Defendant in Kmart heist accused of beating man

Ex-Kmart worker Frank Rowcroft faces Sept. 8 trial on theft charges

Posted: Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Awaiting trial next month on charges he staged a blackout and stole nearly $100,000 from Kmart, the store's former security chief has been sued by a customer who claims he was beaten outside the now-closed retail outlet.

Stephen McKinney of Juneau is suing Kmart, Frank Brian Rowcroft, Rowcroft's assistant and Rowcroft's Anchorage-based supervisor, alleging the two Juneau employees left him with permanent physical and emotional injuries in March 2002.

Police allege Rowcroft stole nearly $100,000 in cash from the store after triggering a power failure later that month.

And, last Sept. 14, Rowcroft sustained a gunshot wound, telling police he had been in a fight but that his memory was fuzzy. Police considered the shooting a possible suicide attempt, according to Juneau court records.

Louis Menendez, Rowcroft's attorney in the criminal case, has filed motions arguing for suppression of much of the evidence the prosecution plans to use, claiming it was obtained through illegal searches.

Juneau Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins has scheduled a Sept. 3 hearing on the issue. The trial is scheduled to begin Sept. 8.

Menendez also has argued police blamed his client and worked to make evidence fit since March 31, 2002, the day of the Kmart theft.

Menendez said his client would have had to simultaneously trip circuit breakers in three places to knock out the lights, leave with the money undetected and return to erase security tapes.

No one questions that Rowcroft, Kmart's loss prevention manager, worked outside the store for the previous 30 days. Rowcroft and an assistant, Chad McMullen, had a confrontation with a man whom they prevented from entering the store.

McKinney's suit alleges he tried to help the man, although he did not know him.

McMullen "turned his attention to the good Samaritan (McKinney), beating and kicking him and forcing him to the ground" before Rowcroft joined him, McKinney's attorney, Larry R. Woolford, wrote in the civil damage suit.

McKinney and the man he was trying to help were charged with assaulting Rowcroft and McMullen. Both defendants were acquitted at a May 26 trial.

Rowcroft did not testify during that case. Juneau District Judge Peter B. Froehlich ruled jurors could not be told why, and jurors also could not be told why Rowcroft was no longer working at Kmart.

The day the lights went out at Kmart, it was discovered that $99,980 in cash and $37,000 in checks and credit card receipts had been taken from the cash cage, according to court records from Rowcroft's theft case. Portions of tapes from security cameras in six strategic areas of the store had been taped over, hindering the investigation.

Kmart fired Rowcroft and McMullen on April 6. Rowcroft was living with Alia McAlister, who had been fired as a Kmart loss prevention employee on March 24, court records show.

Police said Rowcroft was seen spending large amounts of cash after he lost his job. His purchases included an engagement ring for McAlister, furniture and home-entertainment hardware and software.

On May 3, Juneau police observed Rowcroft leaving town in his 1997 Dodge Stratus. They learned he was on a ferry bound for Skagway and notified police and border officials that the car could be stopped because Rowcroft had not yet put on his new veteran's plates. Rowcroft could be arrested for the Kmart theft if more than $25,000 turned up in the vehicle, police said.

Canadian Customs searched his car, found nothing and sent him back because of the license plate violation. U.S. Customs found $30,586 in plastic bags beneath the liner carpet in his trunk. A Skagway police sergeant placed Rowcroft under arrest.

McAlister was not charged. She told police that Rowcroft attributed the money to a gambling debt owed to him from his days as a professional gambler in Las Vegas, according to court records.

Menendez accused police of using border authorities to make a warrantless search on the Stratus. He said the fact that federal currency charges were not filed against Rowcroft until Nov. 20 shows the search was done solely for the benefit of Juneau police.

Menendez said the police's suspicion that money was in the Stratus was based on dust fingerprints seen on the trunk while it was parked at a relative's residence. Because it was not parked in a public area or in the driveway, Menendez argues that police needed a warrant to gather that information.

Anything from the trunk should be excluded from evidence, and anything from Rowcroft's residence after the search of the trunk should be excluded, he said.

Assistant District Attorney Doug Gardner argued there was no search of the Stratus while it was parked in Juneau, and U.S. and Canadian Customs agents have authority to search vehicles without a warrant.

Menendez also questioned potential evidence collected at the shooting scene. He wrote that from the moment police arrived, they only looked at the possibility that Rowcroft had shot himself - that he "somehow duct taped his hands, and feet and then with a .22 rifle shot himself in the back and hand. It has not been explained how someone other than a contortionist could accomplish such a feat."

Gardner argued it was proper for police to search a potential crime scene.

Among the items seized were letters police described as possible suicide notes from Rowcroft.

One was written to McMullen.

"You did not deserve suspicion," it said. "You had nothing to do with this and never did anything to deserve the hell I'm sure you went through."

The note also thanked McMullen for bringing McAlister into his life.

Kmart closed its Juneau store about a year after the $100,000 theft. Nationwide, the company closed 326 stores last spring after filing for debt reorganization under Chapter 11 of the federal bankruptcy law in January 2002.

• Tony Carroll can be reached at tony.carroll@juneauempire.com.



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