Thief of Police

Tony White's lifelong obsession with law enforcement

What's most striking about White's criminal behavior is the sheer audacity. His exploits, whether driven by some neurological disorder or simple thrill seeking, seem designed not to fool the cops but to provoke them. After White was arrested without incident in mid-October, he eventually led officers to the contraband St. Paul squad car. Marvin Leonard says that his friend was simply paying back the police for repeatedly seizing his own vehicles. "A guy gets sick and tired of that, so then you start playing a game: You take my car, I'll take yours," Leonard laughs.

The cops, however, were not amused, although Bergren notes that the vehicle was in pristine condition when it was recovered. "I don't think he did this to be destructive to the police," Bergren surmises. "He had every opportunity to wreck this new vehicle. I asked him about that, specifically, about would he damage vehicles. And he said, 'No, I would never hurt these cars. I would never do any damage to them.' He absolutely loves these vehicles."

During the course of the car theft investigation, officers also collected evidence that White was storing stolen police property at his mother's apartment in Eagan. On October 23 the St. Paul and Eagan police departments executed a search warrant on the residence, turning up a trove of law enforcement equipment. Among the loot recovered was a Minneapolis police hat with badge, two Minnesota state patrol license plates, a box of police squad pants, a deputy sheriff's badge from Jackson County, Wisconsin, and a St. Paul Fire Department radio worth more than $2,500.

By the end of October White had been charged with seven felonies and one misdemeanor in Ramsey and Hennepin counties. If prosecuted to the full extent of the law, he faces the possibility of more than 30 years in prison.

White doesn't seem to harbor a grudge against Sergeant Bergren for helping to send him back to jail, however. The felon has called to ask if Bergren would visit.

 

It's tempting to dismissTony White as an innocuous trickster. He's a small man, at less than five-foot-six and 125 pounds, and he speaks at a dizzying, disarming clip. Mug shots reveal a balding, bearded man with a hangdog gaze and crooked nose. In dealing with the courts and the cops, White often displays a puckish demeanor. When asked at a court hearing in November what his current address was, White jokingly replied, "Ramsey County Jail."

His brazen disregard for the law and high-speed exploits are amusing, even inspiring, in a perverse way. Who wouldn't want to careen down the highway at triple-digit speeds with sirens blaring? Or hoodwink the very officers charged with enforcing the laws? There's a certain outlaw romanticism to his misdeeds that has a storied place in American culture, from Bonnie and Clyde to the Unabomber. Unfortunately, as with those of other outlaws, White's adventures have occasionally hurt people.

On November 1, 1994, White was speeding east on Excelsior Boulevard in St. Louis Park. He was driving an ambulance with the siren and lights activated. As the mid-afternoon traffic waited for the light to change, White attempted to barrel through the intersection at Alabama Avenue and plowed straight into a pickup truck that was making a left-hand turn.

According to the police report, White stopped the ambulance, briefly checked on the injured driver of the pickup truck, and then continued on his way. The ambulance was later discovered a few blocks away, where it had been discarded after hitting a parked car.

The pickup truck driver, William Gundlach, was sent to Methodist Hospital, where his spleen was removed. He also suffered damage to his lungs and other internal organs. Gundlach was hospitalized for a week.

Five years later, on May 11, 1999, state trooper Brad Bordwell attempted to pull White over in Hill City for speeding. White took off. Traveling west on Highway 200 in the rain, with his then 65-year-old father in the car, he reached speeds in excess of 120 miles per hour. Officers from the Hill City and Cass and Aitkin counties joined trooper Bordwell in the pursuit. "Stop sticks" were deployed, but White managed to swerve around them. At one point White led officers down County Road 54, a "minimum maintenance" road. "It's got potholes and chuckholes, you name it," Bordwell recalls. "It was just a mess."

Bordwell repeatedly bumped the fleeing Crown Victoria in an attempt to make White stop, but to no avail. The state trooper was close enough to notice that White's car was equipped with a police radio. "I told dispatch, 'I think I'm chasing a police officer or a law enforcement vehicle,'" he says. Finally, after a pursuit of 60 miles, White was faced with a 90-degree turn. Bordwell plowed into the right back tire of the car, sending it off the road and onto its roof. Amazingly, neither White nor his father was injured.

Bordwell was not so lucky. When the chase finally ended, he realized that he couldn't turn his head to the right. He was hospitalized and treated for a cervical sprain. "It was painful for a good eight months," says Bordwell. "I couldn't sleep and I'd get headaches. I still have pain from it."

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