A string of armed robberies at Denver-area marijuana dispensaries over the past two months continued into this week, according to the Denver Police Department, with the latest stickup taking place at one of Colorado's largest dispensary chains.
Armed robbers barged into a Native Roots location near Denver International Airport on North Tower Road on Monday, December 16, demanding cash from an employee, according to the DPD and Native Roots. Police officials say it's the sixth armed-robbery attempt at a Denver-area dispensary since early November, and they believe the crimes are connected to the same group of suspects.
"Thus far, we've tied together those cases," explains DPD spokesperson Doug Schepman. "Additionally, there was another incident [December 16] that we believe was connected."
Police are still tracking down the suspects, Schepman says, and sent out a Crime Stoppers bulletin asking the public to help identify at least four individuals who have shown up at Aurora, Denver and Glendale dispensaries in a 2009 Chevrolet Equinox, armed with multiple guns and demanding cash or product.
In addition to the Native Roots on Tower Road, the gang has hit Denver marijuana stores A Cut Above, Frosted Leaf's Harrison Street location and Green Man Cannabis on Hampden Avenue; the Green Heart dispensary in Aurora was also robbed, with an attempted theft at Cherry Peak in Glendale. There have been no reported injuries related to the incidents.
A Cut Above, Green Heart and Frosted Leaf employees confirmed the robberies, but management and owners of the dispensaries declined to comment further. However, statements from police, Native Roots and Cherry Peak indicate the robbers may be arriving at their targets shortly before closing time.
According to Native Roots public affairs director Shannon Fender, the December 16 robbery occurred shortly before 10 p.m., when Native Roots closes; the suspects demanded access to the sales floor and vault before taking cash. An employee hit a panic button to alert police and store management, Fender adds, but the robbers were able to leave the scene before law enforcement arrived.
"We are currently in contact with Denver law enforcement to better understand the circumstances which led to this event, and are reviewing our own policies that will ensure we are doing all we can to prevent it from happening again. From speaking with law enforcement, we do believe that this is a part of a string of recent robberies of cannabis dispensaries in the Denver metro area," Fender says in a statement to Westword.
Cherry Peak co-owner Rita Tsalyuk also owns 1136 Yuma, a dispensary near A Cut Above, which was the first store to be robbed in this string of crimes. Fearing that the area was targeted, Tsalyuk says that she and her partners revamped security at 1136 Yuma, and didn't expect the Glendale store to be next in line.
Still, Tsalyuk says that her security guard was able to thwart the attempt at that Cherry Peak location on December 7. "We didn't have a robbery, we had an attempted robbery. Our security guard saw two people with masks and guns coming to the front door, which was locked. When she screamed at them, they ran away," Tsalyuk says. "We made sure to update our security services and show everyone our emergency procedures at [1136 Yuma], but we didn't even think about Cherry Peak."
This time, Tsalyuk says, the robbers showed up shortly after 11:45 p.m.: Glendale allows dispensaries to stay open until midnight. Cherry Peak employees stop checking in new customers by 11:45 p.m., however, and they were already beginning to lock up.
Both Fender and Tsalyuk say that their respective dispensary chains are reviewing security policies and employee training in light of the incidents.
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According to Schepman, the DPD doesn't believe that this recent stretch of robberies is connected to a string of of dispensary burglaries that occurred over the summer, in which the suspects drove stolen Jeeps. "Those were burglaries that occurred after-hours. These are armed robberies during business hours, with employees and customers," he says.
While Tsalyuk's stores have been burglarized after hours, too, she says these incidents have been different for both her and her staff: "It's kind of scary. We've had a couple [burglaries], where they steal a couple thousands dollars' worth of products and make some damages, but this is the first time we saw people with guns."
Metro Denver Crime Stoppers is offering up to $2,000 for anyone who provides information that solves the recent crimes. Anonymous tips can be called in at 720-913-7867.