Traffic stop becomes week-long jail ordeal

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Jim Thompson @Jimtnwfdn

CRESTVIEW — A recent traffic stop became anything but routine for a Crestview man when it unearthed a warrant linking him to a recent South Carolina burglary.

Christopher Shimeld, 34, spent last week in the Okaloosa County Jail after a license check turned up a warrant seeking him for the Feb. 28 burglary of a tobacco shop in Elgin, South Carolina. Shimeld was stopped by an Okaloosa County deputy shortly after 4:30 p.m. on April 6 for driving 68 mph in a 55 mph zone.

“It was the worst seven days of my life,” Shimeld said of the time he spent in jail.

At one point, he said, he was placed in a section of the jail where prisoners awaiting transfer to other facilities are housed.

“I’d never been in jail before, so I asked a couple of questions,” he said. His questions aroused suspicions among some prisoners that he was an informant, Shimeld said, and they began making verbal threats.

Shimeld eventually told a guard he was thinking about harming himself, as a ruse to get out of that section of the jail.

The week also was traumatic for Shimeld’s family and friends, who spent their time searching frantically for evidence that would prove Shimeld was nowhere near South Carolina during the Discount Tobacco burglary.

“We did a lot of praying. A lot of praying,” said Shimeld’s grandmother, Joyce Bowman. “It’s such a helpless feeling.”

Shimeld kept in close touch with his family while in jail. “Calling them on a daily basis was the only thing that kept me going,” he said. 

Shimeld was linked to the burglary when a Richland County Sheriff’s Department investigator found his fingerprints inside the business, on a door alarm on top of a door frame and on an electrical panel. The fingerprints led the investigator to Shimeld’s concealed-carry weapons permit, which included a photograph.

During the April 6 traffic stop, the photograph was emailed to the Okaloosa County deputy who had stopped Shimeld, and he was taken to jail.

According to a Richland County (South Carolina) Sheriff’s Department report, the burglary occurred sometime between 10:45 p.m. Feb 28 and 5:15 a.m. March 1.  According to an incident report, the thief (or thieves) took 162 cartons of cigarettes, more than a dozen 18 packs of Bud and Bud Light beer, and an estimated $1,000 in change from a cashbox. The total value of the stolen items is $4,000, according to the report.

No one has been arrested for the crime, according to Capt. Maria Yturria, the sheriff’s department’s public information director.

Shortly after Shimeld went to jail, Bowman and her husband, Mike, contacted Crestview attorney Ryan Hardy. Over the next few days, Shimeld’s family and friends pored through records that Shimeld kept for CTech, his home entertainment system installation business, to try to establish his whereabouts during the burglary. Hardy stayed in touch with Richland County authorities, updating them on what the family had found as he worked to get Shimeld released.

Documents turned up in the search included records from on and around the date of the burglary. There were receipts for work-related purchases and Mid-Bay Bridge tolls, and a signed order for a job in Destin that Shimeld worked on Feb. 28 and again on March 1.

None of those records were particularly convincing to Richland County authorities, according to Hardy and Shimeld. But when a friend searching Shimeld’s computer found a record from his days as a contract worker for ADT Security Systems — in Columbia. S.C.., a little more than 20 miles from Elgin — Shimeld’s luck changed.

The work order placed Shimeld in Discount Tobacco in 2015 — installing a security system.

Jerry Cole, a Florida fingerprint expert who worked in the U.S. Secret Service’s forensics laboratory and now serves as a prosecution and defense witness in court cases, says it’s certainly possible for a fingerprint to remain in place for as long as three years.

“If it’s in a stable climatic condition (such as the interior of a climate-controlled building), it could be,” Cole said. “If it hasn’t been disturbed, it can last for quite a while.”

“Three years is a long time,” Cole said. “But I’m not going to … say it’s not possible.”

Early last Friday morning, Richland County authorities lifted the extradition warrant issued for Shimeld, based in large part on the 2015 work order, according to Yturria. However, Shimeld is not yet completely cleared of any connection with the burglary as far as the sheriff’s department is concerned, Yturria said.

With regard to the fingerprints, she said, “Some things are explained, some are not.”

But Yturrria went on to credit both Shimeld and Hardy, who she said are continuing to make themselves available to Richland County authorities in connection with questions in the ongoing investigation. 

Since his release, Shimeld has been searching for additional evidence to definitively clear his name. He will be sending video from his home security system, showing him on the night of the burglary, to the Richland County Sheriff’s Office, he said this week.

Hardy has posted a narrative of the saga, from his and Shimeld’s perspective, on his Facebook page. He notes there, as he did in an interview earlier this week, that Okaloosa County authorities have had nothing to do with his client’s travails.

“Nobody here did anything wrong,” he said.

“As far as they were concerned, they were just holding me for Richland County,” Shimeld said.    

 Shimeld won’t face any fines or court dates on the speeding violation. According to the Okaloosa County deputy’s report, as he was delivered to the county jail, “Shimeld was … given a verbal warning on the excessive speed.”

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