The armed home-invasion robbery happened the morning of September 18, 2019 on Palm Coast’s Pine Grove Lane, robbing the homeowner of early $2,000 in cash and jewelry. Three people had invaded the house, according to the homeowner. Alexander Brown was arrested within days. Two others remained at large. Today, the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office announced it had obtained a warrant for the arrest of a second suspect, Isaiah Johnson, who was already in jail in Volusia County on unrelated charges. The third remains at large.
The story behind the latest arrest is a window into detectives’ methods, illustrating how the use of technology such as license plate readers, search warrants for cell phone records and Facebook accounts, and old-fashioned on-the-ground interviews combined to help connect the dots and build a case against an otherwise elusive suspect–assuming the circumstantial evidence can stand up in court. The methods also illustrate the extent to which individuals’ most common footprints through technology, often considered private, are unmasked by roving cameras or search warrants.
“Our detectives using our new investigative technology and good police work did an outstanding job investigating this case,” Sheriff Rick Staly said. “We are still looking for the third suspect in this crime and will not give up until all of them are behind bars where they belong. This was a dangerous crime and luckily the victim was able to escape unharmed.” The sheriff’s release that accompanied the announcement of the second arrest today, however, gave little details about those investigative techniques. What follows is an account of those techniques, based on the detectives’ 17-page investigative report. (The detectives involved were Augustin Rodriguez, George Hristakopoulos and Jorge Fuentes.)
The armed robbery took place almost exactly a year ago. Alexander Brown, 20 at the time, rang the doorbell of the house on Pine Grove Lane, and the 36-year-old homeowner opened.
“What’s up cuz?” the homeowner said.
“What’s up Unc?,” Brown replied. No sooner had the two men walked into the house than Alexander allegedly pointed a .380-caliber handgun at “Unc” and told him: “I need $5,000.” He said if the man didn’t turn over the money, he’d start shooting. He ordered him to lie down.
Two other men walked in right about then. Both wore hoodies, the hood drawn shut over their faces, according to the Flagler County Sheriff’s investigative report. Both wore vinyl gloves. (This was before the covid pandemic.) One of them was armed with a handgun, but that man didn’t point it at anyone. Brown ordered the two men to search “Unc”‘s bedroom. They started ransacking it until Brown intervened, telling them to be careful. The homeowner then told Brown where he could find $1,800. It was in the top drawer of a dresser. But the two men also filled a pillowcase with other valuables, including jewelry, and left. Brown urged “Unc” not to call the police and said he’d pay him back. He and the two other men fled in a light blue sedan.
Not long afterward the victim’s fiancee got a call from Brown’s mother, who told her Brown was sorry, and that he’d pay back the money. Daytona Beach police showed up at Brown’s mother’s house and recovered stolen property there. Detectives used Flagler’s license plate readers to trace the car Brown had used, among other investigative means. County Judge Melissa Distler signed a warrant for Brown’s arrest. He was arrested, booked at the Flagler County jail, and sentenced to 10 years in prison on July 14. He’s now at an Orlando state prison, awaiting his more permanent destination in the prison system.
The case wasn’t closed, of course, with two suspects still being at large. Johnson’s arrest hinged in large part on connecting him to the car Brown used.
The car had been a rental through Hertz, which enabled detectives to trace its renter–Johnson’s sister. She spoke with detectives, telling them Johnson and his girlfriend had the car on the day the detectives were interested in–and that he was with a man she knew as “Alex,” a friend of her brother’s (meaning Brown). She identified him when the detectives showed her a picture and provided a phone number for Johnson, who told detectives that he’d been at work all day September 18 (the day of the robbery), from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Johnson, also known as “Bucca,” worked at the Plaza Resort and Spa in Daytona Beach. When a manager checked the schedule, Johnson was not on it for the 18th, detectives found. They met with Johnson a day later on Atlantic Avenue in Daytona Beach. He told them a cousin was accusing him of being involved in the robbery. He denied it. Brown, he said, borrowed the rental car that day. Johnson himself was “watching movies” and texting friends that day, he told detectives. He denied having been to Palm Coast that day.
But detectives also found that family members of the victim in Palm Coast had gotten a visit from Johnson’s sister soon after the robbery, and she had apologized to them for his involvement. One of the relatives told the detectives who all three individuals allegedly involved in the home invasion were. Detectives then followed other leads and got Circuit Judge Perkins’s signature on a search warrant for Johnson’s phone records, which could be subpoenaed (not the physical phone itself, which remained in Johnson’s possession). Records indicated that eight phone calls or texts were recorded as taking place within Flagler County between noon and 1 p.m., the time window of the home invasion. The rest were out of the county.
When detectives tried to get in touch with Johnson again, he spoke to them by phone, agreed to meet, but for weeks avoided contact with the detectives–until they traveled again to the Plaza Hotel last March, when he was working there. Johnson was sworn in. Detectives told him they were trying to clear him as a suspect. But he confirmed that the phone had been in his possession the entire day of the robbery. One of the detectives dialed Johnson’s phone. It rang. The phone was seized as evidence and Johnson was read his Miranda rights.
He was not arrested. He told the deputies he wanted to “talk to his people” before deciding whether to cooperate with law enforcement. Meanwhile, Perkins signed a search warrant for the phone itself, which was forensically analyzed, and a subsequent search warrant for Johnson’s Facebook account, though nothing was found of evidentiary value there. “But it was apparent that Johnson had deleted messages between [him] and Alexander Brown, prior to detectives being able to properly preserve Johnson’s Facebook account.”
The phone’s location was then analyzed more systematically, and it showed it on the day of the robbery on U.S. 1 as midday approached, and just after noon, showed it pinging a tower that covers the Pine Grove section of Palm Coast. The phone was back in Daytona Beach just before 2 p.m.
Based on the “totality of the circumstance,” the detectives found, Johnson was believed to have allegedly committed the home invasion-robbery that day. Johnson was charged with Home Invasion Robbery with a Deadly Weapon and Grand Theft. He’s being held in Volusia on no bond. He’d been arrested there on charges of pot and cocaine possession and resisting arrest with violence.
The case is still active and ongoing as detectives are still working towards charging the third suspect. The Sheriff’s Office is asking anyone with additional information on this case to call 386-313-4911 or email [email protected] Or call Crime Stoppers at 1-888-277-TIPS (8477), you can remain anonymous and could be eligible for a reward up to $5,000.00.
Excellent job Detectives! We have the best Law Enforcement in Palm Coast! You are all so appreciated!!
Willy Boy says
Johnson’s sister told them who did it, and then Big Brother tech created and connected dots to come to same conclusion. Eventually someone will squeal the third suspects location, and the Justice System can mete the usual slaps on the wrists. Outstanding! – Just kidding. Good job Deputies of navigating the digital trail left by today’s criminals.
Ultimately the very Technology that they covet and live their lives by does them in. Now thats Justice and WTG Detectives. I find it to be comical really.
Great job by Flagler and Volusia County’s law enforcement agencies. What would have happened if we listened to those no brain morons that want to defund police. Let the ones that want to do this, step up and replace the ones that are doing the job. Good luck with that one! Thanks again for the great police work.
All in the Family, I guess.
John Doe says
Don’t bring your NSA tracking device with you when committing felonies.