Smash and grab suspects escape after police call off chase

CLEVELAND – After the suspects in a violent ATM smash and grab were allowed to escape despite being within sight of police officers, some are questioning why police supervisors called off the chase.

Dramatic surveillance footage showed the suspects ramming a van through the front wall of American Food Mart at the corner of Woodland Avenue and Woodhill Road around 4:20 a.m. Wednesday. Three hooded suspects were then seen pushing an ATM out of the store to a separate getaway van.

The clerk called police while hiding in a cooler, and officers arrived within minutes, before the suspects left the parking lot. As officers arrived, video showed the suspect van swerving around a cruiser before fleeing westbound on Woodland with police following it.

“Behind that Caravan, the ATM’s in the back, one male driver. Oh, it’s full of people,” one of the pursuing officers reported over police radio.

As the van turned onto East 79th Street with several cruisers behind it, an officer reported it appeared the suspects appeared ready to jump out. They then turned the van’s lights off and took off at a high rate of speed, according to police radio traffic, as officers tried to make a stop. A police supervisor called off the pursuit.

The smash and grab caused thousands of dollars in damage and lost items, according to store Assistant Manager Mohammad Aldmour.

“It's happened on the west side, it's happened on the east side, and these guys just keep getting away with it, and this time they actually had the chance to get them,” Aldmour said. “I'm terrified. I'm terrified for my customers, I'm terrified for our store, I'm terrified for everybody who has a business.”

Cleveland Police Patrolman’s Association President Steve Loomis said officers are growing increasing frustrated and feel helpless in pursuit situations.

“It just emboldens these guys. If you think this is the last time they're going to do a smash and grab and put lives at risk, you know that's not going to be the case,” he said.

Cleveland's pursuit policy gives supervisors control and states officers should consider a variety of factors including weather, time of day and traffic when deciding whether to pursue.

"For example, it is not worth the possibility of loss of life or injury solely to recover property or currency," Cleveland Police Spokesperson Sgt. Jennifer Ciaccia said in a statement to Fox 8 News.

Ciaccia said chases are typically called off for “safety reasons” and that she reached out to the 4th District for more information about this particular decision but had not yet heard back.

“I get it at 4 in the afternoon when school is getting out. Absolutely, I would agree with it and 95 percent of cops out there would agree with it. In this case, absolutely not,” Loomis said.

Aldmour said he fears the suspects will strike again.

“If anybody gets killed and it’s because of these guys. It's because of that decision making,” he said.