After an escaped Georgia inmate allegedly stole a truck from outside an Aiken home last week, the homeowner said local law enforcement should have alerted residents that he may have been in the area.
Robert McClellan, 36, escaped a halfway house in Augusta last month and was captured Sunday in Rockdale County, Georgia.
He faces charges in Aiken of burglary and grand larceny and is accused in bank robberies in South Carolina and Georgia.
At the scene in Rockdale County, officers found a truck that was reported stolen from Wildwood Avenue in Aiken late on Friday.
Officers said they had been looking for McClellan, who had been spotted in the area, according to an Aiken Public Safety report.
The homeowner later found several beer cans and a pair of khaki shorts in the back yard.
“In the middle, they made a comment about how they’d been in the neighborhood looking for an escaped convict from Georgia in my neighborhood,” said homeowner Susan Kneece. “My first response was, ‘Wait a minute, we weren’t notified of that?’”
Kneece said no one in the neighborhood was notified, including the leader of their crime watch group.
“It’s crazy to think this man was hanging out in my yard at least long enough to drink several beers and change clothes,” she said.
Aiken County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Eric Abdullah said he heard on radio traffic that McClellen reportedly made a phone call from the Dunkin’ Donuts on Richland Avenue.
“There was really nothing that we needed to notify a widespread area,” he said. “At that time, all we had was a possible spotting.”
Lt. Jake Mahoney said Aiken Public Safety received the tip about 11 a.m. on Friday, and later that afternoon obtained surveillance footage that appeared to capture McClellan in a business several hours earlier.
“We did not have any sightings of him,” Mahoney said. “We never saw him. We never had a trail to follow. We were just following up on a tip.”
A witness told an investigator that McClellan got into a vehicle and left the area; that information was passed on to the patrol shift working that evening, Mahoney said.
Law enforcement in Aiken County have several resources for notifying the public in an emergency situation, including press releases to news media, social media postings and the CodeRED notification service.
Kneece said she and her husband would not have left their daughter alone at the home on Friday had they known McClellan may have been in the area.
“You’re scouring the neighborhood for 12 hours – you have a hunch,” she said. “We could be on the lookout to help the cops.”
Mahoney said police didn’t have enough confirmation that McClellan, who was serving time for theft charges, was either still in the Aiken area or was a danger to the public to alert people.
“We were trying to get a clearer picture, but at that point, there really wasn’t enough to latch onto,” he said, adding that there is a fine line between protecting the community and causing undue concern. “In this situation, we didn’t have any credible information to share.”
Teddy Kulmala covers the crime beat for the Aiken Standard.