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Arrest made: Locust officer assists in Dollar General robbery investigations

By Imari Scarbrough
for the SNAP
A Locust patrol officer may have been the key in helping to stop a string of robberies in two states.
Officer Hannah Claiborne was driving by the Dollar General in Locust when she noticed a gray Nissan parked in the lot, according to Locust Det. Jeff Shew. The vehicle had been backed in, matching the pattern of a suspect in a string of Dollar General robberies in North Carolina and South Carolina.
Claiborne’s information was sent to other departments, and police in Stallings arrested Ron Luclaire Houser, 41, of Stallings on Feb. 22.
Locust prepares
Shew said he had heard about a series of Dollar General robberies — including three in Stanly County — and decided to prepare in case the suspect eyed the Locust store as a target. He contacted departments in areas where similar robberies had occurred, then sent an advisory email to his department to tell officers what to look for.
The suspect allegedly drove a gray Nissan that he backed into parking spaces, wore black clothing, cased the stores a few days before they were robbed and then robbed them just after they opened on Sunday mornings, Shew said. Shew told the officers that they should stay near the store early Sundays in case the business was next on the suspect’s list.
On Feb. 21, Claiborne noticed the gray Nissan backed into a parking space. The suspect left as Claiborne arrived, but she noted the license plate number. When the department ran the number, they found it was registered to Houser, according to Shew. They saw Houser had previous convictions for armed robbery.
The officers watched Dollar General’s surveillance video and noticed the suspect walked up and down the aisles and purchased dog food. When the clerk stepped away from the register, the suspect appeared to pocket Five-Hour energy drinks, Shew said.
When Claiborne showed a photo of the suspect to the store clerk, Shew said that she immediately recognized him.
“She had an emotional reaction,” Shew said. “She had goosebumps when she saw the picture. At that point, the clerk was scared because she thought she could have been the next person to get robbed.”

Alerting other agencies

Shew said the department felt confident that Houser was the correct suspect, and they sent what they had learned to other departments investigating similar robberies.
Deputies with the Kershaw County (S.C.) Sheriff’s Office asked a victim from one robbery if she could identify the suspect from a photo line-up that included Houser’s photo, Shew said.
Kershaw County Sheriff Jim Matthews said that the oldest case they are aware of possibly involving the suspect in Kershaw dates back to 2016.
On Dec. 4, 2016, a suspect “pretty viciously beat” a female Dollar General employee in Lugoff, South Carolina, Matthews said. On Oct. 15, 2017, a Dollar General in east Camden was robbed, and on Jan. 21, a third was robbed, this one also in Lugoff.
When a witness identified Houser from the photo line-up, Kershaw County issued warrants for his arrest for armed robbery, use of a firearm during commission of a felony and kidnapping, Matthews said.
Going by surveillance video and witness descriptions alone is difficult, but those descriptions, videos, Claiborne’s discovery and Houser’s driver’s license information all helped to identify him as a suspect.
“The descriptions from all of (the witnesses) seemed to be very similar,” Matthews said. “A black male, height, weight, age, all pretty close. If 10 people were to describe someone who walked by them, they would probably give 10 different descriptions, but these all seem to be pretty similar. When we identified him through the driver’s license and registration, it gives height, weight and so forth, and they kind of matched. All of these little pieces are not enough individually to convict him, but you get the eyewitness statements and the witness identification, which are kind of the nail in the coffin.”
With three Dollar Generals in his jurisdiction robbed and similar robberies occurring in the region, Matthews said he was glad to hopefully see the case solved.
“We’re relieved, because these Dollar Generals are pretty easy to hit,” he said. “A lot of times they’re in kind of secluded areas, so we know the people who work in them are really relieved because they never know when one of these things will go south and a customer starts getting out of sort and panics, and the worst happens and someone gets shot and killed. I know these store employees are relieved he’s in jail and off the streets. With these past convictions, and holds placed on him by other jurisdictions, he’s probably going to be placed in jail for a long time.”

The arrest

With information from their own investigations and Locust’s findings, multiple departments prepared to arrest Houser.
Stallings Police Chief Minor Plyler said deputies from the Lancaster County (S.C.) Sheriff’s Office arrived on Thursday and said that Houser’s phone was traced to Stallings.
Plyler said that at that point there were numerous warrants for Houser’s arrest from North Carolina as well as from South Carolina.
Houser was arrested near the Stallings police station at his home on Community Park Drive without incident, Plyler said. Kershaw County had also sent a representative to Stallings for the arrest.
The same suspect may have been involved in the robbery of a Dollar General in Stallings, and possibly one or two others in the county, Plyler said.
“I’m just glad,” he said. “It’s really nice when all of the jurisdictions work together, and we can get someone in to make things happen. It showed a lot of cooperation between several jurisdictions, and that’s exactly what we need to do.”

The suspect

Ron Luclaire Houser was booked in the Union County Jail on Thursday and was scheduled to appear in court on Monday. As of 3:30 p.m. Monday, Union County jail online records showed he had been charged with one count of common law robbery, five counts of second-degree kidnapping, one separate count of kidnapping, four counts of robbery with a dangerous weapon, misdemeanor larceny, four counts of possession of a firearm by a felon and two counts of being a fugitive. His total bond amount was listed at $601,000.
Houser has previous convictions for armed robbery, according to North Carolina online criminal records.
Shew, the Locust detective, said he was excited for the break in the case, and was glad his advisory email helped.
“When we send those emails out, we appreciate knowing that the officers are reading the emails,” Shew said. “Hannah did an outstanding job and was observant. She was the key to clearing all of the cases for these other agencies.”
Claiborne has been a patrol officer with the Locust Police Department for more than one year.

Imari Scarbrough is a freelance contributor for The Stanly News & Press.