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45-year-old man arrested in Jackie Robinson statue theft that was not motivated by race, police say

Jackie Robinson statue stolen
Posted at 12:34 PM, Feb 13, 2024

Police announced Tuesday the arrest of a 45-year-old man in the theft of a bronze Jackie Robinson statue that later was found dismantled and burned.

Wichita police Lt. Aaron Moses said the man was taken into custody earlier in an unrelated case and charged Monday in the theft. He said there was no evidence it was was a "hate-motivated crime” but rather the intent was to sell the metal for scrap.

Wichita police Chief Joe Sullivan said it was “only the first arrest” and that there were more to come.

"When you try to take something from this community, it won’t tolerate it,” he said, adding that he was eager to share more details about the investigation after more suspects are in custody.

Thieves cut the bronze statue from its base last month at a park in Wichita, Kansas. Only the statue’s feet were left at McAdams Park, where about 600 children play in a youth baseball league called League 42, which is named after Robinson’ s uniform number with the Brooklyn Dodgers, with whom he broke the major leagues’ color barrier in 1947.

Fire crews found burned remnants of the statue five days later while responding to a trash can fire at another park about 7 miles (11.27 kilometers) away. A truck believed to be used in the theft previously was found abandoned, and police said the theft of the statue, which had an estimated value of $75,000, was captured on surveillance video.

Sedgwick County District Attorney’s Office spokesperson Dan Dillon said the suspect doesn’t yet have an attorney but that one may be named for him after his first court appearance Tuesday afternoon. He is jailed on $150,000 bond on charges of felony theft, aggravated criminal damage to property, identity theft and making false information.

Jail records also list charges that include contempt of court, kidnapping and a probation violation. The suspect has a criminal record that includes burglary and theft, state correction department records show.

Asked how many others might face charges, Moses said three people were seen on the surveillance video. He also noted that the statue was taken to a location where others were present. He said he could offer no further details because it was an active investigation.

Donations poured in after the theft, approaching $300,000, said Bob Lutz, executive director of the Little League nonprofit that commissioned the sculpture.

Lutz has said that some of the extra money raised also could enhance some of its programming and facilities. In April, the group opened the Leslie Rudd Learning Center, which includes an indoor baseball facility and a learning lab.

Lutz, whose friend, the artist John Parsons, made the statue before his death, said the mold is still viable and anticipated that a replacement can be erected within a matter of months.

Robinson played for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues before joining the Brooklyn Dodgers, paving the way for generations of Black American ballplayers. He’s considered not only a sports legend but also a civil rights icon. Robinson died in 1972.