Between October and November, police searched for a group of suspects that allegedly used an M-16 style assault rifle to rob at least 10 Columbus businesses.
But after searching the suspects' homes, police say they have discovered the alleged robbers' bluff — an inert training weapon, instead of a working assault weapon.
Laquante K. Harviley, 23, Dewon Obyrane Neal, 27, and Timothy Gardner, 24, faced multiple counts of armed robbery, possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime and one count each of criminal attempt armed robbery during a Friday morning Recorder's Court hearing.
Sgt. Lance Deaton told the court that police began linking the trio to the robberies after Harviley and Neal allegedly hit three Circle K's on Nov. 24.
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At about 4:30 a.m. that night, Deaton said the pair chose 3247 Victory Drive as their first target. They were thwarted, however, when an employee saw the two approaching with the M-16 training rifle and was able to lock the doors.
From there, the two moved to the Circle K at 2514 Manchester Expressway, where they were able to take an unknown amount of money and Newport cigarettes. They allegedly repeated the acts at a 5758 Milgen Road Circle K.
Between October and November, Deaton said the two robbed five more businesses — sometimes accompanied by Gardner, usually utilizing bandanas as masks and always demanding money and Newport cigarettes. The business affected include Shell gas stations at 1801 12th Avenue and 5757 Buena Vista Road and a second robbery at the Circle K on Manchester Expressway.
Gardner is accused of driving Deaton and Harviley to some of the robberies, including the Shell gas stations and a Church's Chicken on Buena Vista Road.
Deaton said the trio targeted the Church's Chicken because Gardner worked there previously and "knew the layout well."
"I want to emphasize to the court that the M.O. in these cases are all the same," Deaton said. "The clothing descriptions are consistent and the physical descriptions are consistent for all of these individuals."
During the course of the robberies, police were able to develop the trio as suspects, in addition to connecting a vehicle owned by an unspecified member of the three to a robbery in Harris County.
After search warrants were executed at the men's homes, police found clothing matching those described by witnesses at the robberies, as well as a substantial amount of money and Newport cigarettes. The M-16 training rifle was among the items recovered.
Deaton told the court that though the gun is only for training purposes, it looks real enough to cause fear in intended victims.
"Commonly referred to as a 'rubber ducky,' it's a training weapon," Deaton said. "It looks real, it meets the same weight qualifications for training purposes, but it does not fire."
Judge Michael Cielinski set no bond on the suspects' armed robbery charges. Harviley's bond was set at $40,000 for the additional charges. Neal's was set at $60,000, while Gardner's was set at $50,000.
Friday made the second day of hearings for Harviley and Neal, who faced multiple counts of armed robbery Thursday for their purported involvement in the robberies of a Miller Road Circle K, Francis Street Bargain Town and Veterans Parkway Family Dollar, among others. Harviley faced five counts of armed robbery, while Neal faced four.
Both were given no bond for the armed robbery charges, and $50,000 bond each for two counts of possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime.