By MIKE DONOGHUE
Vermont News First
A version of this story appeared in the Rutland Herald
Tips from the general public and police, along with security video helped Vermont State Police quickly identify a four-time convicted felon responsible for stealing one of their fully marked department patrol cruisers and a loaded rifle early Tuesday in Rutland, court records show.
Timothy M. Gabriel, 29, of Rutland was arrested in Burlington after a brief struggle with state troopers near the Walgreen’s Pharmacy on Cherry Street, one block from the Church Street Marketplace Wednesday afternoon, state police said.
Gabriel, who also has ties to Burlington, had ignored commands directing him to surrender, Detective Sgt. Henry Alberico said.
Gabriel, who once said he robbed a Rutland City business in 2019 to support his crack cocaine addiction, had traveled by bus to Burlington with the intent to fleeing the state to avoid prosecution for the cruiser and rifle thefts, Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Waples said.
The department-issued Sig Sauer .223-caliber patrol rifle with one loaded magazine containing 28 rounds was found Thursday afternoon in Bennington County.
Police said those involved in drugs and thefts had been feeling the heat from state, local and federal law enforcement as they have been working overtime to interview informants and others to try to recover the firearm before it was used in a new crime. Police had said they believed the rifle had exchanged hands a few times and was considered too hot to handle.
Vermont State Police, acting on a tip from the public, worked with Vermont game wardens to find the firearm off U.S. 7 in Arlington.
A caller to the Shaftsbury barracks said law enforcement might want to check some pull-off areas along U.S. 7 in between Manchester and Shaftsbury, police said. The rifle was found near exit 3 in Arlington in the early afternoon, spokesman Adam Silverman disclosed. Detectives responded to process the scene for evidence.
Meanwhile, state police continue to investigate the circumstances surrounding the theft of the patrol rifle and the green and gold cruiser with a blue light bar.
Troopers working in the uniform division are assigned marked police cruisers to take home. Secure storage racks for police-issued firearms, including the Sig Sauer patrol rifle, are installed. State police policy provides that anytime a cruiser is left unattended, the vehicle must be locked with the windows secured, Silverman said.
VSP investigators have been unable initially to determine whether the cruiser was locked when stolen, he said. It was parked overnight in a parking lot in direct sight from Patrol Cpl. Christopher Loyzelle’s residence in Rutland City when he went off duty about 2 a.m. Tuesday, Silverman said.
Police are continuing to investigate precisely how the suspect made entry into the 2021 Ford SUV without damaging the either the vehicle or the ignition system and bypassing any security system.
Police said gun racks inside cruisers are secured independently and cannot be accessed with a vehicle key. The patrol rifle was locked in the storage rack in accordance with VSP policy. The rack and locking mechanism were damaged during the theft of the rifle. As is standard practice when a rifle is carried securely in a cruiser, a magazine with ammunition was loaded in the rifle, Silverman said.
Cpl. Loyzelle’s duty status is unchanged, Silverman said. Loyzelle has spent more than 15 years with the state police, most of it on the road, but he also did a stint as a detective in the drug investigation unit.
Besides the ongoing criminal investigation into the cruiser and rifle theft, it is standard procedure for Vermont State Police to conduct an internal investigation when taxpayer property is stolen.
Gabriel appeared briefly in U.S. District Court in Burlington late Thursday afternoon on a federal charge of being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm in Rutland County.
Federal Magistrate Judge Kevin Doyle agreed to a request by the prosecution that Gabriel be held without bail pending further proceedings. The defense did not contest the request, but left the door open to seek his release later.
Doyle told Gabriel he is entitled to a probable cause hearing Nov. 2. He will lose it if a federal grand jury indicts him in the interim.
If convicted on the single federal charge, Gabriel faces up to 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. There is a mandatory 5-year minimum sentence.
Meanwhile Rutland County State’s Attorney Ian Sullivan said Thursday he expects to file charges against Gabriel in Vermont Superior Court for recent area crimes, including the stolen rifle and police cruiser with the related damage.
Gabriel is a 4-time convicted felon including an assault and robbery conviction in 2020 in Rutland that netted him a 4-to-12-year sentence in prison and had been released recently back into the community by the Department of Corrections, records show.
The Rutland Herald did report in May 2019 about Gabriel’s arrest for a gunpoint robbery at China Kitchen on West Street. He was initially jailed without bail for three felony charges: assault and robbery with a deadly weapon and two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, the news story said.
