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Suspect arrested in theft of woman’s cell phone at Publix

A Leesburg man was arrested for stealing a woman’s cell phone at Publix after she tracked its location to him. 

Joe Audrey Perry Jr.
Joe Audrey Perry Jr.

Joe Audrey Perry Jr., 37, was charged with petit theft for his involvement with the incident last month. 

On the afternoon of Nov. 14, police responded to a residence concerning a suspicious incident complaint, according to an affidavit of probable cause out of Lake County. 

Upon arrival, the female victim explained that around 11:30 that morning while shopping at Publix at Palm Plaza she forgot that she had set her cell phone down next to the scale in the entrance vestibule. She went back to get it but found it was no longer there. Contact with Customer Service revealed that no one turned the phone in as found property. 

The victim further stated that her daughter could track the phone’s location through shared location features. While receiving updates on the phone location from her daughter, the victim discovered it was in the downtown area. She canvassed the area and noticed the phone’s location continuously updated every time a man, later identified as Perry, moved, the affidavit said. 

The victim took a photo of Perry and asked him about her phone, which caused him to become aggressive. She immediately stopped talking to him, returned home and called law enforcement, the affidavit said. 

The phone was described as a black iPhone 10 with a reddish, pinkish case valued at about $160. She could not give a serial number for it, meaning the phone was not entered in law enforcement’s database as a stolen item, the affidavit said. 

An unidentified male with the victim gave the officer a digital copy of the photo she took of Perry. He did not recognize Perry and could not identify him, leading the officer to send it to other officers, the report said. 

Before clearing the scene, the victim informed the officer that the phone’s location was showing in the area of Donut King, located at 708 S 14th Street. Two officers responded to that area to canvass for the suspect, but he was not found, the report said. 

The officer then responded to Publix to ask staff for security camera footage of the incident, which they were able to find. The video showed the victim placing her phone on top of a machine next to the scale in the entrance vestibule at about 11:05 a.m. before walking away. About 25 minutes later, Perry was seen picking up the phone and entering the store, the report said. 

As a result of giving other officers Perry’s picture, he was contacted on Nov. 19. He was also confirmed to be the male suspect seen in the picture and in the security camera footage. The investigative officer informed his squad mates that he was trying to find Perry to interview him, the report said. 

The officer accomplished this on the afternoon of Nov. 27 near Rogers Park, located at 610 S 9th Street. Another officer had stopped Perry for an unrelated incident, after which he was asked about the Publix incident. He initially denied having any phone other than a “government phone,” the affidavit said. 

He was then asked if he took a phone from Publix, to which he stated, “No, not that I know of. There was a phone that was up there, that was sitting on top of the thing. I just- it was a instant reaction, I grabbed it. I don’t know if I set it down somewhere or something.” 

The officer asked if he took the phone off the top of the machine, and Perry admitted that he did. He was asked to sit and standby while other officers discussed the facts of the case, the affidavit said. 

After the officer finished this discussion, Perry denied having the phone in his possession. According to him, he had the phone and several others he found in his bag, but he did not know what happened to them. He consented to a search of his bag which did not have the phone in it. He was thus released, the report said. 

A warrant for Perry’s arrest was issued on Nov. 28, and he was arrested on charge of petit theft (greater than $100 less than $750) the next day. He was transported to the Lake County Jail with bond set at $1,000.

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