Night Prowler in Florida Cut Electric Scooters’ Brakes, Police Say

He prowled the streets of southeastern Fort Lauderdale under cover of night, a pair of wire cutters in his pocket, one hand sheathed in a glove. Then, the police said, he carried out his crime: slashing the brake lines of electric scooters and rendering them useless.

The suspect, Randall Thomas Williams, 59, was arrested on Sept. 29 and charged with criminal mischief, a third-degree felony. The police said they had linked him to about 20 incidents, but at least 140 scooters had been vandalized in Fort Lauderdale since April 5, and the capers had the hallmark of a serial crime.

All of the scooters were similarly distressed, with severed brake lines and stickers placed over a bar code so that the scooters could not be activated with a smartphone. The majority of them were within a two-block radius of Mr. Williams’s apartment, the arrest report said.

Mr. Williams did not return calls on Wednesday, and the Fort Lauderdale police had little to say beyond a news release. But for the past year, electric scooters have been the source of much drama in southern Florida. In June, Fort Lauderdale banned scooters on the beach for the summer. The city also banned them during spring break, on holidays and during the Tortuga Music Festival in April.

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CreditBroward County Sheriff’s Office

Farther afield, more than 100 electric scooters were dumped in Lake Merritt in Oakland, Calif., last year, while others were smeared with feces in Los Angeles. There is even an Instagram account, birdgraveyard, that documents the destruction of scooters used by two popular brands, Lime and Bird.

Steve Glassman, a Fort Lauderdale commissioner who approved the summer scooter ban, told The Sun-Sentinel in June, “It’s too much of a free-for-all out there.”

Mr. Williams did not give the police a motive when he was arrested. But the Fort Lauderdale police had been aware of the thefts for some time. In June, a representative for Lime, which rents electric scooters in Fort Lauderdale, filed a police incident report regarding a rash of vandalized scooters. (Many but not all of the 140 scooters damaged in the city since April belonged to Lime.)

As of July, the company said, 51 of its scooters had been damaged. That month, Lime told investigators it had captured a screenshot of a white man with clippers in hand, crouching near a row of scooters, and showed it to people in the area.

“Vandalizing property is not only a crime, it’s dangerous and directly harms those who rely on these vehicles,” a Lime spokesman said in a statement.

Investigators had identified Mr. Williams as a possible suspect by July, according to police records. And on Sept. 22 at 3:47 a.m. the police said, they observed him on video, bent over two scooters in an empty driveway. Clad in shorts and sandals, he placed a sticker on each bike before tampering with the brakes, according to the police.

The police staked out Mr. Williams’s apartment the next weekend. On Sept. 28, he left his home past midnight. He stopped to look at a scooter. At 4:10 a.m., he was captured on video loitering near another six, the police said. Their report said seven scooters were vandalized that night.

The next day, Mr. Williams was again observed past midnight, the police report said, adding that he “walked the neighborhood in a stealthy fashion, utilizing the shadows and the alleyways to conceal his movements.” He was seen approaching a Bird scooter and cutting the brake line. He returned home. He left again, this time stopping at a row of six scooters.

At 6:16 a.m., the police said, Mr. Williams was approached by officers on foot, followed by a police car with red and blue flashing lights. He would not go easily. He “balled his fists and refused to comply,” the report said. “The defendant then began to brace, tense and pull away from officers and refused to let go of the objects in his hands.”

Mr. Williams was holding two sets of wire cutters and a pair of pliers, and had a glove on one hand, the police said. He had vandalized nine scooters that night, according to the report. He was arrested and, back at the police station, requested a lawyer, saying that “he did not want to dig himself into a grave,” the report said. Mr. Williams was released on Monday after posting $500 bail.

“Lime will pursue appropriate legal action against those who vandalize our property and put innocent riders in harm’s way,” the company’s spokesman said.

Damages from the 20 incidents that have been traced to Mr. Williams so far could total $1,400, the police said. “The exact incurred loss” to the businesses affected, the police report said, “is unknown at this time and is still being calculated.”