Rutland City Police said China Kitchen owner reported the gun was held to his neck and was later turned toward a customer when she walked in to the eatery. The robbery was caught on video and City Detective Emilio Rosario recognized Gabriel because he was wanted for an unrelated larceny charge at the same business, records show.
Police quickly caught Gabriel, who confessed to the armed robbery and said the weapon was actually a BB gun, court records show. Gabriel said he needed the money to feed his crack cocaine addiction, Rosario wrote.
Gabriel also received a pair of 18-month-to-4-year prison sentences on Nov. 4, 2014 for two grand larceny convictions, Alberico said in a court affidavit. A Bennington County deputy sheriff caught him driving the second car, police said.
In the new case, Gabriel was jailed overnight at the Northwest State Correctional Facility in St. Albans Town pending his federal court hearing.
Waples had filed a motion seeking Gabriel be detained as both a risk to flee and that the case involves a felony with a firearm. He wrote there are no known conditions that could keep the public safe. Gabriel also has various convictions for violations of probation and violations of conditions of release, Waples said.
The state police initially said the theft happened sometime between 2 a.m. and 4:40 a.m. on Tuesday. Now it appears the theft was closer to 4:40 a.m..
State police learned about the theft shortly before 7 a.m. when Patrol Sgt. Blake Cushing got a text from Jason Swett at a Beldon Road business in Rutland City that said, “There’s a state trooper at our shop we haven’t seen him, but his car windows down which I thought was weird. Must’ve got there just before us. Just want to make sure he is ok.”
Swett confirmed it was not a city police cruiser and texted photographs to Cushing. The cruiser with state police license plate 427 is assigned to Loyzelle, who went off duty at 2 a.m., Alberico said.
Cushing called Sgt. Mark Perkins, the daytime patrol commander, who sent a trooper to check the cruiser, while Lt. Doug Norton called Loyzelle, Alberico said. Loyzelle looked out his window and said the cruiser was not where he parked it.
Alberico said when he arrived at the scene, he saw the window was rolled down and there was blood on the passenger’s side door, rear hatch and inside the cruiser. A Ford key was found on the ground nearby, the veteran detective said.
The gun rack between the two front seats had been broken and a rifle was missing, Alberico said. The rack still contained a shotgun, he wrote.
Justin Belden approached investigators and said there were multiple cameras around the exterior of the building. A review of the video showed the cruiser pulled around to the back of the building and 15 minutes later a man is seen walking away, Alberico said.
Cameras from a nearby Casella facility on Beldon Road showed a clear picture of a man walking with what appeared to be a black rifle, police said. A still photograph from the video was included in a news release issued that morning.
The tips began to come into state police that Gabriel was the suspect. Rutland City Officer Eric Morgano was apparently the first to alert state police, according to the court affidavit. Video also showed the cruiser had arrived on Beldon Road.
An email with the photograph of the suspect also was sent to all Rutland area law enforcement. Keith Heald from Vermont Probation and Parole and Rutland Town Police Officer Jimmy Plakas, who had dealt with Gabriel on previous cases, identified him, police said.
Rutland City Police Officer Timothy Rice reported the tan colored Timberland boots that Gabriel was wearing matched some boots that were reported stolen from the Shoe Department in the Rutland Shopping Plaza on Monday, Alberico said in his affidavit. The store manager took a picture of the shoplifter and provided it to city police, Alberico said. The picture is included in the court affidavit.
There was a massive effort by state, local and federal law enforcement to locate the cruiser and rifle. Officers made a couple of attempts to arrest the suspect, which they had not publicly identified. One of those efforts included a massive police presence near 308 West Street late Tuesday afternoon that closed down the road for a few hours.
The suspect remained one step ahead of police until Tuesday. State police said they received a tip that Gabriel had gone to Burlington to avoid the local dragnet and to try to find a way to leave Vermont. A subsequent tip said he was in downtown Burlington, possibly near Walgreens on Cherry Street, waiting to get money wired to him, police said.
State police detectives, including members of the drug unit, along with members of the State Police SWAT team began to comb the area and soon spotted Gabriel, a spokesman said. He tried to resist and get away, but was taken into custody after a struggle, police said.
It was about the same time that a few blocks away at U.S. District Court in Burlington that Alberico’s criminal complaint and 7-page supporting affidavit were filed.