CLEARWATER — Three men and a woman armed themselves and plotted to rob unsuspecting victims near downtown in late July, authorities said.
Within a four-hour span on July 30, the group robbed at least three different people in strong- arm robberies in spots along Cleveland and Drew streets, Clearwater police said. Police said they are suspected in three more robberies during the same time frame.
On Wednesday, Clearwater police arrested the fourth and final suspect, 21-year-old Tracy E. Dixon, who was listed in reports and jail records as having various addresses in Clearwater.
Dixon was charged with three counts of armed robbery as well as sale and possession of cocaine and Ecstasy, charges that stemmed from several instances when he sold drugs to undercover detectives in May, according to arrest reports. He was also charged with resisting arrest after, police said, he ran away when officers tried to arrest him.
Police said Dixon — along with Tavarus L. Cooper and Arthur D. White-Benjamin, both 21, and Kimberly Shawley, 20 — robbed the victims between 2 and 6 a.m.. All have been charged with armed robbery. An investigation is ongoing, police said.
The four hatched a plan to drive around "in search of easy targets to rob," according to an arrest report. In all, they made off with $430 in cash, cigarettes, cell phones, keys and at least one vehicle. One of the suspects said they split the cash and he received $100.
In at least two of the robberies, the victims were beaten with guns, though no one was seriously injured, reports show. In at least one case, Shawley distracted the victim so two of the suspects could surprise him, police said.
At least half of the victims were Hispanic, but police said they could not say for sure that the group was specifically targeting Hispanics, according to arrest reports.
Clearwater police have tried to educate Hispanic residents about the dangers of carrying large sums of money and have encouraged them to open bank accounts, which can be difficult without adequate documentation. In 2008, police said they had seen a surge in robberies of Hispanic men that seemed to correspond with the worsening economy. More recent statistics were not available Thursday.
Last summer, Clearwater police arrested a man and woman accused of targeting Hispanic men in a dozen armed robberies in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.
All four arrested in the July 30 crimes have criminal records. According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Dixon was released from prison in November after serving about a year and a half for convictions of sale and possession of cocaine and failure to appear in court.
Cooper, of 110 S San Remo Ave., was released from prison in April after serving three years for convictions of grand theft motor vehicle and battery on detention facility staff.
The first arrest for White-Benjamin, of 1369 Madison Ave. S, came at age 11 for burglary, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Before he turned 18, he was also arrested on charges of disturbing the peace, sale of cocaine, robbery by sudden snatching and grand theft motor vehicle.
The dispositions of those cases were unavailable because he was a juvenile.
Shawley, listed in arrest reports as a transient from Clearwater, has previous convictions on drug charges and trespassing.
On Thursday afternoon, Dixon was being held in the Pinellas County Jail in lieu of $376,076 bail. White-Benjamin was being held on $160,000 and Cooper on $150,000. Shawley was being held without bail.