With searches and arrests Friday in Woodland Hills and Central Los Angeles, police announced that they had smashed a ring of bandits believed responsible for as many as 50 “follow-home” robberies that have plagued the the Los Angeles area in recent months.
The group of as many as 15 young men suspected in the case are all from neighborhoods near Exposition Park, but several of them have attended Pierce College in Woodland Hills, Los Angeles police said.
Authorities said the men, usually working in pairs, cruised in stolen cars through affluent neighborhoods of the San Fernando Valley, West Los Angeles and Glendale, then followed expensive cars home and robbed their occupants at gunpoint. Although the investigation is continuing, police said, the group is believed responsible for 45 to 50 robberies in which an estimated $300,000 in cash, jewelry, Rolex watches and furs were taken.
“They called it ‘going out on a mission,’ ” Cmdr. Frank Piersol said of the suspects’ searches for victims, who were usually chosen because they were driving new Mercedes-Benzes.
After the robberies, the participants would often take photographs of themselves holding the jewelry and cash they had stolen, he said.
“We have a whole bunch of photographs of different people displaying different items” believed stolen in the robberies, Piersol said.
Police said 11 men are in custody and four others are being sought. Five were arrested on suspicion of robbery in the raids Friday, including one man arrested while in class at Pierce College. They were being held at the Van Nuys jail in lieu of $250,000 bail each.
Six others were already in custody and have been charged with robbery, Piersol said.
During Friday’s raids, officers confiscated three handguns and a rifle believed used during the robberies, an undisclosed amount of jewelry and several photographs of the suspects with watches, jewelry and cash fanned like playing cards in their hands, he said.
Though a few of the suspects may have been affiliated with street gangs during their early teens, police said the crimes are not gang-related.
“It appears that it was a lot of people working loosely in a group,” Piersol said. “Most seemed to know each other, and they came from the same area. . . . There was no one person that was a leader.”
Those arrested Friday were identified as Carlos Anthony Johnson, 19, and four 18-year-olds, Michael Blackwell, Aaron Jackson, Saadite Green and Donald Tillman.
Already in custody at County Jail, police said, are David Wilson, 22; Bryant Patton, 19, and Keith Franklin, Tousaint Thomas and Glen Polk, all 18. The dates of their arrests were not available.
A 17-year-old member of the group is in custody in Tucson, where he was arrested on suspicion of robbery, police said.
Arrest warrants have been issued for Byron Davis, 22; Jimmy Grant, 21; Alton Pierce, 26, and Richard Oliver, 23, whose whereabouts are not known, police said.
Piersol said the robberies began in late 1987 or early 1988 but were so sporadic and widespread that police did not notice a pattern. In October, 1988, after a rash of robberies in the west San Fernando Valley in which the victims were robbed of expensive Rolex watches, police arrested Polk, Piersol said. He was charged with robbery and released on bail.
The following month, other members of the ring began following expensive cars home and robbing their occupants, usually after they had pulled their cars into garages, he said. Twice victims were shot during the robberies, which began occurring as often as three times a week, police said.
Most of the robberies took place in hillside neighborhoods from Sherman Oaks to Woodland Hills, causing a high degree of anxiety among residents.
Police created a task force to investigate the “follow-home” robberies early this year and detectives focused the investigation on Polk because the Rolex robberies were carried out in a similar manner, Piersol said.
The investigation of Polk led to the other suspects, who were also identified by victims, witnesses and through other evidence, he said.
“I truly believe we have identified most of the main players and most are in custody,” Piersol said.
But the task force assigned to the robberies will not yet be disbanded, he said, noting that detectives are still sorting out the robberies and determining which suspects may have committed them.