Gresham police arrest burglary suspect

Rockwood business owners breathe sigh of relief
by: Contributed photo Melvin Lee Tillman

Gresham police arrested a man they say is responsible for the recent rash of commercial burglaries in Rockwood.

Melvin Lee Tillman, 56, of Gresham is suspected of 12 burglaries within a 10-day period in late August and early September, most of which took place in the west Gresham/Rockwood neighborhood, said Craig Junginger, Gresham police chief.

He is being held on $30,000 bail for four counts of second-degree burglary and four counts of criminal mischief, as well as on a no-bail hold for violating his parole, at the Multnomah County Detention Center.

Tillman got out of prison on Aug. 12, where he was serving time for commercial burglaries, Junginger said. 'And our burglaries started shortly thereafter,' he noted.

The crimes seem to be centered on 181st/182nd Avenue, Stark Street and Burnside, but extended as far east as the Civic Neighborhood. The burglaries tended to target businesses with glass doors, particularly dental offices.

'A lot of work and surveillance time was put in by my detectives and patrol officers,' Junginger said, adding that while conducting business surveillance detectives caught the suspect 'committing a dirty deed.'

Apprehension of the suspect began with a video of the man provided by one of the businesses that were broken into. That image - 'a picture, but not a good picture,' Junginger said - was circulated to patrol officers. One of them stopped a man on the street for a minor infraction and noticed he matched the suspect's physical description.

But the suspect provided a false address, so the patrol officer forwarded all of the information to detectives. Investigators set up surveillance of local businesses for a week hoping to find the man.

On Friday, Sept. 9, detectives saw a man break a window of a local business. The suspect then sat back and waited. 'That's typical - to see if it elicits a reaction,' Junginger said. Besides, if police swoop in before he enters the business, the offense is only considered criminal mischief, not burglary.

The man eventually left without entering the building. Detectives followed him home to the 17900 block of Southeast Division Street where they arrested him at 6:23 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 10.

Armed with a search warrant, detectives 'found several things that positively tied him to the other burglaries,' Junginger said.

Local business owners, who have had to spend hundreds to thousands of dollars to repair the suspect's damage, are thrilled the suspect is behind bars.

'A big thank you to the Gresham police for their diligence and dedication in solving this one!' said Dina DiNucci, owner of Park Place Coffee and a longtime Rockwood activist. It was the second time her small business had been broken into over the past two months.

And she was one of two Rockwood community activists to have their businesses burglarized in the crime spree.

Roseanne's Salon, whose owner, Roseanne Zales, serves on the Gresham Redevelopment Commission's advisory committee, was broken into a few days before the suspect struck DiNucci's coffee shop.

Zales said she's thrilled that a suspect is in custody.

'I think it's pretty dang great and the police did a great job of getting a handle on this,' she said.

Days after her break-in, she said she hoped the police caught the 'jerks,' and that they were sentenced to community service forever, 'starting at my salon, weed to weed.'

She still thinks the suspect should do a lot of community service, particularly in Rockwood.