San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Locals in Manuel Antonio prevent robbery of U.S. tourist with citizen's arrest

A pickpocket attempt on crowded Manuel Antonio Beach on New Year’s Day quickly went haywire for three men who tried to snatch the purse off a U.S. tourist.

According to Juan Carlos Arias, the head of police in the Quepos region on Costa Rica’s Central Pacific coast, townspeople and local visitors on the beach saw the men try to steal the purse and quickly swarmed the men and their nearby car.

“The version of the story we were told is that the men tried to steal a purse from the foreign tourist, and from there a large argument broke out that included damages to the car,” Arias told The Tico Times Monday during a phone interview. The robbery attempt happened around noon Monday in the middle of the popular beach destination, the police director confirmed.

Pictures from social media show that locals on the beach broke through the car windows in attempt to stop the would-be thieves from fleeing.

(Taken from Accidentes de Costa Rica/Facebook)

Though the three men failed to steal the purse, they were apprehended by police on the scene. Arias said, however, that the men were eventually released since the U.S. citizen did not want to press charges and the men had no prior incidents on their personal records.

No charges were brought against locals, either, for damages done to the would-be robbers’ vehicle during the citizens’ arrest.

Contact Michael Krumholtz at

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A civilized country is where the rule of law prevails, not where “swift and rough justice” by mobs is the norm. I agree that the criminal justice system here is in need of reform to ensure that laws are enforced and criminals are punished/reformed, but that is no excuse for a mob rules mentality. Angry citizens with torches and pitchforks have been known to mistake identity and render justice on the wrong person. Worse yet, the justice administered often outweighs the crime.

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Buenissimo! We need more people to act to protect the defenseless. I hope that these guys learned an expensive lession.

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I disagree. I think the terror of having their car smashed into and being apprehended by a mob of burly, angry, law-enforcing locals is a more effective crime deterrent than police and jail. The police and courts are bound by “laws” that make criminals feel protected. I think the thieves were probably happy when the police arrived to save them from swift and rough justice delivered by the good citizens of Quepos. And notice how no charges were laid against the citizens for damaging the thieves and their car. Which shows thieves that the law protects citizens, not criminals.

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Ken Morris

Of course the terror of having their car smashed and falling into the hands of a violent mob is a more effective crime deterrent than the criminal justice system, but that hardly juystifies vigilante actions.

No, the laws aren’t intended to “make criminals feel protected,” but to protect the innocent. You are assuming that these people were “criminals” and “thieves.” They may well have been, but the point of having laws is to make sure they are guilty before they are punished. Instant mob violence doesn’t protect the innocent.

And consider even the dubious alleged facts reported about this incident. It begins with a failed attempt to snatch a purse from a female tourist. OK, that’s possible, but how do three guys all attempt to snatch the same purse? Common sense tells us that only one guy possibly tried to snatch the purse, because three guys getting their hands on the same purse at the same moment is a pretty difficult thing to do physically. Suppose though that all three guys did get their hands on the same purse at the same instant, how the heck did a lone female tourist manage to prevent them from taking it? Usually three guys would easily overpower one woman.

The more likely scenario is therefore that one guy tried to snatch the purse while the other two guys were just with him. OK, maybe one of the other two guys worked as an accomplice, trying to divert her attention, while the third guy’s role was to drive the getaway car. But did the “good citizens” of Quepos know this, or were they guessing?

And if they were guessing, did they guess right? Might it have been that one of the guys saw his buddy try to snatch the purse and said, “Oh no, don’t do that”? And might that guy have been the owner of the car that was smashed?

Meanwhile, there might have been no purse snatching attempt at all. A guy could have accidentally brushed up against the female tourist and caused her to believe that he was attempting to steal her purse without that having been his intent at all. As it happened, after all, her purse was not stolen despite the allegation that three men simultaneously tried to steal it.

Odds are that in this instance all three of these guys were what Trump calls “bad hombres” and got what they deserved. However, the reality is that we don’t know this, and neither unfortunately did the vigilante mob. It’s because we don’t know that we have laws and courts that follow them. These don’t exist to make “criminals feel protected,” but to give real protection to the innocent.

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Unfortunately, the failure of the U.S. citizen to press charges invites more predators to prey on foreigners. I wish Mr. Krumholtz would have dug deeper to find out why the American made the decision not to follow-through with charges.

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