Sixteen assault and kidnapping charges in a robbery reported at gunpoint at Hibachi Burger in Oak Ridge in January were sent to a grand jury on Tuesday.
An aggravated robbery charge was dismissed due to a technical issue with a warrant, but that charge is expected to also be considered by the Anderson County Grand Jury. An indictment by the grand jury would move the case from Anderson County General Sessions Court in Oak Ridge, where it has been, to Anderson County Criminal Court in Clinton.
The armed robbery was reported at about 6:10 p.m. Tuesday, January 10, at the Hibachi Burger restaurant, which is in Grove Center.
The defendant, Dominique Leshawn Gordon, 22, allegedly entered Hibachi Burger while displaying a firearm, and he demanded money from the register while showing the gun to several employees and customers, “placing them in fear of serious bodily injury,” according to affidavits filed in Anderson County General Sessions Court in Oak Ridge.
After getting the money, Gordon fled on foot, but he was caught a short time later by Oak Ridge Police Department patrol officers, the affidavits said. Officers who searched him after his arrest found the money that had been taken from the restaurant, according to the affidavits, which were filed by ORPD Detective A. Marvell Moore.
Gordon had a two-hour preliminary hearing in Anderson County General Sessions Court in Oak Ridge on Tuesday afternoon. Five customers testified. So did business owner Nang Crossno, employee Wanda Reagan, and Oak Ridge Police Department Officer Derek Burchfield.
The victims described seeing a silver or nickel-plated pistol or handgun held by a black man with short “dreads” and the lower part of his face covered by a bandana. The man was wearing a dark, black or gray hooded sweatshirt with the hood up and shoes with blue on them, the victims said. The gun was pointed at several of them, the victims said, and they said they were scared and did not feel free to move or leave the restaurant.
“He came in saying, ‘All right, let’s see the money, give me the money,'” said victim Christopher Clowers, who was seated near the front door with his two-year-old son and pregnant wife, Lauren Clowers.
“I was terrified,” said victim Lauren Mayes, who had been looking at a menu near the counter with her husband Ken, getting ready to order, just before the robbery. “I had never been in a situation like that before.”
Crossno testified that he placed about $400 in cash in a zippered black pouch after employee Hollie Green had trouble opening the cash register—after Gordon demanded she empty it. Burchfield said police found a bag with about $400 inside Gordon’s backpack when he was stopped on Hillside Road that night after fleeing from police on Hamilton Circle, which is within a few miles of the restaurant.
Gordon’s description matched the description of the suspect that had been sent out to police after the robbery, and no one else out at that time matched the description, Burchfield said.
Reagan said she told Crossno after the robbery that she recognized the suspect’s voice and tennis shoes from the night before, when the man had ordered just a soda, came back for a refill, and briefly walked around the restaurant.
Crossno, who followed the suspect out of the restaurant down an alley the night of the robbery and tried to track him down with help from a customer at a neighboring business, used the information from Reagan to review restaurant surveillance video from the night before and identify the suspect, who wasn’t wearing a mask then. The man he identified was wearing the same shoes and had a backpack, and Reagan verified “that was the guy,” Crossno said.
The surveillance videos—there are nine cameras at the restaurant—were provided to law enforcement, Crossno said. The cameras captured a good photo of the pouch laid on the restaurant counter during the robbery, and it matched the pouch recovered about 20 minutes later, Crossno said.
The victims who testified during Tuesday’s preliminary hearing said the robber told them, as he was leaving the restaurant with the stolen cash, something like “you can call the cops now” or “all right, y’all call the cops.”
“I remember him yelling, ‘you can call the police now,'” Lauren Clowers said.
Crossno, who had the gun pointed at him during the robbery, said his goal was to give the robber the money as quickly as possible and get him out of the restaurant.
“I got to the register and handed over the money,” Crossno said. “He was basically robbing the business.”
Customers who were there at the time said the robber had grown agitated when Green, the Hibachi Burger employee, had trouble opening the register. The suspect turned around and pointed the gun at several of them, the victims said, and ordered them to not move.
“I was scared,” Lauren Clowers said. “It actually made me physically ill.”
Christopher Clowers, who identified Gordon as the robbery suspect in court, said he did his best to hide his two-year-old son under the table during the robbery and try to shield him. The suspect swept the gun around and said “all right, y’all stay put,” Christopher Clowers said. “Everybody stay put.”
The whole time, Clowers said, Crossno was reassuring the robber to “calm down, calm down.”
“I was very concerned,” Clowers said. “He was agitated.”
A total of seven victims testified Tuesday, and Anderson County General Sessions Court Judge Roger Miller also found probable cause in the case of the two-year-old child, an eighth victim.
The charges sent to the grand jury included one especially aggravated kidnapping charge and seven aggravated kidnapping charges. Miller also bound over, or sent to the grand jury, eight aggravated assault charges, one for each of the eight victims.
The state was not able to serve a subpoena to Green, the ninth alleged victim, and Miller dismissed one aggravated kidnapping charge and one aggravated assault charge.
It’s not clear if Green might still be served a subpoena, and if those two additional charges might still be sent to the grand jury.
Prosecutor Vickie Bannach said the aggravated robbery charge will come back to the grand jury.
There is no timeline for when the grand jury might consider the charges.
There was some debate during Tuesday’s hearing about whether Miller could find probable cause on the charges in which Green was a victim, even if she wasn’t present during the preliminary hearing, given the “totality of circumstances” and the testimony of others regarding the fear that Green felt.
But defense attorney Matthew Tuck raised a constitutional issue, pointing out that Gordon has a right to confront a witness against him, and Green was not present.
Near the end of the hearing, Tuck asked for what he called a reasonable bond for Gordon. Gordon’s initial bond was set at $800,000.
Miller said there were a lot of charges, including Class B and Class C felonies. He wouldn’t lower the bond for each individual charge, Miller said, but he was willing to set Gordon’s bond at $600,000.
Oak Ridge Today reported earlier that the especially aggravated kidnapping warrant filed in the case said Gordon falsely imprisoned a victim who was younger than 13. The aggravated kidnapping warrants said he falsely imprisoned other victims while possessing a deadly weapon. The aggravated assault warrants said Gordon committed an assault while displaying a deadly weapon.
The charges were based on witness statements, video surveillance, and officer statements and observations, according to the warrants.
There were a total of nine victims/witnesses listed in the warrants, including restaurant staff.
Gordon has been jailed in the Anderson County Detention Facility in Clinton since his January 10 arrest.
It’s not clear if the weapon used in the robbery was ever recovered, or if it was a real gun.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
See earlier story here.
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