Dropped cell phone leads police to robbery suspect

An armed robber who held up four people outside a locked apartment building Sunday left behind the evidence police said they needed to nab him: his cell phone.

That's the word from Santa Rosa police, who say they tracked down suspect Joshua Michael O'Brien through a cell phone found at the Mendocino Avenue crime scene.

O'Brien, 26, already was wanted on an outstanding no-bail warrant for violating probation in a drug case when he was identified as the suspect in the Sunday night holdup, police Sgt. Steve Fraga said.

Investigators believe O'Brien knew they were looking for him -- they already had searched his Davis Street house -- when they tracked him down at a friend's Second Street home in Santa Rosa on Thursday afternoon, Fraga said.

A second man remains at large and is the subject of a $2,500 reward, police said.

O'Brien and the unidentified accomplice are suspected of holding up four people who were struggling to find a way into a locked apartment at the rear of a building south of Steele Lane around 8:30 p.m. Sunday.

Three residents had left their keys inside, and a neighbor was helping them try to get in through a window when they were confronted by two masked men in the dark, police said.

The robbers had a handgun they passed back and forth between them, but it was not clear if they had planned the holdup or were merely exploiting the opportunity presented by four people in a dark alcove hidden from the street, Fraga said.

The victims were ordered to turn over their wallets and valuables, and were ordered to break their cell phones to prevent them from calling for help, police said.

The robbers then forced open a window. One climbed inside the apartment, ransacking it for valuables that included a laptop computer and electronics, jewelry and a purse, while the other man held the victims at gunpoint in the rear alcove, police said.

The men then fled through a back parking lot on the east side of the building, apparently climbing a fence to flee, Fraga said.

One of the victims later found the cell phone, leading investigators to O'Brien. He was arrested for suspected robbery, burglary and violation of probation, and was being held without bail at the Sonoma County Jail, authorities said.

He is scheduled to make his first court appearance on Monday afternoon, jail personnel said.

The second suspect is described as a slender black man in his mid-20s, standing about 5-foot-10 to 6 feet tall and weighing about 180 pounds.

The Sonoma County Alliance's "Take Back Our Community Program" is offering a $2,500 reward for information assisting in his arrest.

Anyone with information about the case can call violent-crimes investigators at 543-3590.

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat


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