By Jason A. Smith
Law enforcement officials in Henry County say a number of recent burglaries, robberies and thefts in the area highlight the importance of community involvement in battling crime.
One of the most recent burglaries occurred Thursday, at the Salvation Army at 401 Racetrack Road. McDonough Police Det. Antonio Kemp said a resident at the nearby Graystone Apartments complex saw a black male at the location shortly after 8 p.m., putting on latex gloves outside the building.
According to a police report, the witness saw the man appearing to "duck down when a vehicle would pass by."
"That's when [the resident] decided to watch him more closely," Kemp said.
The witness, he said, saw the suspect enter the building a few moments later and called 911.
According to Police Capt. Kyle Helgerson, officers arrived at the scene shortly thereafter and saw the suspect inside, with items belonging to the store in his hands.
"Once he saw police, he went out the back door and fled on foot," Helgerson said, adding that the suspect jumped two fences before being apprehended by police.
According to the police report, an officer found evidence of a closet door being opened by force, and parts of a lock on the floor.
Helgerson said when the store manager arrived at the scene, he identified the suspect as 17-year-old Andrew Lewis. Lewis was an employee of the store, who had started working there that day.
The police captain said the suspect was performing community service while on probation for theft-related charges. The store manager told police Lewis had been "acting strange" at closing time earlier that day, frequently going in and out of the store and asking to use the phone.
Although the suspect signed a written confession, Helgerson said he gave aliases to police and store management.
Authorities are still working to ascertain the suspect's true identity.
Helgerson revealed that "good police work," was instrumental in apprehending the suspect, as was help from the witness at the apartment complex, who gave "quick and accurate information" to the Henry County 911 center before police arrived.
The suspect was charged with burglary and possession of tools for the commission of a crime, and is being held without bail in the Henry County Jail.
That arrest came just one day after police in Monroe County apprehended three suspects who they say recently stole pieces of mail from mailboxes in McDonough. According to Monroe Sheriff's Sgt. Brad Christensen, the theft was detected after a Monroe County Sheriff's officer stopped a vehicle for a seat-belt violation.
"[The officer] found a quantity of marijuana ... as well as significant quantities of mail belonging to individuals other than those in the vehicle," he said. "A significant quantity of that mail contained checks addressed to residents of unincorporated Henry County."
The Henry County Police Department, along with the United States Postal Inspector's office in Atlanta, followed up on the investigation. Monroe County authorities arrested 22-year-olds, Kenneth Christopher Williams, of Stone Mountain, and Kamali Larose, of Norcross, as well as 25-year-old, Mackenzie Phillips, also of Norcross.
Henry County Sheriff's Chief Deputy David McCart said the mailbox thefts are "an easy opportunity" for people who want to steal from someone.
"You just watch the mail truck, and when it leaves, you can easily start opening mailboxes and going through people's mail," McCart said.
He believes one way to combat such thefts is through programs such as neighborhood watch. Still, he says victims of such thefts often do not know they are victims until it is too late.
"A lot of people won't know [something has been stolen] until something appears on their credit report," he said. "By then, the damage has been done."
Williams, Larose and Phillips are currently being held in the Monroe County Justice Center in Forsyth.
McDonough Police say the community was also helpful in apprehending a suspect they say recently robbed the same location four different times in about a month's time. Police arrested 39-year-old Matthew Powell, 39, of McDonough, on Dec. 16, and charged him with four counts of burglary.
The incidents occurred between Dec. 11 and Jan. 15, at the Racetrack Car Wash at 21 Racetrack Road. According to McDonough Police Detective Art Sparks, Powell repeatedly broke into a storage room at the car wash and stole money from several change machines. Each time, Sparks said, the burglaries were committed after-hours.
A police report from one of the burglaries, which occurred on Jan. 7, stated that more than $7,000 in damage was done during the robbery.
"He used a metal object to beat through the brick wall around the money machines," Sparks said.
The detective said a witness identified Powell on Dec.11.
"The witness ... actually knew who Powell was, but he doesn't have a phone at home, so he couldn't call police as [the burglary] was going on," Sparks said.
He said the witness' identification was vital in helping police apprehend Powell.
"Without an eyewitness, the case would not have moved along as quickly as it did," he said.
Powell is currently being held in the Henry County Jail, on $25,000 bond.
Sparks said police have also made arrests in connection with an armed robbery that occurred in November. According to Sparks, one of the people who initially claimed to be a victim in the robbery was actually in on the crime himself.
That incident occurred around 10:30 p.m., Nov. 26, at the Graystone Apartment complex. Police say 19-year-old Frederick Martez Ransom, along with another man whose name is not being released, claimed to have been robbed by two black males.
However, Sparks said police soon determined Ransom's initial statements to police were false.
"We received information that the [unnamed] victim may have been set up during the robbery," he said. "At that point, Ransom was re-interviewed and implicated two accomplices, who are still at large."
The suspects still being sought by police are 19-year-olds, Kaminski Donneishay Hill and Jamaal Kareem Pate. Sparks revealed both men, who are suspected gang members, know they are wanted by police.
"We feel like they're on the run, but we don't know where they are," he said.
Ransom is being held in jail without bond.