Employees of Cleveland convenience store disarm robber, hold him at gunpoint for police

By Adam Ferrise, cleveland.comThe Plain Dealer
 

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Employees of a convenience store in the city's Stockyards neighborhood thwarted an armed robbery Friday by sneaking up behind the masked gunmen, putting a gun to his back and firing warning shots into the ceiling, according to police.

The employees held Fredrick Thornton, 26, at gunpoint inside the Convenient Food Mart on Clark Avenue until police took him into custody, according to police reports and surveillance footage of the incident.  

Thornton is charged with aggravated robbery. He is being held in the Cleveland City Jail on $100,000 bond after his first court appearance on Monday.

The store's owner, Haytham Mustafa, said he's proud of the way his employees handled a dangerous situation.

"Thank God no one was hurt," he said. "They really handled it well. They didn't go overboard and didn't hurt anyone. That's what we wanted to do-- hold him and let the law deal with him."

Thornton wore a surgical mask and latex gloves when he walked into the convenience store about 10:45 p.m. Saturday.

He pointed a handgun at the 51-year-old employee behind the register, according to police reports. He demanded cash and counted to three and told the man he wasn't moving while smacking his gun against the register, according to police and the video.

A 24-year-old employee working in the back of the store heard a ruckus, grabbed the store's gun and crept up behind Thornton. He placed the gun at Thornton's back, police reports say.

Thornton whipped around and fought with the man. They ended up in a corner next to a stand fighting over the gun. An employee ran from behind the counter and grabbed Thornton's gun.

The employee managed to release the clip from Thornton's gun, then grab the gun itself. He loaded the clip back into the gun and fired several shots into the ceiling, the video shows. 

Thornton placed his hands in the air while the employees forced him to the ground. Thornton can be heard on the surveillance video asking the employees not to shoot him. He also told them that he is homeless. 

The employees called 911 and continued to question Thornton. An employee ran outside with a gun searching for anyone else who might have helped in the failed robbery attempt, according to police reports. 

Cleveland police arrived and arrested Thornton without incident. 

A woman later told police that she saw Thornton rob a person walking

on Clark Avenue, shortly before walking into the store, according to police reports.

The woman called 911 but only speaks Spanish and the dispatcher was unable to understand her. A translator later helped her report the other robbery to police. Officers reported being unable to find the victim in that incident, police reports say.

Thornton told police that a friend dropped him off in the neighborhood and that he initially went to the store to buy cigarettes. He said his adrenaline started pumping and he robbed the store, police reports say.

He also told police he has a $3,000 debt, including $900 for his life insurance, according to police reports.

Mustafa said he's only been robbed one other time about eight years ago. He said dealing with dangerous criminals is part of owning a convenience store. He said he's considering closing the store earlier or hiring security guards for the last few hours of the night.

"I'd also like to see the police just drive by or stop by around closing time," he said. "That's when most of this stuff happens."