A Los Angeles man was charged Monday in a series of robberies of taco trucks and street vendors over the past week. According to prosecutors, three men drove to six locations over a two-hour period, where they held guns in workers' faces, searched their pockets and stole their tip jars.
Stayshawn Stephens, 26, pleaded not guilty to a dozen counts of second-degree robbery aggravated by violent behavior during a brief appearance in a downtown LA courtroom on Monday.
Stephens was arrested by Los Angeles Police Department detectives a day after the Hollywood, Echo Park and downtown robberies. According to prosecutors, the suspects robbed the stores before escaping in a white Honda Civic.
Since early May, the LAPD's Homicide Division has been investigating a string of more than 20 robberies across Los Angeles that it believes may be connected. Investigators have not determined whether Stephens is a suspect in previous robberies.
“The ongoing violence against street vendors will not be tolerated,” LA County Dist said. atty said George Gascón on Monday. “These coordinated armed robberies of vulnerable individuals who are simply trying to make a living are abhorrent. I thank the Los Angeles Police Department for their prompt intervention in this case. We will continue to hold accountable those who cause harm.”
LAPD investigators said the robberies began around 9:40 p.m. Wednesday in the area near 3rd Street and Bixel Street. Five minutes later, the same suspects said they targeted a taco stand at Union Avenue and Shatto Street in the Westlake area before escaping in a vehicle described as a white Honda. Then, around 11 p.m., a taco stand on Block 5900 of Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood was robbed. A second location on Block 6200 of Hollywood Boulevard was also hit.
Ten minutes later, another taco truck was robbed by gunmen on Alvarado Street and Glendale Boulevard. The robberies ended around 11:30 p.m. when gunmen occupied a booth on 9th Street and Broadway.
LAPD investigators described the suspects as men in their mid-20s to early 30s. In each incident, the suspects approached the victims, showed a handgun, demanded money, and fled in a white sedan with stolen property.
Stephens was being held in lieu of $1.3 million bail until the September 1 hearing.
He was previously arrested in Louisiana in 2017 on suspicion of being part of a Los Angeles-based criminal organization, which local authorities described as a criminal organization that installed credit card skimming devices in gas pumps to steal account information.
The wave of street vendor robberies in Los Angeles began at 12:25 am on May 28 with a robbery on Central Avenue and East 101st Street.
According to police, men armed with handguns attacked two other taco trucks within a mile of the initial robbery that night.
According to police, the men ambushed a taco truck at around 11 p.m. on Century Boulevard and San Pedro Street in the Green Meadows community of south Los Angeles. They then ambushed another truck at 103rd Street and Avalon Boulevard, just a few blocks away, police said.
In the second of those robberies, a Tacos Los Chemas truck, two suspects in hoodies rammed a gun into one victim's neck and pistol-picked another, sources said Video from KTLA TV. The suspects fled the two robberies in a white car, police said.
A few days later, according to authorities, the same suspects in the first robbery committed two more robberies within five minutes: one on East 103rd Street and Compton Avenue and the other on East 92nd Street and Central Avenue.
There has also been at least one taco truck robbery in the Florence area, which is under the jurisdiction of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.
In all of the robberies, the suspects stole an undisclosed amount of cash, police said.