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Men allegedly lived in church for weeks

Pair is booked on suspicion of burglary and breaking in, though nothing was stolen, police say.

February 21, 2012|By Veronica Rocha, veronica.rocha@latimes.com
  • Thomas Smith, left and Leslie Jenei were arrested on suspicion of allegedly breaking into a church and barricading themselves. (Photos courtesy of the Glendale Police Department)
Thomas Smith, left and Leslie Jenei were arrested on suspicion…

Two Glendale men were arrested Monday night after one of them ran from police during a traffic stop and led them to a church on Lowell Avenue, where he and another man barricaded themselves inside for more than two hours, officials said.

Police urged Thomas Smith, 54, and Leslie Jenei, 60, several times over a loudspeaker to exit the Spirit of Foothill Los Angeles Christian Church on the 4400 block of Lowell Avenue, according to Glendale police reports.

When they didn’t respond, police entered the building to search for Smith, who they reportedly found hiding in the mass area of the two-story church.

A police dog found Jenei, who had an outstanding warrant for identity theft, hiding behind a church stage, police said. While inside the church, police also found two beer bottles, which Jenei reportedly told officers belonged to him.

Church officials could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

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While the pair didn’t steal anything from the church, they were booked on suspicion of burglary for unlawfully breaking in, Glendale Police Sgt. Tom Lorenz said. The case, he said, would likely be forwarded to the Los Angeles County district attorney for trespassing charges.

“It didn’t seem like they intended to steal anything of value,” Lorenz said.

Police tried to stop Smith earlier at about 8:47 p.m. for allegedly riding his bicycle on the sidewalk.

But when Smith spotted police, he parked his bicycle on the church lawn and ran inside the building, according to reports. An officer quickly followed, banged on the church doors with his fists and ordered them to open up.

Smith allegedly later told police he and Jenei didn’t respond because they were afraid to go outside, suspecting the officers were landlords.

The pair allegedly told officers they had been sleeping inside the church at night and using the bathroom facilities for several weeks.

The church pastor allowed them to visit the church during the day, but they were prohibited from staying overnight, according to police reports.

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