East Bay Police Collaborating to Identify Takeover Bandits

by Kristin McFarland
Wednesday September 03, 2008 - 03:44:00 PM

The East Bay has been plagued by takeover-style restaurant robberies this summer, with 11 robberies in Oakland, one in El Cerrito, one in Hayward, one in unincorporated Castro Valley, and two in Vallejo. 

Commander Mike Regan with the El Cerrito Police Department said it’s possible that “a couple of groups” are committing the crimes. 

According to Oakland police spokesperson Officer Jeff Thomason, Oakland police are considering most of the Oakland robberies to be related crimes, committed by one or two groups of suspects.  

“There are similarities with all the robberies in Oakland,” Thomason said. “But we have ruled out some as unrelated.” 

Thomason could not disclose which robberies have been dismissed as part of the string, citing the need for investigative discretion.  

Thomason also said that Oakland robbery investigators are collaborating with investigators in other jurisdictions to determine if those robberies are related to the Oakland crimes. 

Most of the Oakland robberies have been committed by two or three adult men wearing hoodies and/or ski masks. That description matches the suspects in nearly all the takeover robberies from Vallejo to Hayward, leaving out more specific essentials like approximate ages or even heights. 

This pattern is clear in the first five Oakland restaurant robberies, committed on July 26, 27 and 28, and Aug. 4 and 5, in which victims describe similar actions and suspects. In each case, two or three suspects, wearing hooded sweatshirts and ski masks, invaded a restaurant when it was crowded with patrons, threatened employees with a gun and stole cash from the register and customers before apparently fleeing the scene on foot. 

At this point, police told the public that they were investigating all the robberies as a related series. 

Two weeks passed with no additional reported takeover-style robberies. 

The series began again with a restaurant robbery in the Rockridge district of Oakland on Aug. 18. In this case, two armed, hooded suspects entered Pasta Pomodoro restaurant when no patrons were present, taking money from the restaurant. 

Three days later, two armed men invaded a restaurant in Castro Valley, forcing restaurant employees and four patrons into a back room before robbing them and the restaurant. 

Oakland saw four takeovers from Friday, Aug. 22, to Sunday Aug. 24, three in restaurants and one in a nail salon. 

But with these later robberies, the pattern shifted, and while some of the crimes seem to fit the earlier model, witness reports show some discrepancies from the original description of the robberies.  

Witnesses at the Nomad Cafe and Mama Rosa’s Pizza, robbed on Aug. 22 and Aug. 23 respectively, reported that the criminals seemed younger, more inexperienced. 

Officer Thomason at OPD, however, disagreed, saying the actions of the criminals lend more to the recognition of a series than sometimes unreliable witness reports. For example, Nomad manager Justin Garland reported that the criminals were caught on security camera as they removed their masks before exiting the restaurant. Officer Thomason, however, said that the security camera footage did not reflect that claim. 

At both the Nomad and Mama Rosa’s robberies, two suspects again forced employees and patrons into the back of the restaurants before robbing them. 

The two latest Oakland robberies, both on Sunday, Aug. 24, turned violent. At Full Moon Seafood and A Royal Nail Spa in Oakland, two armed, masked men robbed employees, and in each robbery, one employee was struck with a pistol by one of the suspects. 

The same weekend, Vallejo saw two takeover robberies, but not of restaurants; a Hollywood Video store and a 7-11 convenience store were robbed on Friday, Aug. 22 and Saturday, Aug. 23. The Hollywood Video was robbed by three armed suspects in hooded sweatshirts and gray bandanas, who forced employees and patrons onto the floor before robbing them. Three armed, masked men robbed the safe of the 7-11 and pistol whipped an employee after the safe was opened. 

On Monday, Aug. 25, a restaurant in Hayward was robbed by two armed men, one of whom chased a female employee with a gun. Employees and patrons were robbed, by the suspects were unable to open the cash register and fled. 

On Tuesday, Aug. 26, two men, one armed, one masked, robbed a restaurant in El Cerrito. The suspects robbed two patrons, the employees and the cash register before fleeing. Mike Regan with the El Cerrito police reported that in working with other jurisdictions, they have determined that this robbery is “related to a couple of others,” but certainly not all of the other takeovers. 

Both the Oakland police and Mayor Dellums have called for public assistance in identifying the suspects.