By early this month, police in Montgomery County had had enough.
Robbers in the Washington area had been using pickup trucks to ram through the plate-glass windows of convenience stores and dislodge ATMs, which they would hoist into the truck beds and drive off.
In with extreme force. Out with extreme speed.
It had happened about 18 times over the past year. At least three 7-Eleven stores in Montgomery County, Md., were hit in the middle of the night — with nearly $100,000 stolen.
So police mounted undercover stakeouts around a handful of stores detectives viewed as prime targets. And at 3:50 a.m. Tuesday, it was clear they had chosen wisely or been lucky, or both.
According to police accounts filed in court, a blue Ford F-250 eased up behind the 7-Eleven in the county’s White Oak area as officers watched. Two passengers in dark masks got out, walked to the front of the store and went inside, where they forced the two clerks to the ground.
The pickup followed them, hopped a curb and — police said — assumed a ramming position.
“At that point,” a police account states, “unmarked police units converged.”
A short time later — after two foot chases and one vehicle chase on the Capital Beltway — three suspects were in custody. Detectives charged each with three counts of felony robbery, asserting that they had crashed into two Montgomery County 7-Eleven’s in recent weeks and were about to do so to a third when officers interrupted them.
Authorities stressed Wednesday that they do not know whether the suspects were involved in other thefts of ATMs or exactly how many similar crews may be engaged in the practice.
“This is not a crime of convenience,” Montgomery Assistant State’s Attorney Kimberly Cissel said in court Wednesday. “These are planned-out instances, well thought-out.”
“That was definitely not their first rodeo,” Montgomery acting police chief Russ Hamill said of the three men arrested. “It took some skill to pull that off.”
The three allegedly stole the pickup trucks used to steal ATMs.
After arriving at a store, court records said, two would enter, take control of the clerks and spray-paint the lenses of as many surveillance cameras as they could find. Seconds later, their truck would arrive, smashing into the ATM to break it free of the bolts securing it to the floor or wall.
The thieves would drive the machine to another stolen vehicle parked nearby to which they would transfer the ATM, then abandon the pickup and drive off in the van, police allege.
In court Wednesday, District Judge Rand L. Gelber assigned $50,000 bonds to two of the suspects: Deandre Jackson, 27, of Upper Marlboro, and Omar Barnes, 28, of Southeast Washington. If they post those bonds and are released, Gelber said, they are to abide by conditions including curfews and staying away from the 7-Elevens they are accused of targeting.
John Lavigne, a public defender who represented both men at the hearings, did not discuss specifics of the allegations. He said Barnes has worked recently as a photographer in Baltimore after previous work in information technology. He said Jackson had spent the past four years doing installation work.
The third suspect, Janarro Hewett, 27, of Hyattsville, Md., is expected to appear in court Thursday for his bond conditions to be reviewed. He is in jail on no-bond status.
Recent ATM assaults in Montgomery County go back to at least Feb. 17, according to Montgomery County police.
In the incident on that date, four thieves made several mistakes, according to surveillance video police made public in March. Smashing into the store and dislodging the ATM went well. The driver then moved the pickup into the parking lot as the intruders heaved the ATM onto a dolly, according to the video.
But they tripped on the way out, sending the ATM crashing to the pavement. Forced to lift it again, with police probably on the way, they abandoned the machine and drove off. It is not known whether the men arrested this week had anything to do with that attempted robbery.
The three men in custody are alleged to have hit a 7-Eleven on New Hampshire Avenue in Cloverly on April 30 and a 7-Eleven on Tech Road in Fairland on May 2.
Early Tuesday morning, police converged as, they said, the suspects tried to strike a third time.
Two of the suspects, Barnes and Jackson, ran off but were quickly caught, according to police. Hewett was arrested after a vehicle pursuit on the Capital Beltway, where the truck crashed near Kenilworth Avenue. Hewett ran from the truck and was caught, police said in court records.
Hamill praised the officers who made the arrests, saying the robberies were carried out by criminals with a plan and the tools to execute it.