ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI – A resident of the Clifton Heights neighborhood awoke about 3:30 a.m. Sunday to find a stranger in the house, emptying a purse.
Police arrested a suspect down the street and later learned that he also was the police.
It was a drunken off-duty patrolman, Andrew Perez, 29, apparently disoriented, officials said. He was suspended from the force without pay and charged Monday with first-degree burglary, a felony.
The victim told police that he, his girlfriend and his three minor children were sleeping at home in the 6200 block of Bowman Avenue when he heard a noise, found Perez and forced him to leave.
The lawyer representing Perez, Neil Bruntrager, said Monday that his client is remorseful, and he took exception to the charge. It should have been trespassing, he said, because Perez did not have a criminal intent, a necessary element to prove burglary.
“While he knows he made a mistake, it’s certainly not what has been described by the department,” the lawyer said.
The house was unlocked, Perez was unarmed and he cooperated fully with arresting officers, Bruntrager said. He described Perez as “a smart kid, a decorated police officer and very hardworking.”
“Sure, something tragic could have happened, and I understand how frightened and upset the homeowners are,” Bruntrager said. “But that’s not what you make these kinds of decisions on.”
Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce, whose office filed the charge recommended by police, issued a statement Monday that said: “Evidence and facts determine the level of charges, not the defendant’s occupation. In addition, voluntary intoxication is not a defense in the state of Missouri.”
The police department declined to comment.
Perez, 29, of the 4000 block of Union Boulevard, was released on $20,000 bail. He has been with the department for nearly six years and is assigned to the North Patrol Special Operations Unit. He previously served in the Third and Seventh districts, the department said.
He had visited at least one other house Sunday morning.
Leonard and Terry Bilheimer awoke to the sound of their dog barking and someone mumbling outside their front door on the same block. Leonard Bilheimer found a man, later identified as Perez, holding his screen door open and pointing into the home.
“The only word I think I could understand him saying was ‘in,’ and ‘I’m not a bad guy,’ ” Bilheimer recalled.
He said Perez reeked of alcohol.
“There’s no doubt he was drunk, drunk, drunk,” said Bilheimer, who called police.
“When we heard it was a cop, you worry, ‘Was he carrying a gun?’ ” Bilheimer said. “But if he was, he didn’t use that power when he was here.
“What a shame this is,” Bilheimer added. “This is going to ruin his life. He should’ve just gone down to the park and slept it off.”