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Arrest, release, arrest of 15-time convicted felon highlights flaws in the system

KLEEBERGER_BOOKING_PHOTO.jpg
Charles W. Kleeberger, 39, has 15 felony convictions and could add four more if found guilty of possessing firearms stolen from three homes in Seattle and Shoreline. King County detectives expressed concern this week that a judge allowed Kleeberger to be released on $5,000 bond just days after his arrest. (Photo/King County) | Zoom
In a courtroom at the King County Jail Wednesday afternoon, 39-year-old Charles W. Kleeberger stood just inside the door with his wife and two young children as he waited for his name to be called.

At 2:51 p.m., he was brought before District Court Judge Johanna Bender and listened as a prosecutor read the four felony charges against him: three counts possession of a stolen firearm and one count unlawful possession of a firearm in the first degree.

He was told to be back in court for arraignment on June 19.

"Any questions today?" Judge Bender asked.

"No ma'am," he replied.

Three minutes later, at 2:54 p.m., Kleeberger and his family walked out of the King County Jail onto a busy sidewalk along Fifth Avenue in Seattle and disappeared down the street. He was long gone by the time the court realized there was a $250,000 warrant for his arrest.

The mix-up was just one aspect of the case that has frustrated detectives and outraged members of the community since his arrest six days ago.

Thursday, May 30

At 4:13 p.m., Officer Mitchell Wright with the Shoreline Police Department was dispatched to a house on North 193rd Street on the report of a residential burglary.

The owner of the home had been on vacation for several days and a friend who offered to pick up his mail called police when he noticed that the back door had been broken into.

The officer walked inside to find every cupboard, drawer and closet in the home open and emptied out. Pictures were taken off the wall, a flat screen TV was missing, a Yamaha outboard motor was gone and a large box full of tools was taken from the garage. Also stolen were as many as 15 shotguns and three handguns, according to court documents.

At 10:00 p.m., a detective was contacted by a citizen who claimed to have information about the burglary and where the stolen items were being kept. The informant claimed to have personally seen the property at a home in the 1600 block of 15th Avenue N.E.

Detectives learned that the house belonged to Charles W. Kleeberger; a career criminal with multiple felony convictions.

Friday, May 31

It was around 8:30 p.m. when SWAT and detectives from the King County Sherriff's Office served a search warrant at the home on 15th Avenue N.E.

According to court documents, Kleeberger was arrested inside with a 9mm round in his pocket. He was taken to the Shoreline Police Department where he invoked his right to remain silent.

Back at his home, investigators took inventory: a flat screen TV, a toolbox, power tools, a gun safe that had been pried open, a Yamaha outboard motor, flatware sets and 23 stolen firearms.

Detectives tied property found in the home to three residential burglaries.

At 11:41 p.m., Kleeberger was booked into the King County Jail.

The lead detective on the case feared that Kleeberger would fail to appear in court if released and asked that he be held without bail until prosecutors could file charges.

According to court records, Kleeberger has 15 felony convictions dating back to 1988.

His record includes felony convictions for first-degree robbery, first-degree attempted robbery, second-degree theft, second-degree burglary, possession of stolen property, unlawful possession of a firearm, third-degree assault, second-degree malicious mischief and two counts of taking a motor vehicle without permission. He has misdemeanor convictions for third-degree theft, reckless endangerment, possession of marijuana, criminal trespass, destruction of property and seven counts of fourth-degree assault.

Saturday, June 1

The day after his arrest, Kleeberger was brought before a King County judge for first appearance.

The preliminary hearing is standard procedure in the court system and allows judges to determine if probable cause exists to hold a suspect. To make their decision they must consider a number of factors including criminal history, ties to the community, nature of the allegations, danger to the public and flight risk.

Reiko Callner, executive director of the Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct, said judges must strike a balance between the rights of someone accused of a crime and the safety of the public in setting bail.

"There is a prosecutor urging one thing and there is a defense attorney urging another and so the judge has a number of factors that he or she has to weigh in making this decision," Callner said. "They are supposed to look out for the constitutional rights of people who are presumed innocent and sometimes are."

