieves who had been stealing merchandise at six rail yards the company operates on the city’s South Side, Terpay said.

Chicago police Supt. Eddie Johnson said at a news conference Thursday that the department would “take a hard look” at the practice – which involved leaving a semitrailer in an area where officers could monitor it and arrest anyone who attempted to break into it – to “see if there’s something we can do better.”

Noting that CPD has been “working hard the last two years to repair the relationships,” Johnson highlighted that some of the goods stolen from trains and trucks had been weapons, pointing to a “responsibility to keep these firearms off the street and out of the hands of the wrong people.”

Terpay reiterated that claim Friday, saying the range of items stolen included “guns and ammunition that found their way into the local community.”

“Break-ins have been increasing as the volume of rail traffic moving through the city of Chicago has increased,” she said. “Norfolk Southern has the responsibility to make sure the freight we are transporting is safely delivered and does not pose a risk to the communities in which we operate.”

Three Facebook Live videos posted by two community activists showing portions of the operation were shared thousands of times, with some at the scene expressing outrage over what they called “entrapment.”

Martin Johnson posted one of the videos on Aug. 2, showing a white truck parked first near the intersection of South Carpenter Street and West 59th Street, before moving to South Ashland Avenue near West 56th Street, both locations in the city’s Englewood neighborhood.

“That's the bait, that's the bait! Don’t touch it,” Johnson can be heard yelling to both those viewing on Facebook as well as passersby. [[490411361, C]]

“See this is what they do in the black communities,” he continued. “They come in the black, poor communities, they create crime so they can make arrests. They're not gonna go in Beverly and Hyde Park and do this. They're not gonna do that. They're not gonna go in Mount Greenwood and do this. They're gonna come in the black communities and do this.”

As a small group of people gathered near the semi-trailer, a black SUV pulled up and rolled down a window. One of the members of the group, activist Jedidiah Brown, can be seen approaching the car and demanding that the truck be removed from the area.

“Get this out of my neighborhood,” Brown said. “Stop locking up black kids or entrapping them!”

Shortly after, at least two uniformed Chicago police officers and a third man in what appeared to be a black police uniform can be seen approaching Brown on the sidewalk.

Brown continued to tell the officers to remove the truck, saying, “There’s real crimes being committed, why do you gotta do this?”

“Put this in your neighborhood,” he exclaimed. “Let me see this in your neighborhood, then I won’t be doing none of this.”

In a statement, 6th Ward Ald. Roderick Sawyer called the operation “an unacceptable and inappropriate use of police resources.”

“In a moment where police capacity is clearly under extreme strain, these sort of tactics are the last thing we should be spending manpower and energy on,” said Sawyer, who chairs the Chicago City Council Black Caucus.

“This initiative serves only to undermine already fragile efforts to build trust between law enforcement and the community, and to reinforce counterproductive policies that have contributed to the mass incarceration of Black youth in our city,” he continued, calling on the City Council's Committee on Public Safety to convene a hearing on the matter.

Charles Mckenzie posted videos of the operation on Aug. 2 and 3, claiming in the second video that the truck was full of Nike shoes and parked in front of children – a claim the rail company denied.

“There has been a lot of misinformation circulating online. Youths were neither targeted nor arrested,” Terpay said Friday. “The truck trailer was not parked next to a basketball court. It was unmarked, it was locked, and its contents were invisible to passersby.”

“The suspects saw a parked, unmarked trailer and then proceeded to cut open the safety seal with box cutters, broke into the back of the trailer and only then did they find retail shoes in unmarked brown boxes, previously secured and hidden inside,” she continued.

The three surveillance videos released appear to show two instances of the alleged thefts, in which three men can be seen entering the trailer and removing boxes inside. 

David King, 36, and Terrell Melvin, 21, were arrested just before 8 p.m. on Aug. 2 in the 5900 block of South Princeton Avenue, according to Chicago police, who said they both “broke the seal on a trailer.” Police said King opened the trailer and Melvin entered it “without lawful permission.”

Both were charged with burglary, officials said.

Floyd Allen, 59, was charged with burglary and two counts of assault stemming from an incident on Aug. 3 in the 1000 block of West 59th Street, according to Chicago police, who said he broke the security seal on a trailer, entered it and “took a brown box.”

Police said Allen then “produced a knife and pointed it at two special agents" who attempted to take him into custody.

Attorney information for the accused was not available and they could not immediately be reached for comment.

While Terpay said the railroad would no longer be employing the “bait truck” tactic, she added that videos of the alleged break-ins were released in part because “area residents deserve more context about this operation.”

“We welcome a dialogue with the community, and we already have reached out to local officials to discuss how best to prevent freight theft, improve community relations, and rebuild mutual trust,” Terpay said.

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