The Washington Post

Montgomery police begin IDing flash-mob suspects

Montgomery County police have tentatively identified more than half the suspects of a highly publicized “flash mob” larceny at a 7-Eleven store in Germantown four days ago, a police spokeswoman said Wednesday.

Detectives think approximately 26 people – the majority of them juveniles — entered the Wisteria Drive store early Saturday and stole about $450 worth of drinks, candy and snacks, said the spokeswoman, Officer Janelle Smith.

Supporters of a proposed curfew in Montgomery County said Wednesday that the incident underscores the need for such a measure.

“The incident, which occurred at 1:47 a.m., serves to illustrate why my recently proposed overnight curfew for juveniles under 18 years of age could enhance public safety,” Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) said in a statement. “This incident is a wake-up call to law enforcement agencies, government leaders and families.”

Video of the Germantown flash-mob has gone viral, in large part because of alarming images of participants taking over the store and seemingly helping themselves to whatever they wanted.

Still, proving theft cases in court might be a different matter. Cases against individuals generally require that police and prosecutors know exactly what was stolen, Smith said. And that’s not completely clear from the video. Nor do the images necessarily show all the people leaving the 7-Elven with items. For that reason, prosecutors may ultimately try to bring disorderly conduct charges against suspects if there isn’t a clear theft case to be made, Smith said.

On the other hand, prosecutors could go for stronger charges — perhaps robbery — if the suspects made threatening comments to the clerk. Exactly what was said is part of the investigation, Police Chief J. Thomas Manger said Wednesday.

“These kids were absolutely up to no good,” Manger said.

Detectives on Wednesday were trying to talk to some of the suspects in person, Manger said.

The night and early morning of the incident, some of the participants were at the Montgomery County Fair, Manger said, and took a bus to the Germantown Transit Center. Once there, they possibly used text-messaging or cell-phones to gather more people to rush the store.

Manger is concerned about flash-mobs because group-think might cause teenagers to assault anyone who gets in their way.

“The potential for violence was there,” he said of the Germantown flash-mob. “The potential that it could have gotten out of hand was there.”

Manger said that had a curfew been in effect, and an officer saw the group walking outside the 7-Eleven, they could have used the law to get them off the streets before they entered the store. “It absolutely would have prevented this from happening,” Manger said.

Dan Morse covers courts and crime in Montgomery County. He arrived at the paper in 2005, after reporting stops at the Wall Street Journal, Baltimore Sun and Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser, where he was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. He is the author of The Yoga Store Murder.


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