Arts Desk

“I Put My Hands into the Fucking Sky”: Secret Service Detains D.C. Artists in Truck Reported Stolen

Photo by Trevor Young

Photo by Trevor Young

Trevor Young is sympathetic. He says he'd want the Secret Service to arrest anyone cruising through D.C. in a stolen box truck. Even if that would-be terrorist happened to be him.

“Thank God it was the Secret Service and not the D.C. cops,” says Young, 34. “They were quite stern with both of us, but they were pretty polite, physically.”

Young, a Silver Spring resident and painter, and his girlfriend, Mia Feuer, a sculptor who lives in Northeast, were driving a 26-foot Penske rental truck down H Street NW on the night of June 28. Feuer had the wheel; the artist, who is 28, was driving back from her studio space in Arlington to drop off Young near her car so the two could return the truck to Capitol Heights. Around 11 p.m., Young says he saw a police officer in a squad car notice them. The officer dialed something into his computer, says Young. “I thought, 'Oh, huh, he's checked us out.'"

Feuer says Young told her he thought the cop was going to pull her over. One block later, sirens flashed, and all hell broke loose.

Both artists were detained for nearly an hour—held handcuffed and at gunpoint for most of that time—as the Secret Service investigated a report that the truck was stolen.

“There must have been 15 cop cars—maybe more,” says Feuer. “There were dogs, cops on bikes. Then we heard, 'DRIVER, TURN OFF YOUR ENGINE. DRIVER, STEP OUT OF THE VEHICLE. FACE FORWARD, WALK SLOWLY TOWARD US.' I'd never done this before, so of course I got out and faced them right away. As soon as I faced them, I realized there were guns on me.”

When it was Young's turn to exit the vehicle and join Feuer—in bracelets, laying down on the pavement, and finally sitting on the curb—the Secret Service took even greater care.

“I could see guys with pistols in the side mirror. At this point, the street's blocked off in front of us and behind us,” says Young. Feuer says that four officers had weapons trained on him when he stepped out of the passenger side door of the truck.

“He kept yelling, 'Higher!'" Young says. “I put my hands into the fucking sky. 'Higher, higher!'"

Before the agents pressed Feuer and Young for identification, or explained to them what was happening, they wanted to open the truck.

They deliberated—for several excruciatingly long minutes, says Feuer—about how to proceed, as the two suspects lingered. When the agents finally opened the truck only to discover that it was empty, the release in tension was immediate. (A Secret Service spokesman says he was not aware of the incident and would not comment on the specifics of the case, but acknowledged that uniformed Secret Service patrol officers do not as a rule run tags on trucks over a certain size.)

The Secret Service officers ran checks on both passengers. Feuer had kept documentation of her journey, which had taken her from Vermont to Virginia. Feuer used the truck to pack up a solo exhibition that had just closed at the Firehouse Gallery in Burlington, Vt., and stopped by the MacDowell Colony of the Arts in New Hampshire, where she was a 2010 fellow, to pick up some things. From there she drove to Baltimore to drop off sculpture in her storage space and to Arlington to leave supplies at her studio. Penske, Feuer says, has been a good friend to her.

How is it that her truck came to be listed as stolen? Matthew Keller, a Penske representative with whom Feuer and Young have spoken, says Indiana's Bureau of Motor Vehicles is to blame: They issued matching tags to different trucks. One license plate was screwed onto Feuer's Penske truck; its twin belonged to a truck not owned by Penske that was stolen somewhere in the Midwest.

After the air cleared, Feuer and Young were allowed to leave (at which point, a rattled Young nabbed the photo above). He recalls one Secret Service officer telling him: “Penske owes you big time.”

What is Penske's policy to satisfy its customers who have been detained at gunpoint by the Secret Service? Driving to fill up the tank with diesel and drop off the keys after the incident soured Feuer, and she wanted to know. Feuer got a “very hesitant partial refund” at the local office the next day, she says. When Young called around Penske offices in the days following, he only got offers of sympathy. “I wasn't looking for sympathy,” says Young. “I was looking for a response—of any sort.”

Young says that when he finally spoke to Keller, he got what he was looking for—a gesture to make up for a nerve-racking incident. Keller promised Young two free truck rentals for Feuer, who starts a residency at the Millay Colony in Austerlitz, N.Y., in August and also needs to haul work to the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center in October. But when Keller followed up with Feuer, that offer had slipped to 20 percent off the total—a figure Young describes as “a coupon I could download off the Internet.”

But Keller says that's only a misunderstanding. “I sent her the two upcoming reservations. I want to do that for her. Nothing changed on that, the complimentary trucks,” he explains. Though he couldn't say what Penske might have done to prevent the situation, he said fault didn't matter in the end. “Corporate has no problems with us trying to keep our customers satisfied at the local level.”

Photo by Mia Feuer

Photo by Mia Feuer

“I rent Penske trucks constantly. Every time I do anything, a fucking Penske truck's involved,” says Feuer. She's not complaining: She plans to continue working with them.

She can even imagine the situation have gone worse.

“Thank. God. My sculptures were not in there,” she says. Before she unloaded the truck (pictured above), it contained a steel sculpture broken down into 25 parts, a massive styrofoam piece that looks like a collapsed bridge, and a rowboat—which will be part of her Atlanta installation—that she found in New Hampshire. Given how relieved the Secret Service were to find the truck empty, Feuer can't imagine how they'd react to it being full of wreckage.

“My sculptures just look like hell when they're taken apart,” she says. “They would have called the bomb squad.”

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  • marto

    Penske is as bad as Best Buy for service.

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