Bystanders catch purse-snatcher

Cary Ashby • Jan 20, 2013 at 3:13 PM

A homeless purse-snatching suspect was arrested Thursday shortly after employees who work near the crime scene chased down the man and recovered the victim's belongings.

Glenn C. Pratt, 31, must post a $75,000 bond before being released from the Huron County Jail. He is charged with robbery, a second-degree felony punishable by two to eight years in prison.

Dispatchers received a 9-1-1 call at 11:38 a.m. A Schild's IGA customer reported seeing the incident involving a 63-year-old woman.

Norwalk Police Capt. Mike Conney said the caller was taking his groceries to his car when he noticed Pratt was acting suspiciously.

"It was just his body language made it appear he was stalking (someone)," Conney said.

The 9-1-1 caller reported he was taking his shopping car back to the cart corral when "he saw the guy running away from her (the victim) onto Milan Avenue," he said. Conney said the man stayed in the area and later provided police with "a good description of the guy."

The robbery remains under investigation.

"We're still working on it. We're still gathering statements from witnesses," Conney said.

Seeing suspicious activity

Another person who saw Pratt reportedly acting suspiciously was Crystal Jackson, a stylist with Tammy's Salon of Style, which is across the street from Schild's. Jackson was standing inside the salon near the front desk when she saw the suspect.

"I just sat and watched him a few minutes because he looked like he was really nervous about something," Jackson said.

Jackson said she noticed the victim first because she's "a little old lady" who appeared to be frail. Jackson mentioned to salon owner Tammy Cerilli she suspected Pratt was up to no good.

"I hope he's not going to do what I think he's going to do," Jackson recalled saying. "As soon as I said that, he was running towards her (the victim) and I was running toward the front door. ... The guy moved straight toward her and took her purse."

Jackson said she saw Pratt run between the salon and Pizza Brothers and then saw him stop near the building that houses Advanced Computer Connections (aka ACC Norwalk) and Columbia Gas.

"He was trying to dump the purse at the time," Jackson said.

"I don't think he expected to see me to show up again. ... At that point it was foot race," she said.

The 'foot race'

As Jackson started chasing the suspect, she yelled at several Columbia gas employees who were standing nearby that the man had the victim's purse.

"There was no way I was going to catch him," she said. "They had no idea what was going on."

Sean Steffanni, of ACC Norwalk, was in his office when he heard Jackson yelling. The back door of Tammy's Salon is visible through his window.

Steffanni said he saw Pratt run to the back of the ACC building and three men chasing the suspect.

"Then I saw him run from behind one of the Dumpsters behind ACC," Steffanni said.

"I saw him and took off," said Steffanni, who saw the fleeing suspect reach in the purse for the wallet and then ditch the purse. "I was the one who caught up with him."

Steffanni said he managed to get in front of Pratt and cut him off at the Norwalk VFW parking lot.

"I think he was extremely tired and exhausted. He did not look healthy," Steffanni said. "There was absolutely no contact (with him).

"I asked him for the wallet. I told him he needed to give it to me. He hesitated, but then he did (give it to me)," he said.

Steffanni then retrieved the purse, which was about 20 yards away, and gave it and the wallet to Jackson.

"By the time I got back, everyone was gone," Steffanni said.

Jackson, who saw the suspect acting suspiciously, said Pratt apologized to her as he caught his breath at the VFW.

"That was when he was begging to let him go," she said about the Columbia Gas employees who stood around the suspect.

Pratt fled from the employees after he caught his breath.

Conney was the first officer on the scene. He directed Officer Kevin Schaffer to drive to Cline Street since witnesses reported the suspect was running that direction.

As Conney arrived at the VFW, he said the employees, who again were chasing Pratt, directed him toward the culprit.

"They were still hot on his trail. I could see him at the same time they were seeing him run through this yard," Conney said.

"He tried to hide behind this fence in some undergrowth of brush," said Conney, who chased Pratt on foot for about 15 minutes.

The suspect then told Conney, "I give up."

'I crapped my pants'

"He was all sweaty and couldn't breathe," said Conney, so the suspect wasn't able to provide his name initially.

As Conney and Schaffer discussed what to do next, Conney said Pratt interjected: "I ditched the purse."

"Absolutely everything was recovered -- all of it," Conney added.

The officers had Pratt get on the ground and placed him in handcuffs. That was about the time Conney noticed a terrible smell.

"I crapped my pants," Conney said, quoting Pratt. "He defecated on himself during the chase."

Police brought the suspect to the station. Conney said Pratt declined to fully complete a statement and didn't say why he was in Norwalk.

"He said he (was) homeless. I don't doubt it. His last address was in Vermilion," Conney said.

Officers cleared the scene 31 minutes after the 9-1-1 call.

Giving credit

The victim, who stayed with Cerilli at the salon during the foot pursuit, sent Jackson and Cerilli flowers.

"That was a wonderful gesture," Jackson said.

Conney gave credit to the 9-1-1 caller and Jackson for noticing Pratt.

"That's two people who could see he was not acting normally," said Conney, whose report describes Pratt's behavior as "predatory (in) nature."

"It's good to have people like that taking an active role in protecting their fellow citizens," the police captain said.

Steffanni, who caught up with Pratt and demanded the wallet from him, was humble about what he did.

"I did what everybody else was doing; I just ran faster," Steffanni said.

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