Kleeberger was ordered held on $50,000 cash bail or the execution of a surety bond. It meant that he could post 10 percent of that amount if he could convince a bail-bond agent that he had enough collateral to secure his release.

Monday, June 3

At 9:45 a.m., Kleeberger was released from the King County Jail on $5,000 bond.

Tuesday, June 4

"It's so frustrating. It's gotten to the point that now I'm sitting here with the media," said the King County detective who worked to put Kleeberger behind bars. "I've been doing this job for almost 14 years and this is the first interview I've ever done."

The detective spoke with KIRO Radio Tuesday afternoon to express concern over what he said was a flaw in the court system that allowed a dangerous felon to return to the neighborhood he victimized. He spoke on the condition that his name not be used as it could compromise his work undercover.

"We have a responsibility to the public and I take that responsibility very seriously," said the detective, which is why he objected to Kleeberger being released on bail. "This is the type of person that needs to stay (in jail)."

"We do everything we can do to arrest these people and make sure they stay in. In this case we did everything we needed to do on our side of the house to make sure that was accomplished."

As the detective spoke, a man showed up at the Shoreline Police Department to identify several items that were found in Kleeberger's home: a silver bracelet and a German hunting horn made of brass and leather.

The 74-year-old man has lived at his home in Shoreline for nearly half a century, but spent a considerable amount of time in Europe where he amassed a collection of items that were both valuable and unique. He said many of those items were stolen in two separate home burglaries that police believe were perpetrated by Kleeberger, his neighbor.

Among the items was a set of napkins and placemats from Africa intricately engraved with depictions of wild animals. The set was "a gift from a lady friend," he said.

He estimated that the items stolen from his home were worth $80,000. There were some things that he couldn't put a price on, including an album with pictures of his son who passed away about two years ago.

"He stole all the contents of a file cabinet that had everything from the title of my vehicle to the deed to my house," he said. "Mementos that I've kept: my diploma and degrees and honors."

Also missing, he said, are remnants of his family history.

He said he had no idea that the man living next door to him was a felon. The ordeal has made him think more seriously about selling his home.

"I don't want him in my neighborhood," he said.

Wednesday, June 5

As detectives waited anxiously to find out if Kleeberger would appear for his 2:30 p.m. hearing at the King County Jail, the prosecutor's office filed charges: three counts possession of a stolen firearm and one count unlawful possession of a firearm in the first degree.

If convicted, Kleeberger would become a 19-time felon and could face up to 102 months in prison for each firearm found to be in his possession.

"Based on this violent criminal history, and the fact that the defendant possessed 23 stolen guns and ammunition while he is a convicted felon, the state is extremely concerned that the defendant is a risk to public safety and is likely to commit a violent offense," read court documents filed Wednesday. "The state is also concerned that the defendant will fail to appear to his future court proceedings if he is out of custody."

According to the documents, Kleeberger has had 45 warrants issued for his arrest since 1992 and has been booked into the King County Jail 31 times.

Prosecutors requested bail be increased to $250,000 and that a warrant be issued for his arrest, which would allow deputies to take Kleeberger into custody when he showed up for court.

But when Kleeberger stood before a judge that afternoon, bail was not discussed.

No one - including the judge, the defense, or the prosecution - had seen the request for increased bail and none had the proper paperwork in front of them.

Kleeberger was allowed to leave.

At 2:54 p.m., as he walked out of the jail with his wife and two children, Kleeberger narrowly missed two King County major crimes detectives who knew about the warrant for his arrest and had rushed to the courthouse to make sure he was taken into custody.

He returned to his home in Shoreline unaware of the mistake.

Around 5:10 p.m., Kleeberger stepped outside onto his porch and was arrested by several detectives who had watched him from a nearby bush.

At 7:24 p.m., for the second time in less than a week, Kleeberger was booked into the King County Jail.

Brandi Kruse, KIRO Radio Reporter
Brandi Kruse is a reporter for KIRO Radio who is as spontaneous and adventurous in her free time as she is on the job. Brandi arrived at KIRO Radio in March 2011 and has already collected three regional Edward R. Murrow awards for her reporting.
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