Utah Pharmacist Foils Robbery Amidst Rise In Pharmacy Break-Ins

Pharmacies have become a popular target for looters and thieves around the country in recent weeks. In Philadelphia, for instance, police estimate that as many as one-third of the city’s pharmacies have looted, with thieves focusing on opioids like oxycontin and morphine, which they can then turn around and sell on the street.

Robbers stole thousands of dollars worth of prescription drugs, including what the agency characterizes as a substantial amount of narcotics, which police now fear will soon make their way to the city’s illegal drug market.

Most of those pharmacies are reopening, but slowly. Nice Pharmacy, which only closed for a day, has been doing brisk business serving displaced customers of a Rite Aid a few blocks away, still offline as of Thursday.

Still, industry experts warn that for independent pharmacies, already struggling to compete with large chains and dealing with the costs of safety gear required by the coronavirus pandemic, losses incurred by looting could force them to close in the weeks or months ahead.

“Those stores that were on the edge, this may be the culmination that closes them up,” said Mel Brodsky, executive director of the Philadelphia Association of Retail Druggists.

It’s not just looting of pharmacies that have taken place. Burglaries of pharmacies are also being widely reported at the moment, perhaps because police resources are spread thin in many cities and thieves feel like they’ve got a better chance of getting away with their crimes with law enforcement distracted by protests and unrest.

In St. George, Utah, authorities say four men from southern California targeted Siena’s Pharmacy late on Tuesday evening. The men used crowbars to pry open the front door of the business, but didn’t realize that pharmacist and store owner Steve Kirkland was inside the business.

He was in one of the back rooms when he heard a loud “crack” coming from the front of the store, which he initially thought came from a falling shelf or something hitting the floor, he said.

When he stood up to listen more closely, he said he realized it was “somebody messing with my door,” which is when he grabbed his 9 mm handgun and called 911 as he headed for the back door.

“I thought I’d hear glass shatter as I headed for the rear exit,” Kirkland said, “but that never happened.”

Instead, he heard the lock snap inside the front door frame. Just as he turned around, three suspects entered the store, two of whom ran toward the rear of the building into the pharmacy section, he said, while the third ran toward the restrooms on the north side of the business.

At that moment, the 911 dispatcher answered Kirkland’s call, and he shouted into the phone that he was being robbed.

The noise caught the attention of the suspects, “who both turned toward me with such a look of shock and fear it was crazy.”

Both intruders immediately ran toward the front entrance as one of the suspects continued yelling, “He has a gun. He has a gun,” Kirkland said. The third suspect also heard the commotion and ran out of the building with Kirkland behind him.

Once outside, the pharmacy owner attempted to get the license plate number of the black Ford Fusion the men were driving, “but it was so dark over there I could only tell it was an out-of-state plate.”

While St. George police were coming the area looking for the suspects, they also dispatched officers to check on other local pharmacies. One officer staged near an independent pharmacy soon spotted a black Ford approaching the store, and pulled over the car and its occupants.

While speaking with the driver, the officer detected the odor of marijuana and then noticed two crow bars inside of the car, one red and one blue, which is when officers conducted a search of the vehicle.

In addition to the two crowbars spotted initially, officers also found a set of bolt cutters, a sledgehammer and a yellow crowbar, as well as clothing that matched the items seen in the video footage, including dark jackets, face masks and gloves. They also found a pair of Nike Jordan shoes with a tread pattern that was consistent with the shoe impression found by detectives at the scene in St. George.

The four suspects from Southern California – Donovan Moore, 32, of Compton, and  30-year-old Randy Johnson, 26-year-old Dequan Hamilton and 23-year-old John Davis, all from Anaheim – were arrested and transported to Purgatory Correctional Facility.

Thanks to the quick thinking and sharp eye of Steve Kirkland, the four men are all now behind bars and facing felony counts of burglar and criminal mischief. Like most defensive gun uses, Kirkland never actually had to fire his gun, but the presence of the firearm may very well have prevented a 4-on-1 attack against the pharmacist. I’m glad he’s all right, and hopefully other would-be pill thieves learn that St. George, Utah isn’t the right place to try to pull off a heist.