COVINGTON - A quick-thinking employee and vigilant police officers thwarted an attempted armed robbery at the Ingles grocery store on Turner Lake Road on Wednesday night, according to the Covington Police Department.
About 10 p.m., a young employee was assisting in the training of new staff by demonstrating how trash disposal was accomplished, Capt. Craig Treadwell said.
"He even explained to them that they have a homeless guy who goes in the Dumpster, and they should not throw anything in there without looking because they might hit him in the head," Treadwell said as an aside. "That's really not relevant to this case, but I just thought that was sweet of him to do that."
The employee told officers that when he opened the back door and went to step out onto the loading dock, he was confronted by a masked man wearing an orange hoodie with spray-painted lettering and with bags draped around his arm.
"As soon as he opened the door, the guy with the mask was on the phone and almost nonchalantly went to walk in - not as if he was going to force his way in, but as if he was just going to walk in," Detective D.J. Seals said. "This kid stops and the guy kinda reeled back. He turns away, slams the door and calls us."
Officer Brian Capps was not too far away and was the first officer to arrive at the scene. Sgt. Vic Partee, Officer Brandon Farmer and Officer Anthony Walden, along with assistance from Newton County Sheriff's Office deputies Mitch Nicholson, Brandon Raines and Lt. Shawn Hickley, also responded.
"Officer Capps comes in behind the shopping center and pulls in behind Ingles and just north of Ingles back door, he sees a male running behind the building," Treadwell said. "(The male) turns between the new construction at the shopping center and the existing building and runs toward the front."
Capps pulled his car around to the front in time to see the driver of a dark green Volvo flash his headlights and see someone run from between the buildings and get into the car, which then left the parking lot.
"The officer follows them onto Turner Lake Road and makes a traffic stop," Treadwell said.
The officer got the identity of the two men in the car, but after doing a consent search was unable to find any clothing or the mask that would tie the two to the Ingles incident. They were told they were free to go.
Thursday morning, however, a call came into the CPD from members of a construction crew at the site in the shopping complex where Ingles is located. They reported finding some property.
"They found a bag with a gun in it, which turns out to be a BB gun, gloves, head wrap, mask and an orange hoodie," Treadwell said. "The reason the orange hoodie was so recognizable was that it had been spray painted with 'RHS '09 Seniors.'"
The witness had given a detailed description of the garment to the officers who were at the scene the previous night.
"We started putting two and two together. The victim was a good witness and come to find out, one of the suspects who was stopped in the Volvo was inside the store at the time of the incident and he was a former employee," Treadwell said.
Detectives believe the reason the masked man was so casually walking in the back door was that he actually believed it was his accomplice who was inside the store opening the door for him.
Detectives Seals, Steve Fowler and Mike Tinsley began working on the case and were able to arrest the two suspects.
"These detectives really went out of their way to put this case together, to make the pieces of the puzzle fit together by developing enough information and probable cause to actually arrest these two," Treadwell said.
Kerby Devon Bullard Jr., 20, of 235 Hampton Court, as well as an unidentified suspect were arrested and charged with criminal attempt to commit armed robbery. Treadwell said the second suspect's name is being withheld pending further investigation and charges that may be related to this incident as well as other robberies in the area.
"This was very good police work. This could have very well just gone away and been dismissed as a suspicious person behind the building and we'd have never been able to tie in those two gentlemen who left in a hurry with the officer stopping them when they left the parking lot to the (attempted) robbery," Treadwell said. "Our theory and our feelings were to make this case a priority because we knew if they got away with this attempted robbery, then they would go somewhere else and commit another robbery. We wanted to catch them before they actually committed a robbery. That was our goal."