LEWISTON — A quick-thinking police officer entered The Big Apple convenience store on Lisbon Road, gun drawn, shortly after 3:30 a.m. Wednesday as a would-be robber fought with a clerk while brandishing a knife, police said.
The suspect, later identified as Rodney Morant, 39, of 50 Fairmount St. in Lewiston, was ordered by Lt. Adam D. Higgins to drop his weapon. Morant threw the knife in Higgins' direction then fled through a rear door of the store, police said.
Higgins ran after Morant and found him hiding in some bushes by South Lisbon Street, Chief Michael Bussiere said at a Wednesday afternoon news conference at the central police station.
After a brief scuffle, Higgins arrested Morant, who was taken to the police station where he was interviewed, then to the Androscoggin County Jail in Auburn. He was booked Wednesday and held in lieu of $10,000 cash. He is expected to appear in 8th District Court in Lewiston on Friday.
It wasn't entirely luck.
Police had been on the lookout for a suspect meeting Morant's description following earlier reports of convenience store robberies, two in Lewiston and one in Auburn.
The first reported robbery came at 10:23 p.m. Tuesday from the X-press Shop Convenience store at 484 Center St. in Auburn. A large man who was bald and wearing a white T-shirt or a blue hooded sweatshirt came into the store and demanded money from a clerk, police said. That clerk handed over cash and the suspect fled. The clerk wasn't seriously injured, police said.
Three hours later, a clerk at a Cumberland Farms store at 790 Sabattus St. in Lewiston reported a robbery.
A half-hour after that, at about 2 a.m., a clerk at Cumberland Farms at 701 Main St. in Lewiston reported that store had been robbed.
Based on clerks' descriptions and surveillance camera footage, police believe all of the robberies were committed by the same person.
Morant, who stands 6 feet, 2 inches tall and weighs nearly 300 pounds, was out on bail and awaiting trial in connection with a January robbery at a Main Street 7-Eleven store in Lewiston. He was scheduled to appear in drug court in Androscoggin County Superior Court on Wednesday.
Police said the robberies likely were drug-related. Only small amounts of cash were taken.
Higgins, a 20-year veteran at Lewiston Police Department, was working as overnight shift commander. He was patrolling outer Lisbon Street when he saw Morant enter The Big Apple store at 1892 Lisbon Road. Morant fit the description of the suspect from the earlier robberies. Higgins peered through the window of the store and witnessed the attack on the clerk.
“This is a good case of really good police work,” Bussiere said.
Faced with an armed suspect assaulting a clerk, Higgins could have used his gun, Bussiere said.
“He chose to resolve it without using deadly force,” Bussiere said. “He may well have saved the store clerk's life.”
Lieutenant had a hunch
LEWISTON — Plenty of training came into play Wednesday morning when Lt. Adam Higgins confronted an armed robber at The Big Apple store on Lisbon Road. But so did instincts and good old-fashioned hunches.
It was shortly before 3 a.m. and Higgins was riding around Lewiston. Police were on the lookout for a man over 6 feet tall and close to 300 pounds who had held up three convenience stores across the Twin Cities since late Tuesday night.
“I started heading out on outer Lisbon Street toward The Big Apple,” Higgins said. “I had a strong feeling that was the store that was going to get hit next.”
The lieutenant's timing was near perfect.
“I saw a large, black male subject walking into the store,” Higgins said. “He was bald. He was wearing a hoody.”
The man fit the description perfectly. Higgins pulled up to the store and the drama began before he was even out of his cruiser. Inside the store, the man was squaring off with the clerk behind the counter.
“I could see that they were wrestling. They were in a physical confrontation,” Higgins said.
The lieutenant had already called for backup, but there was no time for him to wait around. Inside the store, the clerk was valiantly trying to ward off the bigger man. Higgins rushed inside with his gun leveled at the suspect.
“I could see that he had a knife,” Higgins said. “I said ‘drop the knife or I’m going to shoot you.’ After a couple of commands, he let go of the clerk. But he didn’t drop the knife. At that point, he started to back away from the clerk. He came around the counter towards where I was standing. That’s when he dropped the knife.”
The battle was far from over.
“He threw the knife down at my feet,” Higgins said. “He then turned and ran toward a back door.”
The man got outside and quickly scaled a 6-foot fence. Higgins gave chase and came to an area where it appeared a vehicle had recently sped away. The lieutenant had a feeling that the suspect had been left behind. He began to survey nearby fields and woods.
“I heard something rustling in the trees. I gave chase again and a little scuffle ensued,” Higgins said. “He was a big, strong man. It was hard for me to get his hands together.”
But Higgins did get him subdued and handcuffs onto his wrists. Other officers arrived and the suspect — 39-year-old Rodney Morant of Lewiston — was taken to jail.
Looking back on it hours later, Higgins was reviewing the thought process that went on as he was squared off against the armed man. The officer would have been justified in firing his gun, particularly when he had a hold on the store clerk.
At some point, he isn’t completely sure when or why, Higgins made the decision not to shoot. The suspect could have been mortally injured rather than just jailed.
“He’s lucky,” Higgins said. “He’s very lucky.”