An ambulance crew with the Palo Alto Fire Department, flagged down by witnesses of a wallet theft at a downtown restaurant, followed the suspect through downtown and relayed information to police leading to the suspect's arrest.
The ambulance was stopped for a red signal light at 12:59 p.m. at the intersection of University Avenue and High Street on Friday, Nov. 29 when a group of people ran up to the two firefighter/paramedics pointed out a man they said had allegedly stolen a woman's wallet at Sprout Café, at 168 University Avenue.
Four friends had been having lunch when one, a woman in her 40s, got up to use the restroom. She left her purse hanging on the back of her chair. A man casually walked behind the chair, allegedly reached into the purse, removed her wallet, and placed it in a shopping bag. One of the victim's friends at the table, a woman in her 20s, witnessed the theft and stood up to confront the man. He immediately replaced the wallet into the unattended purse and tried to leave, police said.
The victim's friend blocked the man's path out of the restaurant and started yelling for people to call the police. The suspect pushed the woman out of his way and left the restaurant. The woman was not injured. A group of people followed him.
An onlooker attempted to stop the suspect outside of the restaurant by grabbing onto the shopping bag he was carrying. The bag broke off of the suspect's shoulder, and he abandoned the bag and ran westbound on University Avenue. A witness picked up the bag and later turned it over to the police.
Witnesses then flagged down the ambulance. The paramedics saw the man walking northbound on the 400 block of High Street between Lytton and University avenues. With no patient in the ambulance at the time, they radioed the information to police dispatchers.
They called out to the suspect to stop, but he started running northbound on High Street, police said. In their ambulance, the paramedics followed the man. He ran eastbound on Lytton Avenue, crossed Alma Street, and disappeared into the pedestrian tunnel at the train station. The paramedics parked the ambulance and walked into the train station on foot, and last saw the suspect near the bus depot, they radioed to police.
An arriving officer stopped a bus leaving the scene just moments afterward. The officer located the man on the bus and detained him without incident, police said.
The suspect, 54-year-old Mohamed Benyouref of Berkeley, was booked at the Santa Clara County Main Jail for theft and battery from the Sprout Cafe incident and for three outstanding warrants from San Francisco County: felony possession of stolen property, misdemeanor disturbing the peace and misdemeanor theft.
Police found that Benyouref's abandoned shopping bag contained electronics he allegedly stole earlier the same day from the Apple Store at 340 University Ave. On Dec. 4, the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office filed charges against Benyouref for two counts of theft and one count of battery, all misdemeanors, as a result of the Palo Alto incidents.
Palo Alto police are warning shoppers to be vigilant.
"During the holidays, with the crush of people shopping and dining, it's even more important than usual to keep your personal items like purses, wallets, and cell phones in your possession at all times," Lt. Zach Perron said.
"Leaving your items unattended, even for just a couple of seconds or even with trusted friends nearby like in this case, may give a crook the opportunity they need to steal your belongings."
Police recommend that anyone who witnesses a theft immediately call 9-1-1 and, and if possible, keep the thief under observation from a safe distance. Anyone with information about this incident is asked to call the 24-hour dispatch center at 650-329-2413. Anonymous tips can be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or sent by text message or voice mail to 650-383-8984.