ST. PETERSBURG — Detectives have accused Jaqueal Edward Harris of being the "ringleader" of a crew that robbed three stores in one day — and police aren't done investigating the 18-year-old.
His parents told the St. Petersburg Times that detectives consider their son a suspect in the murder of a 15-year-old runaway. The police, however, say they have only questioned him in connection with the case.
But police did say they are looking to see if Harris — whose criminal records starts at age 13 — is linked to any unsolved crimes.
"We have a kid who has a penchant for doing robberies," said St. Petersburg Police Maj. Mike Puetz. "Consequently we need to look at other robberies in the city to see if he could have been a part of those."
But the major cautioned the public should not jump to conclusions about which robberies.
Four people were shot and wounded in December when armed groups robbed two convenience stores in St. Petersburg and one in Gulfport.
Those crimes remain unsolved, according to Puetz, who emphasized Friday that police still need help to solve those crimes.
"We need people to cooperate with the police to take these violent people off the street," he said.
At the time of the robberies, St. Petersburg police were unsure they were related. But Puetz said Friday there could be links.
The strongest link, according to the major: "They shot the clerks with very little provocation."
The three robberies Harris is accused of took place July 18. There were multiple people involved in each. All appeared to be teens or young men, masked with bandanas and hoods.
But only one suspect was armed in each robbery. Harris is accused of wielding a gun in the robberies of J&R Repairs and Alterations on Fourth Street S and the Lucky 9 Food Mart on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street N.
He also is accused in the robbery of Sunshine Foods of St. Pete on 62nd Ave. S. Police arrested Harris's parents, James and Evette Harris, in connection with that robbery, accusing them of driving their son and three friends to rob the store, then sharing the spoils.
But police believe the gunman in that robbery was Timothy Cornell Gipson Jr., 19, who was arrested Wednesday.
Police have questioned two other juveniles in connection with the first and second robberies.
James and Evette Harris told the Times police arrested them to get them to implicate their son in the murder of Malayshia Gamble.
The police denied that. In fact, Puetz said it was the parents who got their son to cooperate with the murder investigation.
But it was the murder investigation, the major said, that uncovered the family's links to the robberies.
Jamal Thalji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8472.