For 7-Eleven clerk Niranjan Singh, the sight of Roby Brown coming through the door on Dec. 23 must've triggered a case of the "Oh, fuck"s. After all, Brown was a suspect in at least five previous robberies since October at the store, located at 3702 Auburn Way N. in Auburn. Having been on duty for three of those robberies, Singh had come to know the bandit's M.O. well: Brown would brandish a laser-sighted pistol, take the cash in the register, and shoplift household goods, cigarettes, and cases of cheap, domestic beer.
Singh called 911 when he realized he was being held up yet again. Brown apparently hadn't bothered to alter his disguise since his visit five days earlier: He was wearing the same dice-decorated hoodie and paisley-patterned bandana. Singh continued helping customers as he watched Brown meander around the store, selecting merchandise and putting it into a backpack.
In theory, Brown shouldn't have been back for his alleged sixth heist. The 7-Eleven company tries to deter robbers by limiting the amount of money available to clerks: There's only about $50 in the register during the day, $30 after dark. According to the 7-Eleven Web site, this measure, along with other precautions such as store lighting, has reduced the company's robbery rate by 71 percent over the last three decades.
But Brown apparently wasn't moved by that.
"It was a little frustrating, because the guy was getting peanuts and kept coming back—which is contrary to all the principles we aspire to in our robbery-prevention program," says Ron Conlin, a 7-Eleven loss-prevention manager. "Quite frankly, I was concerned about it, because when you have a person that is not rational in how he operates, it could escalate into something more serious."
Brown never got that chance. After the previous holdup, Singh had obtained a special alarm from a sympathetic detective. By the time Brown picked up an 18-pack of Coors Light and left the store, the alarm had already broadcast a radio alert to the police department. Officers quickly arrived in the neighborhood. They found Brown hiding under a vehicle in a nearby parking lot. The gun he carried on him turned out to be a paintball gun that "looked real," according to court files.
In an interview with police, the 21-year-old Brown explained that he was living out of an Oldsmobile Bravada in the parking lot of Emerald Downs racetrack, about two miles away. He wouldn't cop to robbery but admitted to stealing—it was his way to grocery shop. Officers who searched his car found the following message scrawled in a notebook: "THE LAST ONE PERIOD. It's Christmas. Cool, Calm, let me do what I have to do & get out of here." That was followed by a catalog of items, including "Gatorade, Aluminum Foil, Beef Jerky, Sandwichs, Cigarettes, Money—85–100+, Beer."
Brown's court file, from which most of the above details are pulled, includes this note from a detective: "I found it odd that he would put 'money' on his shopping list."
"For the average robbery in the store, between the time when [the robber] comes in and the time he leaves is 52 seconds," says 7-Eleven's Conlin. "This guy sounded like he was a little off to begin with, because after the robberies, as I understand it, the individual calmly went and stole some beer on most occasions."
Brown had a court hearing on Jan. 24 and is now in King County Jail awaiting trial. Singh wasn't available for comment, but Sgt. Jamie Sidell, a public information officer with the Auburn Police Department, describes Brown's as "a good arrest. This was probably the biggie here recently."
"Everybody that gets arrested has some sort of story behind why he's doing it," says Sidell. "I can't recall of any [stories] like this. It's an act of desperation, when you get right down to it."