It appeared to be a run-of-the-mill arrest over run-of-the-mill robberies — a man suspected of holding up a pizza shop and a motel in Northeast Washington. But it took a new detective, a touch of luck, a bunch of skill and a whole lot of persistence to nab an unlikely suspect.
Detective Jerome Bank teamed up with beat cop Andrew Horos and combined modern technology with old-fashioned police work. The suspect turned out to have a day job driving an ice cream truck, and police said he hid a pellet gun inside the van.
Modern surveillance video captured the alleged gunman wearing a signature coat with the word “America” emblazoned across the back, according to court documents. And an earlier back-to-basics pat-down of the man by the beat officer, who filed the man’s name away, helped the detective learn the suspect’s identity.
“I know detectives are supposed to detect,” said Capt. William Fitzgerald of the D.C. police. “But this is a great example of persistence.” Noting the earlier stop was linked to a street robbery investigation, the captain said that “sometimes in the age of technology, we forget the little details, the simple stuff, like stopping a guy and recording his name.”
Police identified the suspect arrested Wednesday as Keith Austin, 33, of no fixed address. He was found at his ice cream truck two blocks from Union Station and was charged with two counts of armed robbery. A D.C. Superior Court judge ordered him detained until a hearing June 12.
His attorney, Abraham Blitzer, said, “My client asserts his innocence.” He declined to comment further.
It all started March 30, police said, when Austin, wearing a mask, gloves and the “America” jacket, robbed a clerk at the Budget Motor Inn in the 1600 block of New York Avenue NE. Police said the clerk had been distracted by a man with a laptop computer he needed help fixing.
Luck came in when police said the man with the laptop returned to the motel April 4 and checked in. The clerk called police, who ran the man’s name through a computer and discovered that Horos had stopped him and others two weeks earlier after a robbery at Gallery Place.
Horos couldn’t recall what the men were wearing, but he did write their names down. Bank found a surveillance camera that recorded Horos’s otherwise uneventful stop at Gallery Place. Police said one of the men was wearing a jacket with the word “America” on the back and reasoned that it might have been the Budget motel robber.
Bank questioned other witnesses and pieced evidence together. As he closed in on his man, another robbery was reported April 29 at the New York Pizza on Florida Avenue NE, off New York Avenue. Police said the gunman was wearing a winter coat, but court papers say an informant identified the suspect as the same man linked to the Budget motel robbery. Police said they found the coat in the ice cream truck when they arrested Austin.
For all that went right for the detective, Fitzgerald said, “You have no idea how much he did that didn’t work out.”