Three men charged in brazen daylight robberies targeting Asian Americans

·3 min read
ROWLAND HEIGHTS, CA - JULY 11: A woman gathers her groceries in the parking of the 1000 block of North Nogales Avenue near the 99 Ranch market on Monday, July 11, 2022 in Rowland Heights, CA. A couple was pistol-whipped and robbed in a parking lot in a parking lot in the 1000 block of North Nogales Avenue near the 99 Ranch market in broad daylight, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. Authorities said the two suspects pistol-whipped the victims on their heads and robbed one of the victims of a $60,000 Rolex. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
A woman gathers her groceries in the parking lot of the 99 Ranch supermarket in Rowland Heights on July 11. Two days earlier, a man there was pistol-whipped and robbed of a $60,000 Rolex. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Three men have been charged with robbing victims, many of whom were Asian American, of pricey watches, other designer items and cash in a series of brazen daylight crimes across Los Angeles and Orange counties, prosecutors announced Tuesday.

One robbery, in the parking lot of a 99 Ranch supermarket in Rowland Heights on July 9, was captured on video and shocked San Gabriel Valley residents accustomed to shopping in relative safety.

The men — Dangelo Thomas, Demoryie Watts and Eric Burham — chose victims who were wearing "expensive jewelry, carrying designer items and had large amounts of cash," Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón said at a news conference.

Prosecutors on Tuesday charged Thomas, 25, of Long Beach, with 12 counts of second-degree robbery and three counts of elder abuse. They charged Watts, 21, of Lancaster, with six counts of second-degree robbery and one count of elder abuse, and Burham, 21, with one count of second-degree robbery.

Thomas and Watts also face special allegations of using a firearm.

“These brazen crimes — all of which occurred during the day — are deeply troubling. The victims had their sense of safety shattered,” Gascón said. “The majority of the people victimized were from the Asian American community, and I know that this has caused significant community trauma. I hope that all of those who have been impacted by this spree of violence sleep better tonight knowing that those who caused harm will be held accountable.”

Robberies of expensive watches, snatched from victims’ wrists as they dine, walk or shop, have become a trend in Los Angeles but are less common in suburban areas.

Many Asian Americans have become increasingly fearful about being targeted amid a rise in anti-Asian hate attacks during the pandemic. The three men were not charged with hate crimes.

According to prosecutors, Thomas robbed a 40-year-old man in the 500 block of Glendale Avenue in Glendale in April, making off with a Rolex watch, jewelry and cash.

Prosecutors also believe that Thomas committed three robberies in under two hours on May 9, taking a Rolex, a designer purse and cash in Rosemead, La Puente and Temple City.

Two days later, all three defendants took cash and other items from a 35-year-old woman and a 31-year-old man in the 3800 block of San Fernando Road in Glendale, according to prosecutors.

The following week, Thomas stole about $10,000 from two people in Fullerton, prosecutors said.

Twice in June, according to prosecutors, Thomas and Watts committed additional robberies in Temple City, in one instance stealing about $14,000.

In the 99 Ranch robbery, prosecutors allege that Thomas and Watts assaulted a 64-year-old man with a handgun several times before stealing his Rolex, valued at about $60,000. The man suffered serious injuries, prosecutors said.

The video, captured by a bystander, showed a woman, 51, screaming in the parking lot as two men pistol-whipped her companion.

Watts was arrested Aug. 12, and Thomas was arrested Aug. 31. Both men are being held in L.A. County jail without bail, according to sheriff’s records.

But relatives of some victims are still afraid.

"Our families came to Los Angeles in 1976, and this is the worst we have ever seen in terms of crimes," Cary Ho, a cousin of the 99 Ranch victims, said in a written statement. "Back then, as long as you didn't go into the bad neighborhood where the gangs were, then you were pretty safe. But you can't say that anymore."

Ho said she intends to buy a gun for protection, "to go with pepper spray that I carry when I walk my dog."

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.