Stolen U-haul containing prized Leonard Peltier statue recovered

A U-Haul truck that was stolen last week, containing a monumental sculpture representing imprisoned Native American activist Leonard Peltier, was found Tuesday.

The truck was spotted in Oakland by a jogger who had seen KTVU's coverage of the missing truck, according to Roberto Martinez, exhibitions director at the Richmond Art Center. The jogger followed the U-haul as it drove, and called 911, Martinez said. Officers located the U-haul parked and abandoned near 22nd Street between Seventh and Eight Avenue, not far from where the truck was stolen Thursday night, Martinez said.

The Peltier sculpture is mostly intact, though the left arm has not been found. All other pieces of the disassembled sculpture are accounted for.

"We're still hoping we can find the arm," Martinez said. "We do have images and pictures of it, we’re hoping to continue the search for it."

Peltier, 78, has spent most of his life in prison, and for many years his conviction has garnered worldwide support for his release.

In 2011, artist Rigo 23 constructed a 12-foot statue of Peltier, depicting him sitting, calling attention to his imprisonment. The status has been exhibited in museums across the country. In Fall 2021, it was on display at the Richmond Art Center, and last week, it was time to send it back to the artist in Los Angeles.

The sculpture, made of California Redwood, metal, and clay, was disassembled and packed into a 26-foot U-Haul truck.

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"It was left parked overnight in Oakland that Thursday night and Friday morning, it was not there," Martinez said.

Martinez parked the truck on East 12th Street and 13th Avenue in Oakland, preparing to have driven it to Los Angeles the following day. He alerted Oakland police upon its disappearance.

Marc Hinch, a private investigator whose company is Stolen 911, was also working the case.

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Hinch, a retired CHP auto theft investigator, has recovered approximately 10 stolen vehicles around the Bay Area for clients. He's found many stolen trucks at nearby homeless encampments, often with the possessions already looted. 

"In this case, the sculpture is worth a lot to obviously the artist and the community, but I think these guys when they open the truck up and see what's inside, hopefully, they're just going to walk away from it, and we're going to find it somewhere behind a building or at a camp, and we're going to find the sculpture intact inside the truck," Hinch said Monday, prior to the truck being recovered.

He recommends U-Haul renters place a Bluetooth-enabled tracking device in the vehicle, and avoid parking it fully loaded overnight if at all possible.

"I feel relieved," Martinez said of the sculpture being found mostly intact. "Glad most of the sculpture is back with us."