By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
The LAPD is asking for the public’s help in finding a man who robbed a Little Tokyo department store on Friday and punched two elderly female clerks in the face.
An image of the suspect, captured on surveillance video, has been distributed to the media.
On April 6 at around 4:30 p.m., the man entered the S.K. Uyeda Department Store on the 200 block of East First Street, struck one clerk and then the other when she tried to intervene. He left with both women’s purses and money from the cash register.
The women were treated at the scene by paramedics but did not want to go to the hospital.
The suspect is described as a male Hispanic with a mustache, black hair, and brown eyes, about 40 years old, standing 5 feet 10 inches tall, and weighing around 200 pounds. He was last seen wearing a black jacket with tan pants, and dark brown dress shoes.
Surveillance cameras at a nearby bail bonds business caught the man walking out of the store and then turning left on Onizuka Street toward Weller Court, where his face was clearly visible.
“This knucklehead, he didn’t have to treat these women this way,” LAPD Officer Jack Richter, who patrols the area and knows the victims, said on Monday. “He could have taken what he wanted to take … These ladies are very diminutive, very nice people. I was really angry, because it was just senseless.”
Richter tried to use his sources to track down the suspect but was unsuccessful. He hopes that someone will see the video and come forward.
The man had entered the store earlier that day and was seen talking on his cell phone, Richter noted. “These type of people that do these kind of crimes are opportunists. He went in there and bought a shirt 20 minutes before and left. When he was in there, I’m sure he was looking around, saw that nobody was in there who could give him a hard time. Maybe saw how much cash was in the register when he paid for his shirt. Probably looked around and figured, ‘I’m going to come back and take it.’”
Investigating officers thought there might have been a language barrier, Richter added. “Guy barely speaks English, clerks barely speak English. Maybe that’s where he thought they were being defensive. I don’t know.”
“I’m not going to give up on finding this guy,” Richter said. “I’m gonna keep looking for this guy. If he comes back downtown, and I’ve watched this video a hundred times, I’m pretty sure I’d recognize him.”
At the same time, he stressed that Little Tokyo is “still one of the safest places in Los Angeles, still has one of the lowest crime rates in downtown and almost anywhere in the city.”
First Street between San Pedro and Los Angeles streets was also the site where an elderly woman was mugged in broad daylight in July 2011. The incident was caught on video, but the assailant’s face couldn’t be clearly seen. A suspect was later identified in that robbery and others in the area, but by that time he had already been deported.
S.K. Uyeda was open for business on Saturday and one of the victims was back at work, according to Brian Kito of the Little Tokyo Public Safety Association. It was closed on Monday as usual.
The store is a fixture in the Little Tokyo community, and its owner, Satoru “Sats” Uyeda, has been recognized for his work with the LAPD to improve security in Little Tokyo.
Kito said that one of the victims visited the Koban on First Street on Monday and had noticeable bruising on the right side of her face. He said she remembered seeing the suspect but was struck so hard that she has no recollection of the actual attack.
Although a second suspect wasn’t seen on the video, Kito said it was possible that the man was using his cell phone to communicate with someone outside who was serving as a lookout.
He also suggested that criminals might prefer locations like that particular block, where there are no businesses across the street and therefore fewer potential witnesses, as opposed to First or Second between San Pedro and Central.
On the positive side, Kito said, more and more surveillance cameras are covering the area, making it more difficult for crooks to escape unnoticed. He has recommended against planting too many trees in Little Tokyo as they obstruct the cameras’ view.
The Little Tokyo Public Safety Association has circulated flyers throughout the neighborhood, and police officers stopped by the Koban on Monday with LAPD flyers.
Anyone with information on this case is asked to contact Central Division robbery detectives at (213) 972-1203. During non-business hours or on weekends, calls should be directed to 1-877-LAPD-24-7 (877-527-3247).
Those who want to remain anonymous should call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (800-222-8477) or send text messages to 274637 (C-R-I-M-E-S on most keypads). All text messages should begin with the letters “LAPD.”
Tipsters may also go to www.LAPDOnline.org, click on “Webtips” and follow the prompts.
Rafu Editor-in-Chief Gwen Muranaka contributed to this story.