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Monday, June 24, 2019

Crime

Two weeks, three robberies, 10 suspects: UHPD makes headway in cases


All three robberies happened south of Wheeler Ave.

River Phillips sat in his car in a dark corner of the Bayou Oaks parking lot. He’d just finished a phone call with a friend when two men opened his passenger and driver’s side doors. They pointed a gun at his face and demanded his phone, wallet and keys.

He gave them his wallet and phone, leaving the keys in the ignition. When the robbers couldn’t figure out how to unlock his phone, they gave it back and demanded he get out of the car to do it himself. Phone in hand, Phillips saw the robber glance away and took his chance to escape.

“As soon as the guy with the pistol looked into the car, I took off,” Phillips said. He ran to the back entrance of Bayou Oaks shouting for help while the robbers sped off in his Pontiac G6.

Phillips, a management information and marketing senior, was the third and final victim in a string of robberies that spanned two weeks in early January across campus parking garages and surface lots. All three robberies happened south of Wheeler Avenue and involved suspects taking the victims’ cars.

A student was rollerblading on the top floor of the Cullen Oaks garage Jan. 7 when he was attacked by two suspects after refusing to give them his phone and car keys.

The second robbery happened the evening of Jan. 12 in Lot 4A, when five suspects demanded a student’s keys at gunpoint before fleeing the scene on foot and in the victim’s car.

Phillips’s robbery occurred three days later, less than two blocks away.

Many students found themselves on edge from the resulting flurry of security alerts that had punctuated their first week of classes.

“I was definitely a little scared,” said biochemistry freshman Zaimab Asif. “This is my first time parking on campus, so I was feeling a little unsettled.” 

Search for suspects

The same morning that students received the email alert about Phillips’ robbery, UHPD Chief Ceaser Moore Jr. announced that campus security and police patrols would be increasing as they worked with HPD to track down suspects.

At the time, one arrest had been made: the driver of the vehicle in the second robbery who was apprehended within an hour and a half of the incident, according to UHPD.

“I want to reinforce our commitment to campus safety,” Moore said in an email to students and faculty. “Any crime against any member of the University of Houston community is a crime against all of us.” 

Six days later, Moore announced in a video to students and staff that eight of the 10 suspects had been caught and charged in connection to the robberies.

“Hello Cougar family,” Moore said in the video. “Last week, I informed you about three robberies on our campus between January 5 and 17. Today, I want to provide you an update. All three cases have been solved.” 

The video also revealed that all guns thought to be used in the robberies, specifically the final two, were in fact toy gun replicas.

As of late last week, a ninth suspect, a juvenile, has been arrested and charged in connection with the robberies. None of the suspects were involved in more than one of the robberies, according to UHPD.

Both suspects in Phillips’s robbery — David Augustine, 18, and a juvenile — were apprehended Jan. 17, two days after the incident took place. According to court records, UHPD obtained surveillance video and still photos from the scene and, with help from HISD PD, identified the juvenile in the pictures and an address where they might be able to find them.

After following leads to several addresses and speaking to a landlord, the suspect’s sister and a former teacher, police arrested the juvenile. Investigators were able to identify Augustine, who has no previous criminal record, through witnesses they spoke to during their investigation.

Isaiah Urdy, 18, was already in jail when police charged him for the robbery at Cullen Oaks, which occurred seven days before the attempted burglary of a motor vehicle charge that he was facing then.  The suspect’s rap sheet dates back to 2017 and includes several felony charges, including aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon, evading arrest and trespassing, according to court records.

Increased awareness

Although aggravated robberies on campus may seem like frequent occurrences, UHPD’s crime log shows that there have only been three aggravated robberies reported in the past 60 days. Two of these incidents occurred in the first week of school.

Nonetheless, the incidents were a wake-up call for students.

“I was definitely more aware than afraid,” said advertising freshman Meriem Madi. “I was on edge.”

After the robbery in Lot 4A, UHPD told The Cougar the department was in the middle of hiring four new officers for high-visibility ATV patrols as part of an initiative that was planned and approved beforehand and was not directly in response to the robberies.

All cars that were stolen during the robberies were recovered within hours of each event, according to UHPD. Phillips’ car, however, was found wrecked with the headlights broken, the front passenger side of the car torn and parts of the bumper hanging off.

“I’ve been having to Uber everywhere because my driver’s license was in the wallet, too,” Phillips said.

Urdy is awaiting his court date, set for Feb. 28, and his bond is set at $1,000. Augustine’s bail currently sits at $30,000, and his court date is set for March 6. Phillips is unsure whether he will testify at Augustine’s and the juvenile’s hearings.

UHPD is still working to track down the final suspect.

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