Los Angeles police investigating a violent a well-organized Korea Town jewelry store robbery likened to “the plot of a Hollywood movie” Wednesday found and arrested two suspects near Covina before ultimately arresting a total of 10 alleged robbers, authorities said.
The robbery and initial two arrests took place Wednesday evening, according to Los Angeles police and Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials.
The robbery unfolded about 6:15 p.m. at the St. Cross Jewelry Store inside the Korea Town Center Mall, 928 S. Western Ave., Los Angeles police said in a written statement.
“Approximately nine male suspects had violently and with coordinated precision and speed, overpowered employees and took over the store to rob it of its loot of several hundred expensive designer watches,” according to the LAPD statement.
The robbers were armed with handguns, as well as sledge hammers.
“After overpowering employees and holding them at gunpoint, the suspects proceeded to smash the display cases with the sledge hammers and removed the watches,” the statement said.
The crime was over within minutes, and the suspects fled to a getaway van, police said.
“From video images inside the store as well as witness accounts, and the fact that the store was inside a mall filled with shoppers, it was obvious this was a well-planned, coordinated and practiced operation,” according to the LAPD statement.
LAPD officers tracked two of the suspects to an unincorporated county area near Covina about two hours later via GPS tracking devices hidden inside the expensive watches.
Authorities shut down Lark Ellen Avenue between Arrow Highway and Cypress Street as they stopped the car and took two suspects into custody, according to sheriff’s radio traffic.
The arrest was handled by LAPD, without direct assistance from local sheriff’s deputies, sheriff’s Lt. Tonya Edwards said.
Traffic was reopened within a matter of minutes.
Detectives continued following up on the investigation, ultimately arresting eight more suspects — five of them juveniles — overnight throughout Los Angeles and other nearby cities, according the LAPD.
Officers also recovered three guns and several sledge hammers believed to have been used in the robbery, as well as several hundred expensive watches taken in the heist.
Police said it was fortunate that no one was seriously injured during the crime.
“Although this sounds like the plot of a Hollywood movie, in reality this was a violent and dangerous crime that could have had disastrous results,” the statement said.
COVINA >> A report of two suspicious people loitering in a Walmart parking lot Thursday led police to arrest a wanted parolee and a federal fugitive, officials said.
Wanted parolee Michael Hernandez, 25, of Azusa and Manuel Anaya, 48, of Azusa, who’s wanted by the U.S. Marshals Service, were arrested in the incident, Covina police Lt. Rick Walczak said. The men were additionally booked on suspicion of providing false information of police, and Hernandez is accused of resisting arrest.
A tipster called police about 6:20 p.m. to report seeing two suspicious men in a car in the parking lot of the store, 1275 N. Azusa Avenue, Covina police Lt. Rick Walczak said. The caller believed the men may have been involved in drug activity.
Officers arrived and spoke with the men, the lieutenant said. “Both were nervous and evasive about their identities.”
As the officer talked to the men, he noticed they had a booking slip from another arrest with a different name than those the men used to identify themselves, Walczak said. Hernandez ran from the car once the officer found the document.
Police quickly chased down and captured Hernandez. Anaya, who remained in the car, was taken into custody without a struggle.
POMONA >> A La Puente man accused of fatally shooting a man in West Covina, as well as shooting and wounding his ex-girlfriend in Covina, during an alleged crime spree in April, pleaded not guilty to six felony charges Thursday, authorities said.
Manuel Jerome Lujan, described by police as a 33-year-old West Covina gang member, appeared in Pomona Superior court where he denied charges of murder, attempted murder, shooting at an inhabited dwelling, robbery, assault with a firearm and exhibiting a concealed firearm in public, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani said.
Prosecutors further allege that Lujan intentionally fired a firearm causing injury or death, and that Lujan was previously convicted of assault with a deadly weapon in 2001.
His alleged series of violent crimes took place between April 26 and April 29. It began when Lujan robbed a man of his cell phone at gunpoint in Valinda and brandished a gun at other victims, according to prosecutors.
Three days later, he fatally shot 36-year-old Jabarri Butts behind a Social Security office in the 500 block of South Vincent Avenue, and opened fire on a nearby home, West Covina police officials said.
Hours later, he showed up at the home of his ex-girlfriend in the 300 block of West Center Street in Covina, Covina police Sgt. Gregg Peterson said. He through rocks and the woman’s window to get her attention, then shot her when she came to the window.
Lujan is scheduled to appear in Pomona Superior Court July 9 for a hearing, officials said. If convicted as charged, he could face life in prison.
COVINA >> One of two men police say dressed as security guards when they carried out a takeover robbery at Covina check cashing business in March was behind bars Friday as police continued seeking his alleged accomplice.
Police found and arrested Brian Lamar Lemle, 27, of Los Angeles, a documented Crips gang member, at a Los Angeles Park late Thursday in connection with the March 18 robbery at Check Into Cash, 517 N. Azusa Avenue, Covina police Sgt. Gregg Peterson said.
