DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – Cell phone stores throughout the Miami Valley are trying to figure out how to prevent the next robbery or break-in from happening.
The pattern is all-too-familiar: young masked men – often with guns – smash a cell phone store window, grab as many phones or tablets as possible, and then they’re gone. And stopping them before it happens has proved nearly impossible.
In the last year and a half, Adam Seaton’s cell phone store in Dayton has been broken into eight times and he says he’s lost a total of $70,000. He says, “Every night before I go to sleep, I make sure my loaded gun is next to me, a pair of shoes ready to go, and my car keys.”
During the eighth break-in, Seaton grabbed his gun and headed to his store, ending up in a shootout. It’s a grim reality he now faces day and night. When asked if he ever fears for his life, Seaton said, “There’s always that possibility. I just hope and pray it doesn’t happen.”
Law enforcement acknowledges it’s a gang problem. Miamisburg Detective Jason Threlkeld handles the bulk of his department’s cases. He says, “Unfortunately, police can’t be everywhere all the time.”
And it does happen all the time:
- February: Six heavily-armed suspects hit a Huber Heights ATT store
- May: Four suspects broke into a Kettering Sprint store
- August: Two suspects hit a Beavercreek Sprint store
- October: At least three suspects robbing a T-Mobile store in Miami Township
Surveillance video from Huber Heights break-in:
Surveillance video from Miamisburg break-in:
When the crime takes 60 seconds, even the quickest police response can’t catch them in the act.
Threlkeld says departments share information to track down leads; he believes the break-ins are part of a larger operation. “It was getting to the point where we were getting close to possibly connecting it to a local convenience store owner or manager that was linking up with these juveniles and asking them or instructing them to do certain things like these.”
But that theory is unconfirmed, as is the one that organizers are creating a pipeline to sell the phones overseas. When the underage offenders are tracked down and taken into custody, they often end up in Judge Anthony Capizzi’s courtroom at Montgomery County Juvenile Court.
Judge Capizzi says, “At one point in the early stages it was so well orchestrated I thought there was an inside person.”
Law enforcement and store owners say the challenge isn’t tracking down who did it. Seaton says when he posts security video after some of his break-ins people will message him to identify the suspects, and police often make several arrests. They say the challenge is keeping those suspects in custody and deterring them from breaking in again.
Judge Capizzi must weigh a multitude of factors when sentencing offenders, like the use of a weapon, if they threatened a life, prior history and whether they’re an adult.
Police say sometimes the pattern is obvious. Detective Threlkeld says, “The day before I was scheduled to go sit down with [one suspect] and his mom and discuss our break-in, he was one of the ones that broke in and robbed at gunpoint a business in Huber Heights.”
Some of the suspects in that break-in were as young as 15 years old. When Judge Capizzi was asked if the suspects are repentant in his courtroom and if they grasp the gravity of the situation he says, “I don’t believe they do. I keep telling them that, reminding them that. Some young people just don’t care.”
Advocates are trying to address the cycle of gang activity, and the legal system is handing down punishments. But officials don’t believe the plague of break-ins will end any time soon.
Detective Threlkeld said, “A couple of them even during interviews point-blank told me were not going to stop doing this.”
Which leaves a business owner like Adam Seaton, already out $70,000, struggling for answers. He says, “It’s like, what do we do if the police can’t do it?”
In this WDTN.com Web Extra, hear more from store owner Adam Seaton: