A young man in a motorized wheelchair may have looked like an easy target for a robbery, but a 17-year-old youth is in custody after the victim used technology to track down the suspect.
Devin Johnson, 23, a former mixed martial arts fighter, was left quadriplegic following a training accident in 2012. The Bee profiled his plight in a series of stories last year.
A student at American River College, he was headed to his apartment near the campus Jan. 17, traveling along a residential street in his wheelchair, when he was approached by two young men who tried to sell him video game equipment. Johnson said he declined, but the two followed him.
Johnson, who was alone, said he felt he was safe as long as cars were passing on the street, but once he reached an area without traffic, one of the young men confronted him.
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“He stopped me, took my iPhone, which was on my lap, and sprinted away,” recalled Johnson, who immediately went home and reported the theft to the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department.
He also undertook a little detective work on his own.
Johnson explained that an app on his iPad notifies him of the location of his iPhone. The iPhone’s batteries were dead when it was stolen, but Johnson said he knew he would be able to trace it as soon as the thief recharged the phone.
Sure enough, two days later a notification popped up on his iPad, indicating that the phone was at a nearby residence.
Johnson, accompanied by a couple of his martial arts buddies – and his mother, who insisted on going along – went to the residence, confronted the suspect and retrieved the phone. “Mom neutralized the situation a bit,” he said.
Johnson said the suspect was unable to use the phone to make calls or send text messages, but he did use the camera feature to take photos of himself. After retrieving the phone, Johnson showed the photos to another ARC student with disabilities, who indicated the suspect appeared to be the same person who had robbed him of an iPad.
Sheriff’s spokeswoman Sgt. Lisa Bowman said detectives arrested a 17-year-old boy Tuesday night on suspicion of robbery in connection with Johnson’s case. His name has not been released because he is a juvenile. She said there is no evidence that the youth was responsible for the robbery of the other student, but detectives are working with American River College police to determine whether the suspect may have been involved in other incidents.
American River College spokesman Scott Crow said campus police are aware of the two incidents. The other student, who uses an iPad to communicate, was confronted on campus by an individual who asked for the time. When the student attempted to respond using the iPad, the individual grabbed the device and took off, Crow said.
Despite the two incidents, Crow said he is not aware of any trend in crimes targeting people with disabilities on or near the campus.
“To steal a device from someone who is disabled is pretty heinous,” Crow said.
He said campus police are working with sheriff’s detectives and had interviewed the suspect.
Johnson, who is majoring in accounting at ARC, said he values independence, but he advises people with disabilities not to travel alone, if they can avoid it.
“I just think people in my situation have got to be more aware,” he said.