A suspected San Francisco serial bipper who was arrested, charged and released by a judge without bail allegedly went back to breaking into cars and was twice caught on camera by a YouTuber’s bait-car operation and hit with fart spray just three days after his release.
But it wasn’t just the YouTuber’s bait car that attracted the suspect, Charvel Maurice Augustine. That same day, undercover police arrested him on suspicion of separate car break-ins.
Augustine is set to stand trial on March 28 for two cases stemming from offenses last July and October.
San Francisco is in the grips of a car break-in epidemic. Police data says there were 19,742 car burglaries in the city last year, an average of 54 break-ins a day.
The San Francisco Police Department has ramped up bait-car operations to catch thieves in the act.
Arrests are one thing, but successful prosecutions are another. Augustine’s case is just one of many, but it is illustrative in showing how long it can take for the wheels of justice to turn and how suspects may re-offend while earlier charges work their way through the system. The Standard used court documents to piece together the timeline of Augustine’s case.
The timeline of a suspected serial bipper
- July 14, 2023: Police arrest Augustine on suspicion of car burglary.
- July 18, 2023: The district attorney charges Augustine with felony vehicle burglary. Judge Victor Hwang releases him, requiring no bond money.
- Sept. 29, 2023: After Augustine fails to appear in court for his arraignment, Judge Rochelle East orders a $35,000 bench warrant for him.
- Oct. 9, 2023: Augustine appears in court, and Judge Loretta Giorgi revokes the bench warrant. She then releases Augustine again on his own recognizance.
- Oct. 12, 2023: After he is caught by a YouTuber’s bait car, police arrest Augustine again at Bay and Franklin streets on suspicion of burglarizing three rental cars, with added charges for felony while on bail.
- Oct. 17, 2023: Judge Hwang releases Augustine with conditions including GPS ankle monitoring and home detention supervised by the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department.
- March 28: Augustine is due to appear in court on trial for both burglary cases.
Augustine was first arrested in July and was charged with a felony for second-degree burglary of a 2017 Kia Niro and misdemeanor possession of a “window punch” burglar tool.
According to police spokesperson Robert Rueca, on July 14, officers in plainclothes were conducting surveillance around the Palace of Fine Arts before they spotted Augustine.
The DA’s July complaint against Augustine lists three aggravating circumstances: attempted taking of great monetary value, violent conduct indicating a danger to society and prior convictions as an adult. Court documents on his criminal history were unavailable.
After his Oct. 9 release by Giorgi, Augustine became the unwitting subject of a bait-car sting video operation on Oct. 12 by former NASA engineer and YouTuber Mark Rober in partnership with ABC7’s I-Team. The footage, which shows the suspect being hit by a fart-spray cannon via a camera inside the stolen bag, made it to broadcast and was published online on Jan. 7. Augustine displayed no visible or audible reaction to the fart-spray deterrent.
Rober caught Augustine breaking into cars and taking backpacks, first near the Embarcadero and then near the Palace of Fine Arts.
Later that day, according to court documents, police arrested Augustine on suspicion of breaking into rental cars at the corner of Bay and Franklin streets, where officers searched Augustine’s silver Infiniti.
Augustine allegedly used a Swiss-Tech BodyGard punch tool to burglarize a 2023 Nissan Altima rented by Hertz and take $2,000 worth of clothes from a Nissan Rogue rented by Enterprise. He is alleged to have stolen a $2,000 LG laptop, a $1,500 Samsung laptop, a $1,500 iPad Pro, a $1,000 Samsung tablet, $300 Sony headphones and gifts from a suitcase.
Victims of Augustine’s offenses, as well as Hertz and Enterprise representatives, could not be reached for comment.
Augustine faces a total of six felony and three misdemeanor charges for both cases. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
He is currently released under GPS monitoring and home detention supervised by the San Francisco Sheriff’s Office while he awaits trial, according to court documents.
“We are living in a time of extreme income inequality, and studies show that auto burglaries are crimes of desperation and poverty,” Bao Doan, Augustine’s deputy public defender, said. “Incarceration does not solve poverty or deter auto burglaries; investments in community health and job opportunities do.”
The battle against bipping
Mayor London Breed said in an end-of-year blog post that to reduce car break-ins, the city needs to “target organized robbery groups to bring stats down.”
Breed signed legislation in January to begin installing 400 automated license plate readers at 100 intersections across San Francisco to deter car break-ins. However, there is currently no timeline listed for installations.
“Automated license plate readers will help make San Francisco safer for all residents,” said District Attorney Brooke Jenkins. “Implementing this technology will provide a deterrent for criminal activity and an investigative tool for prosecutors in the courtroom.”
In December, Breed touted a 50% drop in car break-ins over the previous three months, credited to using bait cars, plainclothes officers and aggressive prosecutions.
In another bid to curb illegal activity, City Attorney David Chiu sent cease-and-desist letters to Amazon, Walmart and eBay last year on the sale of illegal license plate covers.
“License plate covers that obscure plate numbers impede the ability of law enforcement to apprehend individuals engaged in criminal activities,” Chiu wrote in a letter to eBay.
State Sen. Scott Wiener also introduced SB 905 in January, a bill meant to remove the “locked door loophole” that requires prosecutors to prove a burglarized vehicle was locked and forcibly entered without permission. “By making clear cases of auto break-in easier to prosecute, SB 905 helps make California safer for everyone,” Wiener said in a press release.