LARGO — In the early evening of July 2, two witnesses saw a short, thin, gray-haired man conceal a $2.99 pack of bologna in his pants at the Sunshine Food Mart at 1595 Seminole Blvd.
Largo police responded and arrested the suspect, who they say was drunk.
It was no big deal, except for a notation at the bottom of Richard Harvey Warren's arrest affidavit.
"Def. has been arrested 120 times in the state of Florida."
According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the 50-year-old Warren had been busted in 17 Florida counties since 1987, including 39 times in Pinellas County alone.
Technically, his arrest total is 118, not 120.
He twice was cited for criminal registration, which isn't considered an actual arrest.
Still, Warren's staggering arrest numbers raise the question, how does a common criminal take his game to such an uncommon level?
On July 9, a St. Petersburg Times reporter visited Warren at the Pinellas County Jail. Speaking through a phone during the next hour, he was calm and cordial.
"I feel bad about (the arrests)," Warren said. "I've been trying to keep myself together."
Warren blames his problems on booze.
Records show he had not been arrested in Florida in the 15 months before his bologna incident. During that time, he said, he had stayed away from alcohol, was taking AA classes and attending the Pathways Community Church in Largo. He even had gotten a place to live via the Section 8 housing assistance program with help from the VA.
He also said he is:
A veteran of the Army, was married once, has kids, is bi-polar, a drunk and a drifter.
Before securing his Largo apartment, he spent the better part of the past quarter-century homeless. How that came to be pains him.
Born in Atlanta on Oct. 20, 1958, and raised in nearby Clarkston, Warren said his childhood was uneventful. But then the youngest of nine children to John and Hildred Warren eventually started hanging with the wrong crowd as a teen, drank a little, smoked some marijuana and dropped out of high school, even though his grades weren't bad.
Later, he got his GED and joined the Army.
Pfc. Warren spent time at bases in Georgia and North Carolina, then in the former West Germany, where he guarded the border with East Germany. He liked his position, but missed his friends, so when his term was up, he headed back to Clarkston.
In the Army, Warren developed one bad habit.
He took a liking to alcohol.
Once back home, he got a job as a delivery man, met a girl and fell in love. But after his girlfriend dumped him, Warren was devastated and he began to drink more and more. To the best of his recollection, he had no trouble with the law, but then again he might have.
It's simply too difficult for him to recall because the arrests "are kind of mixed together."
By the early 1980s, Warren was living with a sister in Connecticut. Once there, his sibling fixed him up with a friend, with whom Warren would later marry and have two sons — Christopher and Michael. But, Warren said, his ever-increasing dependency on alcohol eventually torpedoed that relationship.
"Sometimes, I would go to work (as a maintenance employee) on Friday and come home Sunday night," he said.
After his wife sent him packing in the mid 1980s, Warren hit the road, and for the most part, has been on it ever since.
He spent time in New York, then made his way to New Jersey. He stopped in Pennsylvania. Then Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia before finally arriving in Florida via Greyhound bus with about $500 in his pocket.
"I just figured, 'I'll go to Florida and sleep on the beach,' " Warren said. "I knew it was warm and I didn't care about anything anymore."
Records show he was first arrested in Florida on Nov. 2, 1987, when Miami-Dade police accused him of trespassing. He doesn't remember the incident, or most of the 117 Sunshine State arrests that followed, which included him being charged from Key West to the Panhandle with everything from loitering and indecent exposure to resisting an officer with violence.
Warren was always on the move.
"If you stay in one area long, the police recognize you and start to give you trouble," he said.
Upon relocating in a new town, the first thing he did was look for drunks. They could tell him where the good stuff was.
He always carried a backpack.
In it, he had five pair of jeans and five shirts, underwear and toiletries. He shaved often, showered when he could and tried to look presentable.
He stayed away from hard drugs, he said.
At night, he removed a tent from his backpack and slept not with other homeless people, but in better-than-average areas. He felt safer that way.
Warren wasn't anchored to anything, and that included Florida.
He hitchhiked across the country more than once, usually riding with truckers. He spent nights on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, gambled with what little money he had in Las Vegas and watched a handful of sunsets from the beaches of Southern California.
Almost everyone he hitched with gave him a few bucks. Occasionally, someone would buy him a bus ticket.
Warren said he was arrested nearly every place he went. And alcohol was always what triggered things.
"I drank to drown my sorrow," he said.
In Florida, Warren has, among other things, faced 33 trespassing charges, 22 for disorderly intoxications and 17 for open containers. But he also has at least a dozen felony charges, including four for resisting an officer with violence, one for grand larceny and another for battery on a firefighter.
He takes the blame for most of his arrests, but maintained he never struck an officer.
"If anybody bled, I bled," Warren said. "If you touch the guy, it's battery. It's not like I hit the cop. I'm the one that got beat up."
According to the Department of Corrections, Warren has been sent to prison twice in Florida. Records show he also spent 10 months behind bars from October 1997 to August 1998 in New Jersey for theft.
"When I'm sober," he said, "I've never been arrested."
Of all the places he has been, this, for better or worse, is his favorite. The people — and the authorities — have been friendly here.
When reminded of his 39 Pinellas arrests, he chuckled at the irony.
The Veterans Center at Bay Pines, he said, helped treat his bi-polar disorder (for which he takes medicine) and gave him a sense of self-respect by once providing him a part-time job.
He has worked at various times as a carpenter or janitor, but is jobless at the moment. He passes time watching TV in his apartment, and sometimes visits the library.
He doesn't panhandle.
Food stamps allow him to eat reasonably well and Bay Pines assisted him with clothing.
He owns a cell phone and keeps in touch with some family members, including his sons. He spoke to them about a month ago. He described his conversations with them as brief.
Warren dreams of meeting another woman, of finding love again, of getting a job. And despite his latest relapse, he thinks he can stay sober.
He doesn't want pity, he said. He wants another chance.
But he might not get it.
Remember the theft of the bologna?
The day Warren was arrested, a friend named John stopped by to repay a $50 loan. For some reason, and Warren doesn't know why, he felt the need to have a drink, his first in more than a year, he claimed.
He walked to the nearest store, bought a bottle of Windsor Canadian Whisky and headed home.
After that, everything is blank.
The next thing Warren knew, he was in jail.
"I don't have any recollection of it," says Warren, who said he has blackouts when he's drunk, "but I know I must have done it."
Now, the $2.99 pack of bologna very well could send him to prison. Because he had several prior convictions, he faces a felony charge.
Warren, still detained as of Friday in lieu of $1,375 bail, is hoping for probation.
He hates being locked up, but that's not his biggest potential issue.
If he is sentenced to further jail time, he's pretty sure he will lose his apartment and likely be forced to hit the road again.
Then he will turn to the bottle.
And the man with all the arrests knows what will happen next.
Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed. Keith Niebuhr can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4156.