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From brass knuckles to a diamond ring, the county's lost and found has it all

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Posted: Monday, August 23, 2004 10:00 pm

If you know Desiree Amanda Villamor, tell her that Monte Clevenger has something of value to her.

In fact, Clevenger has quite a few things that are valuable to lots of people. The problem is that very few people seem interested in having them returned.

Clevenger, who manages the San Joaquin Superior Court center, is also the keeper of lost and found items.

As the court's purchasing manager, Clevenger buys machinery for the court.

But as lost and found manager for the court,

Clevenger keeps lost items in the downtown Stockton building and waits for owners to claim them.

So far, in his three months as lost and found manager, Clevenger has collected items such as rings, watches, a Social Security card in a wallet and $200 in cash.

There are also sunglasses and prescription glasses, he said.

Clevenger said he wonders how some people don't realize that they've lost their glasses.

Also in his collection, there's a 14-carat ladies diamond ring. He said he likes to believe that someone took off the ring and threw it away after a divorce was granted in court.

There are also keys - lots of keys.

There are house keys attached to other types of keys, car keys with the car opener and keys attached to cartoon characters.

He said he questions how any of those who lost their keys ever got into their house, let alone their cars.

Other lost items, including coats, umbrellas, a diaper bag with formula, have been left behind by courthouse visitors, he said.

And it all starts at the weapons screening entrance, Clevenger said.

"They're not happy to be here and they rush to court," he said. "That's when people forget their belts, purses and even an Apple laptop. They put it on the conveyor and leave."

Clevenger said the guards try to return the items, usually by yelling at the person.

But Clevenger said because people are often in such a rush to get to court, they seem oblivious.

At that point, the Guardsmark guards, the private security firm which handles the courthouse screening stations, hold onto the items until the end of the day and turn over any left behind items to Clevenger. Or sometimes Clevenger comes by and collects what's been left behind, two Guardsmark guards at the courthouse said.

And there are times people with business in the courthouse return lost items to the information booth, said one county employee.

"They find them in the court and return them here" said the employee, who did not want her name used.

Court policy is that all lost items will be held for 30 days, Clevenger said. After that they are destroyed or given to charity - such as the diaper bag with formula and all the jackets, coats and sweatshirts, he said.

But Clevenger said he doesn't have the heart to get rid of anything "just in case someone returns for them."

Lost items are held in the office of Monte Clevenger, court purchasing agent for the San Joaquin County Courthouse in Stockton. (Jennifer M. Howell/News-Sentinel)

And some have come back months later, he said.

In fact, in January, a man left behind his wallet with $500 in cash. He returned a few weeks later, Clevenger said.

And last week, someone who had lost his keys in February came back and got them.

Clevenger wasn't always in charge of lost and found for the courthouse.

That duty belonged to the sheriff's deputies who provided security for the courts. But when the Guardsmark guards came in a few months ago, Clevenger was put in charge of lost and found, he said.

Clevenger said he makes a good effort to find the owners, usually by writing letters if there's some type of identification involved.

And if he has someone's name for something particular, he'll go through the court's database to try to find someone.

Sometimes that works. But more often it doesn't, he said.

As for writing letters, Clevenger said so far no one has come back to retrieve any lost items after being contacted.

In fact, he said that nowadays he spends more time writing letters than doing his other job.

For keys with address labels attached, Clevenger said he drops those in the mailbox.

While Clevenger isn't surprised at what turns up lost, he is perplexed with the brass knuckles that were taken from a woman.

"They're illegal," he said.

Besides the lost and found items, Clevenger also has a collection of knives, mace and the occasional switchblade, butterfly knife and cigarette lighters that people try to sneak through.

Those are confiscated at the door and the owner can retrieve them later.

But here again, people forget them once they leave, he said. After 30 days, items such as the knives and cigarette lighters are turned over to the Sheriff's Department and destroyed, he said.

Besides the letter-writing campaign, Clevenger has started posting notices at the courthouse telling visitors about the lost and found.

He said it's starting to work, slowly.

"I've had a few calls," he said. But nothing so far from Desiree Amanda Villamor.

Contact reporter Les Mahler at lmahler@sjnsnews.com.

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