Onlookers, firefighters and police in downtown Palo Alto helped capture a suspected thief on Black Friday, police said today. Mohammed Benyouref, 54, of Berkeley, was arrested on suspicion of misdemeanor theft and battery and three outstanding arrest warrants from San Francisco County, Palo Alto police Sgt. Kara Apple said. Benyouref has since been charged with two counts of misdemeanor petty theft and one count of misdemeanor battery by the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office, according to a court clerk.
He is set to be arraigned this afternoon in Superior Court in Palo Alto. At about 1 p.m. on Friday, an ambulance occupied by two firefighter-paramedics from the Palo Alto Fire Department had stopped at a red light at the intersection of University Avenue and High Street, Apple said. A group of people then ran up to them and pointed to a man walking in the 400 block of High Street. The people informed them that the man had just stolen a woman’s purse at a nearby restaurant and the firefighter-paramedics radioed the news to the Police Department’s dispatch center, Apple said.
The firefighter-paramedics then yelled at the man to stop and he started to run away heading north on High Street, according to police. The ambulance pursued the man, who then ran east on Lytton Avenue and across Alma Street into a pedestrian tunnel at the Palo Alto Caltrain station, Apple said. The firefighter-paramedics walked into the train station, saw the suspect near the bus depot and radioed police, who stopped a moving bus nearby, found Benyouref inside and arrested him, according to police. Further investigation by police revealed that minutes before the arrest, a group of friends had been eating at the Sprout Cafe at 168 University Ave. when a woman in the group went to the bathroom but left her purse hanging on the back of her chair, police said.
A woman at the table told police she witnessed Benyouref take a wallet out of the purse and place it into a shopping bag he was carrying, Apple said. The female witness then confronted the suspect, who replaced the wallet in the purse and tried to leave. The woman then blocked the suspect’s path and called out for someone to phone police, Apple said. The suspect pushed her aside and exited the restaurant while some people from the business followed him, Apple said.
During the pursuit, when an onlooker attempted to grab the suspect’s shopping bag, the bag broke off the suspect’s shoulder and he abandoned it while trying to run west on University Avenue, according to Apple. The group following Benyouref then spotted the ambulance and contacted the firefighter-paramedics. Police later learned that the shopping bag Benyouref had left behind contained electronics items he allegedly stole earlier that day from the Apple Store at 340 University Ave., Apple said. The three outstanding warrants for Benyouref’s arrest in San Francisco were for felony possession of stolen property, misdemeanor disturbing the peace and misdemeanor theft, police said.
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