Investigators had been seeking him for several weeks, ever since facial recognition computer software helped identify him as a suspect in the Covina crime, the sergeant said.
Lemle and another unidentified suspect wore security guard uniforms and brandished handguns when they entered the business, Covina police said in a written statement.
“Both suspects demanded money from the employees before tying them up,” the statement said. “Both suspects left the location on foot westbound on San Bernardino (Road) with approximately $7,800 in cash and personal property from the employees.”
The crime was captured on surveillance video, which police used to generate wanted fliers with the suspects’ photos for distribution to other area law enforcement agencies, Peterson said.
Facial recognition software was able to match surveillance footage to a possible suspect, Lemle, earlier this month, he said.
Officers from the Los Angeles Police Department’s 77th Street Division found and arrested Lemle Thursday night at a park, Peterson said. He was turned over to Covina police, who booked him on suspicion of robbery once witnesses identified him as one of the robbers. Additional charges, such as robbery, may also be sought against Lemle.
The second suspect in the robbery remained at-large.
According to county booking records, Lemle was being held in lieu of $50,000 bail pending his initial court appearance, scheduled Tuesday in West Covina Superior Court.
PHOTOS: [TOP TO BOTTOM] Brian Lemle, 27, of Los Angeles; surveillance photo of second suspect who remains at-large; surveillance photo taken during the robbery. (Courtesy)
COVINA >> Two rookie Covina police officers safely apprehended 15-year-old girl who pointed a gun at them Sunday in what a police lieutenant described as an exceptional display of restraint and quick thinking.
Covina police Lt. Tim Doonan said the two officers responded about 10 a.m. to a report of a domestic disturbance in which the girl was irate with her parents at the family’s home in the 300 block of South First Avenue.
The officers went into the family’s apartment to talk to the teen, who was in her bedroom, Doonan said.
“The officers were in the doorway. After a very brief conversation, she pulled a handgun from her waistband area,” Doonan said. “She actually pointed it at the officers.”
The officers drew their own weapons and retreated into the hallway, where they began ordering the girl to drop the pistol and surrender, the Doonan said. She ultimately raised her hands and dropped the gun.
The Beretta pistol brandished by the girl was real, but was found to have been modified to be unable to fire, Doonan said. Officials took the girl for psychiatric evaluation.
The lieutenant commended the officers on the cool-headed and restrained manner in which they dealt with the situation, which could easily have resulted in an officer-involved shooting, despite their lack of experience.
One of the two officers completed training three weeks ago, he said. The other was a reserve officer with less than a year on duty.
COVINA >> A gunman carjacked a man in Covina, ordered the victim to drive him a short distance, then fled with the victim’s car early Friday, police said.
The crime took place about 12:15 a.m. after a South Bay man in his mid-30s had just dropped off a friend in the 1100 block of North Sunflower Avenue, Covina police Sgt. Rob Bobkiewicz said. The victim was returning to his vehicle, a white, 2012 Kia Sportage SUV, when the carjacker approached and asked for a ride.
When the victim refused, the carjacker pulled a handgun and got into the SUV’s passenger seat, the sergeant said. When the SUV reached the area of Citrus Avenue and Covina Boulevard about two miles to the west, the gunman ordered the driver out of his SUV. The victim’s wallet and cell phone were also stolen.
The carjacker fled in the vehicle as the victim walked to a nearby business to call for help.
COVINA >> Law enforcement agencies throughout the nation are cracking down on distracted driving during April, also known as National Distracted Driving Awareness month, authorities said.
Police, sheriff’s and California Highway Patrol officials will be working to spread the word about the dangers of distracted driving through media interviews, school visits and traffic safety presentations, Covina police officials said in a written statement.
Officials on Wednesday took part in a statewide “high visibility enforcement” to issue citations to distracted drivers, officials said. Another such extra enforcement day will take place April 15.
“Driving takes one’s full attention and any distraction can have deadly, dangerous consequences,” Covina Police Chief Kim Raney said.
said. “Imagine driving for four or five seconds while blindfolded. That can be the effect of looking down to send a text message. In the average time it takes to check a text message — less than 5 seconds — a car travelling 60 mph will travel more than the length of a football field.”
In a new public education campaign called “Silence the Distraction,” officials are urging motorists to turn off their phones while driving to eliminate the distraction of reading or send a text messages.
In addition to National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, the first week of April is designated “California Teen Safe Driving Week,” focusing on educating teens about the dangers of reckless and distracted driving, officials said.
“Each of us must drive responsibly, keeping full attention to the task at hand — driving. If you have teenagers in your family who are driving, make sure they understand the laws and what their responsibilities are as well,” Raney said. “The collective goal with this month-long campaign is to change the behavior of all drivers. That change begins with education.”
COVINA >> Police arrested a security guard at a Downtown Covina restaurant and nightclub Friday night on charges of selling cocaine to undercover investigators at the business three times in recent months, authorities said.
