Faribault Police believe they have solved a spate of recent break-ins at the city’s cultural hub, the Paradise Center for the Arts.

Burglary charges were filed Monday against 20-year-old Demetrus Wood, of Faribault, over an incident that took place the previous day. According to the criminal complaint, Wood was accompanied by two juveniles, both 16. Information on the juveniles has not yet been made public.

All three were reportedly found by police on the center’s roof after a recently installed alarm system notified the center’s director, Heidi Nelson, of a potential break in. According Nelson, it was the third time in the last month that the Paradise had been broken into. Nelson said she noticed the first break in when she came to the facility on July 4 to put a coat of wax on the floors.

Nelson entered the small library on the upper floor of the Paradise and noticed that a ceiling tile had fallen from the roof. At first, she thought that heavy rains may have caused a partial roof collapse, but she said the tile didn’t look like it had been damaged in such a manner.

Nelson then looked up and quickly noticed that a small scuttle hatch above the tile was open. Footprints in the pottery studio, which was covered with chalk dust, and subsequently along the theatre’s black roof, clearly indicated that unauthorized visitors had been in the building. Panicked, Nelson called the Faribault Police and filed a report. The nonprofit center took steps to secure its roof hatches, but that wasn’t enough to stop a similar incident from happening shortly before July 17.

After the second incident, the Paradise went much further to protect itself, rekeying its doors and installing alarms. With the help of those alarms, the Paradise was finally able to catch its intruders on July 26.

According to the police report, officers arrived at the scene around 11:15 p.m. Sunday and conducted an initial search of the building. That came up empty, but officers found a broken lock at the bottom of a staircase leading to the roof and noticed the roof hatch was ajar.

Police then went onto the roof and immediately saw a man running. The defendant and the two juveniles were found on the south side of the building roof, and a backpack, later tied to the defendant, was found.

According to the Woods’ statement, the trio crawled up a pole to get onto the roof, then opened the hatch to gain access to the building. He said they were only in the building for about 10 minutes before hearing police sirens and fleeing. In the backpack, officers reportedly found a broken piece of pottery. Initially, the defendant claimed that he had purchased the clay piece from Wal-Mart, but later admitted he had taken it from the Paradise, upgrading the charge from break-in to burglary, according to court records.

In addition to the stolen art piece, marijuana was also found inside his backpack. As a result, a gross misdemeanor fifth-degree controlled substance charge was tacked on to the felony third-degree burglary charge.

Faribault Police Chief Andy Bohlen told the Faribault City Council Tuesday that he believes the same individuals were involved in all three cases. However, charges have only been filed for the July 26 incident.

Nelson said that after the second incident, Paradise Center Operations Director Julie Fakler noticed a finished piece of pottery appeared to have been taken from the studio. That piece has not yet been recovered.

The Paradise Center Director said she found it revealing that instead of trying to steal electronics or other traditional valuables, the intruders were instead more interested in the Paradise Center’s art.

The incidents triggered a bit of discussion at the City Council meeting after Councilor Peter van Sluis, who sits on the Paradise board, raised the topic. Councilor Elizabeth Cap said that incidents such as that clearly highlight a need for more youth programming.

“We have opportunities to fund youth activities and that is a really good thing,” she said. “It’s important for kids to have things to do that are constructive.”

Last week, the council considered a request for $10,000 in funding from Faribault Youth Investment. While comparatively small, the request could help FYI to receive grant funding from Youthprise, a Twin Cities based nonprofit focused on expanding access to youth programming.

However, the pandemic and its resulting budgetary impacts could prevent the city from providing such youth programs, in addition to limiting the types of programs that could occur. Arts-oriented youth have particularly been hurt by the pandemic, losing the opportunity to express themselves at places like the Paradise.

Reach Reporter Andrew Deziel at 507-333-3129 or follow him on Twitter @FDNandrew. © Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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