FERNDALE - A 17-year-old babysitter and her two friends have been sentenced to juvenile detention and jail time for faking a home-invasion robbery near Ferndale, then covering it up by blaming the break-in on an African-American neighbor.
The teenage girl, of Bellingham, faces up to a year behind bars.
She had been working as a babysitter for two girls, aged 1 and 4, for about three months at an apartment in the 5300 block of Northwest Drive. She was watching over them, and her own 1-year-old son, at 4:20 p.m. June 18, when two young men burst through the door.
They shouted, "Get the (expletive) out!"
"Go outside, don't ask questions," the babysitter told the girls, "and don't look back."
But the 4-year-old girl did look back. Later her description of the men - who had "grumpy" voices and "peach" skin, she said - helped to crack the case.
The babysitter and the girls fled, but dallied, before going to a neighbor's house to call 911. The teenage girl described the robbers as two black men in their 20s, dressed in black clothing. One man, who looked thinner, held a knife; the other, more muscular man had what looked like a gun handle sticking out of his backpack, she said.
A U.S. border helicopter, police dogs and heavily armed sheriff's deputies swarmed the neighborhood.
The babysitter pointed out that one of the neighbors was black and looked like one of the "robbers." So Cody Oakes, 25, was called out of his home at rifle-point, handcuffed, questioned, and detained for hours in the back of a patrol car.
Other than a traffic ticket, Oakes has no criminal history. He's an analyst at J.P. Morgan and quarterback for the semipro Bellingham Bulldogs. He calmly explained he'd just been getting ready for football practice when he saw the SWAT team roll up, and that he knew nothing about the break-in.
Confronted, the babysitter changed her story. One of the suspects might be a homeless East Indian man she knew, she said. Eventually, she admitted one of her 16-year-old friends had done it, but she claimed he acted alone. She finally caved and said she and her boyfriend, Ruben Jerome Benjamin, hatched the plot.
According to a court document filed this month by Deputy Prosecutor Evan Jones, they'd been planning it for weeks. The babysitter agreed to pack up the items they would steal and to unlock the doors.
Two hours beforehand, she messaged Benjamin, "Your going to need a couple of backpacks and take my diaper bag from the house too. It'll look weird if mu stuff isn't taken too" (sic).
She followed up via text an hour-and-a-half later: "I pods in both bed rooms. Look through the cubes in the bed room and the shelf in the living room. Um multipurpose room jewelry box."
The other teens put on black Latex gloves and backpacks, and parked blocks away from the apartment. They stole a piggy bank, laptops, gaming gear - in all, about $1,500 in property. Nearly all of it was recovered the same day.
The babysitter and the 16-year-old accomplice pleaded guilty this week to residential burglary and conspiring to commit residential burglary. She was sentenced in juvenile court to 44 to 52 weeks; the boy must serve 15 to 36 weeks in juvenile detention.
The Bellingham Herald doesn't name minors convicted of crimes that don't result in a death. The babysitter turns 18 next week.
Benjamin, 18, has been serving out his six-month jail sentence since pleading guilty to second-degree robbery and residential burglary in July.
All three had a history of petty crimes: minor in possession of alcohol, third-degree theft, second-degree malicious mischief and drug possession.
They're barred from contacting the victim family. Restitution remains to be determined.