Photo courtesy of Glendora (Calif.) P.D.
Between the three years he'd spent with the Glendora (Calif.) Police Department as a cadet and an additional 12 more as one of its patrol officers, Cpl. Chris Stabio knew the Los Angeles County foothill community better than most residents and even most local officers. He also knew that while the city wasn't immune to armed robberies, they weren't exactly common to the area.
So when Stabio heard that a serial robber had been hitting local businesses in May 2011, he was no less concerned than any of his peers. The first crime had occurred at a Subway restaurant the previous day. The most recent robbery was at a Kohl's department store during the start of the PD's PM shift, and had resulted in the shift briefing clearing out so that oncoming troops could assist others already working the call.
Officers had been able to identify 29-year-old Luis Valera as a suspect and even tracked down his residence to a mobile home park in the city. Stabio was among those who responded to the park in hopes of locating Varela, but little came of the visitation save for the identification of a couple of the suspect's relatives.
Five hours into the shift around 10 p.m., a citizen informant advised that Varela had been seen leaving the mobile home park and approaching a Mobil gas station at the southeast corner of Grand Avenue and Route 66.
Where Would I Go?
Several officers proceeded south on Grand Avenue from Route 66, as Stabio asked himself: If I were the suspect, where would I go to avoid the police?
Stabio quickly realized where he would go: toward the recessed parking lot of the shopping complex across the street.
As other patrol units ventured elsewhere, Stabio continued west through the intersection and entered the north side of the shopping center parking lot. He spotted a young male about 50 feet from the front doors of a Ralphs grocery store. The man's appearance—white shirt, black pants, black baseball cap, and carrying a box—matched the description of Varela that'd been put out just moments before.
This is the Guy
Stabio cruised south a bit, disbelieving that he could be lucky enough to have zeroed in on the suspect that quickly. But as he drew nearer, he came to a conclusion: This was the guy.
Pulling his police car behind the man, Stabio put the car into park. As he did, the man looked over his shoulder at Stabio—and quickened his pace. Stabio stepped out of his driver's side door and drew his sidearm.
And with that, the young man was off like a shot and darting through the front doors of the grocery store.
The Check-out Line
When this particular Ralphs had gone from a 24-hour store to a midnight closing Stabio couldn't recall. But he did know that it wasn't unusual for customers to patronize the store right up to closing, and the 10 p.m. hour meant that the odds were pretty good there’d be no shortage of patrons inside.
This fact coupled with his familiarity with the suspect's criminal history—"stalking" and "assault with a firearm" convictions—were enough for Stabio to have engaged the suspect before he reached the doors save for one thing: He could not be positive that Varela and the man he was following were actually one and the same.