Thief of Police

Tony White's lifelong obsession with law enforcement

White speculates that one reason Tony continues to run afoul of the law is that his mother has always made excuses for him, blaming her son's troubles on a police vendetta. "About 90 percent of his problem is his mother," he surmises. "No matter what happened, it was never Tony's fault."

John White says that he's tried to persuade his son to get into a line of work that doesn't involve the police, but without luck. "His response is, 'It's the only thing I do, it's the only thing I know.' He goes on and on about that," White laments. "He doesn't want to be tied down to certain hours of a week, go to work at seven and get off at three. He wants to, like a painter, name his own hours. He's always been that way."

Tony's never been married. He doesn't drink or smoke. His only vices are sirens and speed. "Cripes, he don't even drink coffee," says Marvin Leonard. "He's got a natural high about himself. He's real excitable."

White's own assessment of his unsuccessful career as a con artist is impossible to discern. He has been incarcerated since November and did not respond to two letters from City Pages requesting an interview. Kassius Benson, White's Hennepin County public defender, says his client is not interested in talking.

White's mother, with whom he lived before his most recent arrest, has also proven elusive. (She is divorced from John White.) A letter and repeated phone calls to her went unanswered. Several visits to her Eagan apartment also elicited no response.

While it is impossible to get a definitive reading on what makes White tick, there are some intriguing possibilities. Perhaps the most interesting (if far-flung) prospect is that he suffers from a neurological disorder called Asperger's Syndrome. Asperger's is similar to autism, with the distinction that people who suffer from it have normal intelligence levels. The disorder was first described in the 1940s by an Austrian pediatrician named Hans Asperger but was not recognized as a medical diagnosis in the United States until 1994. Asperger's patients are emotionally distant, often unable to grasp the fundamentals of social interactions. They generally speak in a monotone and avoid eye contact.

The most peculiar characteristic of Asperger's patients, however, is that, like White, they develop a consuming interest in one particular subject. They often memorize obscure facts about their obsession or collect seemingly useless materials related to it. Dr. George Realmuto, associate professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Minnesota, says that he's treated Asperger's patients whose fixations included mushrooms, blocks, marbles, and Gopher sports. One kid was consumed with collecting garage door openers. "He comes in with his family, looks at me, shakes my hand, and says, 'What kind of garage door opener do you have?'" Realmuto recalls.

In one notorious case, reminiscent of White's situation, a New York City man has been convicted 19 times for impersonating a transit system employee. A recent Harper's story recounted how Darius McCollum repeatedly drove trains throughout the New York subway system even though he was not working for the transit authority. Many people attributed McCollum's behavior to Asperger's Syndrome.

Another possible explanation for White's conduct is that he suffers from some kind of impulse control disorder, like kleptomania. Sergeant Bergren speculates that White is simply unable to resist the temptation to engage in illegal activities. "If he was a sex offender he'd be locked up for life," Bergren says. "It's just that his obsession happens to be these police cars and police equipment."

White is now facing 22 months in prison for his Ramsey County crimes. Three other felony charges are pending in Hennepin County. He will be out of commission for a while, but based on past experience there is little doubt that he will someday return to the highway, siren blaring.

Even if White were diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome or an impulse control disorder, it is doubtful that it would make much difference legally. Jon Grant, co-director of the Impulse Control Disorders Clinic at the University of Minnesota, who is also a lawyer, says that only people with severe psychoses have successfully used the defense that they cannot control their behavior and therefore are not responsible for their crimes. In one famous local case, a St. Paul man named Max Weisberg was found mentally incompetent to stand trial on bookmaking charges. Weisberg is borderline retarded, but a savant when it comes to numbers. Grant says that such defenses have not proven successful for people who suffer from impulse control disorders such as kleptomania or gambling. "It has not been applied successfully to these types of behaviors, though people have tried, particularly in the case of gambling addiction," he notes.

Of course there might be another explanation for White's mischief. He might simply be a thief.

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