• Police trace fake 911 call to identify and arrest armed robber
By Hannah Heimbuch
Homer Police arrested Michael McClendon, 29, on Friday in connection with the Dec. 26 robbery of the Grog Shop.
According to police, McClendon has confessed to robbing the Pioneer Avenue business, and is currently being held at the Wildwood pre-trial facility without bail.
“I just want to say that I think our police department does a great job,” said Grog Shop owner Mel Strydom. “I am really appreciative of the work they do and I’m happy the guy is in jail.”
McClendon is charged with armed robbery, tampering with evidence, theft of a firearm, felon in possession of a firearm, and third-degree assault.
It was McClendon’s actions prior to the robbery that ultimately led police to arrest him, said Homer Chief of Police Mark Robl.
“The most valuable piece of evidence we had here was related to the cell phone call that the suspect made, basically five minutes before he committed the robbery,” Robl said. “He made a 9-1-1 call on a TracFone and reported that he had been involved in a vehicle accident about two miles out East End Road, that his wife was with him, that his wife was dying, and that his cell phone battery was going dead.”
The caller then hung up the phone.
He essentially created a diversion with the false report, Robl said, causing 9-1-1 dispatch to mobilize police officers, firefighters and emergency medical responders to the scene of a nonexistent crash.
In the meantime, McClendon allegedly entered the Grog Shop armed with a short-barreled shotgun, and pointed it at employee Shane Davis. He reportedly ordered Davis to retrieve money from the till, telling him to do so quickly, and as Davis walked toward the counter he fired a shot into the floor. He took $1,100 in cash before leaving on foot.
After an extensive search in the mile-2 area of East End Road, which resulted in no sign of a crash, officers began work on tracing the phony 9-1-1 call, Robl said.
They were able to compare recordings from the Grog Shop’s video surveillance with the audio recording from the 9-1-1 call, and found the two voices to be similar in tone and inflection, both carrying a distinctive stammer, according to the affidavit filed by Police Sergeant Lary Kuhns at the Homer court.
A reverse number look-up led the police to the phone’s service information, though because of the nature of TracFones no subscriber information could be identified at that time.
A Jan. 10 search warrant allowed police to view the phone records for that TracFone.
“We were quickly able to ascertain who had been using the phone and identify that person as our suspect,” Robl said. “We located where he was living in Homer, went to that place, and served a search warrant there.”
During a warranted search of McClendon’s residence at Main Street’s Homer Cabins, police spotted McClendon walking by and arrested him without incident.
In the Grog Shop surveillance tape, police identified a white male adult, 6 to 6 foot 2 inches tall, with a relatively stocky build. The suspect was wearing blue jeans, a dark jacket, boots, a knit hat, face mask and gloves.
A sawed off shotgun as well as the clothing believed to be worn by the suspect were recovered in a search of McClendon’s residence.
McClendon confessed to robbing the Grog Shop, placing the false 9-1-1 call and firing the shotgun inside the business. He faces significant felony charges for the events surrounding the robbery, and the false 9-1-1 report is in itself a serious crime, Robl said.
“We have not yet charged him for making the fake phone call, but we will,” Robl said.
Robl is pleased with the results of this investigation, as are Grog Shop employees, according to Strydom. Having an employee held at gun point while the store was robbed shook everyone up.
“We just feel a little bit safer that he’s behind bars now,” Strydom said.
The robbery took place at 10:48 p.m., about one hour before typical closing time.
A prior robbery was resolved earlier this year in May, when John Mumey, 51, plead guilty to a second-degree felony robbery charge. He was convicted of the Dec. 17, 2012 armed robbery of the Grog Shop.
McClendon did not have an Alaska criminal record until now, however his Washington state criminal record includes several counts of burglary and weapons offenses.
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