How Did a Man Robbed of His Car Keys End Up in Jail for Robbery?

On May 25, Gatney Yaw pulled over at a gas station in southwest Houston to make the most expensive phone call of his life—one that would ultimately cost him a job and a car and lead to six days in jail.

He didn't want to talk and drive, he said, but just as he was about to finish the call, someone came over to his window and started asking him about money, as KTRK first reported this week. He tried to shoo the person away—but before the woman would leave, another woman came around to his passenger window and sneakily grabbed Yaw's keys out of the ignition while he wasn't looking, he said. Yaw got out of the car, chasing the woman, who started essentially playing monkey-in-the-middle with Yaw's keys with two other people. One of them put the keys in her purse, and Yaw grabbed her, trying to pull her purse away.

And then the police showed up—somebody had called.

Yaw says they questioned both the women and him separately, and he tried to explain to them what was going on. Whatever the women must have said, though, Yaw ended up in handcuffs, accused of trying to steal the woman's purse and scratching her along the way. They put him in the back of the cop car and took everything out of his pockets while the women watched.

“They didn't even check to see whether I was telling the truth,” Yaw said.

Yaw's attorney, Murray Newman, says that this was all just a case of shoddy police work, and that the second he looked at Yaw's case, “I knew it was a load of shit.” During Yaw's first court appearance, Newman simply asked Judge Katherine Cabaniss to revisit whether there was any probable cause to arrest Yaw at all, and she agreed that there wasn't. The case was dismissed, and Yaw was released.

“The police just assumed he was in the wrong,” Newman said. “He seemed much more mad at HPD than at the girl. I think they just really hurt his feelings.” (Asked whether police actually even checked to see if the women had Yaw's keys, a spokesperson for the Houston Police Department would not comment on “specifics of an investigation.” He said if Yaw feels he was “treated unfairly,” he can file a complaint with the Internal Affairs Division.)

Once released, Yaw got a call from the pharmaceutical company where he worked placing orders for hospitals and clinics: He was fired. He was dropped off at the gas station where he left his car—only to find that he lost that too.

He reported his car stolen, and sure enough, police called him yesterday evening with pointless news: They had found the car in a tow yard. They gave him the phone number—but Yaw says they should be the one paying for it, to make up for taking a thief's word at a gas station.

“If [the tow yard] gives me the car back, how am I going to drive it home?” he said.

He doesn't have a spare key.
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Meagan Flynn is a staff writer at the Houston Press who, despite covering criminal justice and other political squabbles in Harris County, drinks only one small cup of coffee per day.
Contact: Meagan Flynn