Last Modified: Saturday, July 27, 2013 8:34 PM
Lying in wait for a serial armed robber became an exercise in intense focus, officers who participated in a recent sting said.
More than 50 officers took part in the sting, which included 16 nights of posting officers around town to surveil various convenience stores and fast food restaurants Lake Charles police believed the robber might hit.
While some officers were posted in nearby businesses, others were forced to brave the elements, some even laying in mud.
Wherever they ended up, it was one “hundred-percent eyes-on,” Sgt. Richard Harrell said.
“It had to be because the suspect’s actions only took a very brief time and the whole thing could have taken place in the entire time it took you to go to the restroom or whatever,” Harrell said. “Because of the violent nature of the suspect and we knew the stores he was hitting, nobody wanted to be that one police officer that he hit our store and we didn’t see it.”
The operation came to a head on Monday when police arrested a suspect.
Lake Charles Police Chief Don Dixon said Javon Keith Kennerson, 29, 2504 Ernest St., is suspected in 15 armed robberies, dating to last year.
Authorities said Kennerson held up a Ryan Street convenience store Monday afternoon, then led police on a car chase that ended when he wrecked a van at the corner of Lake Street and Prien Lake Road.
Sgt. Jeff Morgan was one of the officers who spent some of his time watching for the suspect from the mud.
“When I got to a location with whoever I was with, we would look at it and we would discuss and play scenarios over in our mind if he were to come in,” Morgan said. “That was the big thing, playing over in your mind what could possibly happen .”
He said officers considered ”public safety, your safety and the main thing - going home at the end of the shift uninjured.”
When the operation began it was new and exciting — “It broke up the monotony in the beginning, doing a new job, but after a while it takes its toll,” Harrell said
Officers said there was a cooperative spirit, both within the police department and with the local businesses that worked with officers.
Harrell spent nights in a closed restaurant watching a nearby business.
Harrell said he approached the restaurant owner and explained what police wanted to do.
“He was an extremely nice gentleman and he literally gave me the keys to the place,” Harrell said.
Many businesses didn’t even ask police why they needed to use their buildings, Morgan said.
“As far as the general public, they opened up to us with open arms,” Morgan said.
“What was really neat was none of these people knew us specifically, they just knew the uniform and that’s what was endearing,” Harrell said.
The day after the operation ended, Harrell returned to the restaurant with his son for lunch.
“My boy wanted to see where I’d been spending so much of my time,” Harrell said.
Working long hours day after day , the officers compared the 16 days to the time they spent working during Hurricane Rita.
“This is something you don’t see all the time because we are in divisions, but this is something that brought our whole department together as one,” Sgt. Franklin Fondel said. “Everybody gave a hundred percent, nobody complained. We were all together as one.”
“The hours were all messed up, but to work with such a large group of folks and we’re all thinking on the same lines and everyone pulling together, just the camaraderie, you don’t get to see a whole lot in your career,” Cpl. Colby Thompson said.
Fondel said it started with Dixon.
“Not one day was he at home, he was right here with us from beginning to end,” Fondel said. “That shows a lot, you can expect a lot out of your department because look what we are receiving from the top.”
Police said they expected the robber to hit the night of July 15. An armed robbery happened that night, but in Sulphur.
Morgan said when the radios began to come alive, there was excitement that “something was going down,” only to be followed by the letdown that the robbery had happened out of their jurisdiction.
As time wore on, a picture of the suspect began to unfold.
“He would leave a little piece, pretty much like you were putting together a puzzle,” Fondel said.
Kennerson was a suspect before the car chase, Fondel said, reiterating what Dixon said at Monday night’s news conference.
Fondel said he was planning to start typing a warrant for Kennerson’s arrest Monday afternoon.
“Even if he hadn’t hit, we were going to have him Monday night,” Fondel said.
Fondel said it “shocked” police when a robbery occurred Monday afternoon, a time of day the suspect had not struck before.
“When I got to the scene that day, the first thing I did was I ran inside and said tell me what he looks like,” Thompson said. “As soon as (the clerk) told me, I said that’s him without looking at the video. We’ve done it so much with so many robberies, he started describing the gun and there was no doubt.”
“What an amazing feat and show of restraint from everyone involved,” Harrell said. “We’ve been searching for this guy and in every single video, every single store he robbed, he was armed. You can clearly see the handgun and we knew that he had robbed this location and nobody got injured or hurt. There was no gunfire. He was subdued without incident.”
Fondel opined that criminals are getting smarter, which means law enforcement must continue to get smarter.
“This suspect, Javon, he wasn’t a sloppy person, he was a smart person and we had to be very smart, diligent and patient to catch him,” Fondel said. “This wasn’t anything overnight, it took a while for everyone to put their minds together, their resources together to get to this point. And at the end of the day we made it.”