Covina police and California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control agents arrested Christopher Rodriguez, 22, of Baldwin Park about 10:30 p.m. while he was working at the Red Lounge & Restaurant, 211 N. Citrus Avenue, according to Covina police officials and Los Angeles County booking records.
Rodriguez is a contractor employed by Whittier-based Executive Sentry Services, police said.
Covina police assisted in making the arrest, which was the result of an undercover ABC investigation, Covina police Sgt. Gregg Peterson said.
“They started conducting surveillances in the location,” the sergeant said. “They were able to facilitate some purchases. They were able to do it on three separate occasions.”
Peterson described the amounts of cocaine sold each transaction as smaller, “personal use” amounts.
Investigators obtained an arrest warrant for Rodriguez, and the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office filed three charges of drug sales against him, police said in a written statement.
“They believed this person was operating out of the business, and it wasn’t an isolated incident,” Peterson said.
It did not appear the establishment itself was linked to the alleged narcotics sales, he said.
“There’s no evidence showing that the club was associated with it whatsoever,” the sergeant said. “It appears (Rodriguez) was acting on his own behalf.”
Red owner Everett Ramos said he was shocked by the arrest of Rodriguez, one of 10 security guards contracted through Executive Sentry Services on any given business night. After about 10 ABC agents and police officers arrested Rodriguez, Ramos said they told him of the allegations.
Representatives of Sentry Executive Services could not be reached for comment Saturday.
Ramos said he saw no signs Rodriguez was up to illegal activity, and he appeared to be a good worker.
“I run a legitimate businesses,” Ramos said. “I’m always willing to do things to make it better.”
Though officials appeared friendly during their visit to Red late Friday, Ramos said he wished they could have made the arrest in a more discreet way.
“It didn’t look good,” he said.
In addition to the criminal investigation targeting Rodriguez, ABC officials planned to conduct an administrative investigation, and city officials will review the businesses’ permits, Peterson said.
Regarding the pending administrative reviews of his business, Ramos said, “I’m a little bit concerned, but I’ve done nothing wrong.”
According to county booking records, Rodriguez was being held in lieu of $100,000 bail pending his initial court appearance, scheduled Monday in West Covina Superior Court.
PHOTOS courtesy of the Covina Police Department
SAN DIMAS >> A Covina woman and her two dogs died late Saturday after she was struck by a vehicle that ran a red light around the corner from her home in San Dimas, authorities said.
Violet Margaret Lopez-Prieto, 62, died at the scene of the 10:08 p.m. collision at the angled intersection of Badillo and Cypress streets, Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Lt. Fred Corrall said.
“She was crossing the intersection when the (driver) failed to stop for a red light,” sheriff’s Sgt. Vicky Gregory said.
The woman and two dogs she was walking were struck by the vehicle, Gregory said.
Paramedics pronounced her dead at the scene, Corrall said.
The driver of the car, described only as a man, remained at the scene and cooperated with deputies, sheriff’s Sgt. Louis Serrano Jr. said. There were no initial signs of intoxicated driving, and the driver was not arrested as the investigation continued.
Lopez-Prieto lived in a house about a quarter-mile from where she was struck, just across the city border in Covina.
Family members gathered at the home Sunday said they were not ready to comment as they continued absorbing the shock of Lopez-Prieto’s sudden death.
Public records indicated Lopez-Prieto had been an owner of the home since 1998, and the home had been owned by her family since at least 1992.
Only a discarded paramedic’s glove marked the scene of the fatal collision Sunday afternoon.
No further details regarding the circumstances of the collision were available.
COVINA >> Police arrested a 21-year-old Covina man Tuesday who accidentally shot a teenage friend in the arm earlier this month, officials said.
Marcos Santiago Contreras, 21, is accused of assault with a deadly weapon in connection with the shooting, which took place about 7 a.m. Feb. 14 in the 500 block of Rimsdale Avenue, according to Covina police officials and Los Angeles County booking records.
Officers responded to a reports of a shooting when they found a 16-year-old boy walking in the area with a gunshot wound to his left arm, Covina police Sgt. Gregg Peterson said.
The teen did not cooperate with investigators and told police he was wounded in a drive-by shooting, Peterson said. But police concluded the boy’s story was false.
Detectives eventually determined the teen had been shot accidentally while riding in a car nearby, he said.
Contreras was driving with the teen as a passenger, the sergeant said. Contreras was showing off a handgun to the teen when the gun went off. The wounded boy exited the car, and Contreras drove off.
After determining what had taken place, Peterson said officers arrested Contreras shortly after 5 p.m. Tuesday at his home in the 19000 block of East Arrow Highway.
During a search of the suspect’s home, police found a gun believed to have been involved in the shooting, Peterson said. Police also recovered a fired bullet from the door of Contreras’ car.
According to county booking records, Contreras was being held in lieu of $50,000 bail pending a scheduled arraignment Thursday in West Covina Superior Court.
PHOTO of Marcos Santiago courtesy of the Covina Police Department.