Suspect arrested on suspicion of robbing man of $60,000 Rolex at 99 Ranch

·3 min read
Rowland Heights, California-July 11, 2022-Early Monday morning, Mario Hernandez scrubbed the blood stains left over from a weekend robbery and pistol-whipping in a Rowland Heights shopping plaza, when two suspects escaped with a victim's Rolex.
Employee Mario Hernandez scrubbs bloodstains after a July robbery and pistol-whipping in the parking lot of 99 Ranch Market in Rowland Heights. (Anh Do / Los Angeles Times)

A suspect has been arrested in connection with robbing a man of a $60,000 Rolex in the parking lot of a 99 Ranch Market in Rowland Heights.

Dramatic video of the July 9 robbery, which showed two people pistol-whipping a man and a woman before fleeing with the watch, shocked customers who didn't think such a crime could happen at the popular Asian grocery store in a prosperous part of the San Gabriel Valley.

Demoryie Watts, 21, was arrested Friday at his home in Lancaster on suspicion of violating parole in an attempted carjacking case, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Capt. Steven Ruiz said at a news conference Monday.

Investigators will recommend that prosecutors charge Watts with armed robbery and being a felon in possession of a firearm, said Ruiz, who leads the department's Major Crimes Bureau.

Investigators believe they know the second suspect's identity, but Ruiz declined to release more information, citing the ongoing investigation.

The watch was not recovered during a search of Watts' home, Ruiz said.

There are no strong leads indicating whether the two suspects are gang members, and the robbery does not appear to be the work of an organized crime ring, Ruiz said.

Sheriff Alex Villanueva said he will ask prosecutors to file a gun enhancement and potential gang enhancement that would increase the length of Watts' sentence if he is convicted.

"Our concern is, will this be prosecuted as a simple robbery with the lowest sentencing as possible, or will the gun enhancement and other enhancements to be applied also be used in this case for a proper sentence that puts this person ... out of the business of harming our community?" Villanueva said at the news conference.

Robberies of expensive watches, snatched from victims’ wrists as they dine, walk or shop, have become increasingly common in Los Angeles but have been rare in the San Gabriel Valley.

Watts may have been involved in several other robberies in L.A. County, Ruiz said. He is not believed to have specifically targeted Asian Americans, and the robbery is not being investigated as a hate crime, Ruiz said.

Watts is being held on $150,000 bail and is scheduled to appear in court Tuesday, according to sheriff's records.

In June 2021, Watts received an 18-month sentence for attempted carjacking, court records show. He requested and was denied mental health diversion several times after he was charged, the records show.

The video of the watch robbery, captured by a bystander, shows the woman stanching the bleeding from the man's head after the thieves assaulted them and took his watch.

After the robbery, 99 Ranch Market released a statement saying it has "significantly increased its safety measures," employing more security guards and providing customers with escort service to their cars upon request.

Former Walnut Mayor Mary Su and Chinese Chamber of Commerce of Los Angeles Chairman Chester Chong were among the Asian American community leaders who attended Monday's news conference.

"A lot of people don't feel safe," Su said. "This is an unprecedented time with ... so many crimes."

Howard Lee, who hosts a talk show on the Cantonese radio station KMRB, said he has talked about the robbery with his audience, including discussing precautions they can take to avoid being victimized.

"We are the target because they know we have a nice car, a nice bag, maybe are weaker," he said of Asian Americans.

After the news conference, Lee told Ruiz he has been encouraging listeners not to display expensive jewelry and watches.

"They should be able to wear those watches in public," Ruiz replied. "As a law enforcement officer, that bothers me."

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.