Coon Rapids hardware store shoplifting escalates into "a very dangerous felony"

Randy Clark Jr., left, and the Ace Hardware on Foley Blvd. he tried to shoplift from.
Randy Clark Jr., left, and the Ace Hardware on Foley Blvd. he tried to shoplift from.
Anoka County | Todd Spanjers

When Randy Clark Jr. walked into an Ace Hardware in Coon Rapids on Tuesday morning and slipped a few brass plumbing fittings under his shirt, it should have been a routine shoplifting.

Instead, by the time police cornered 25-year-old Clark, he had slashed one of the store's employees with a box cutter, threatened to kill the employee and the store owner, and been chased by the owner into a wooded area down the road. Even after Coon Rapids Police, Blaine Police, and state troopers had him surrounded, Clark resisted arrest, and had to be tasered.

"The whole thing made a misdemeanor theft into a very dangerous felony," says John Hattstrom, captain of the Coon Rapids investigations unit. "It seems unnecessary for a shoplifting to go this awry."

Todd Spanjers has owned the Ace on Foley Blvd. for nearly 23 years and dealt with "hundreds" of shopliftings but never, he says, anything like this one. "This got out of control pretty quick."

On Tuesday morning, Spanjers was in the back of his store working on a window screen with another employee, when the two employees on the sales floor spotted Clark, who was with a woman, shoplifting. The employees and Spanjers then rushed to the front of the store, and when Clark saw them, he started running and got into his car.

Spanjers says one of the employees stood in front of the car and put his hands on the hood, while Spanjers reached in and turned the ignition off. But he got distracted by Clark's accomplice, and when he turned back, Clark was fighting with an employee for control of the keys.

At that point, Clark pulled a box cutter and reportedly told the employee, "I'm going to kill you." He slashed out at the employee, who shielded himself with his forearms and later received eight stitches, according to Spanjers.

Meanwhile, the girl and Clark had taken off on foot. The girl stopped after almost getting hit by a truck, but Spanjers started following Clark. "I'm in pretty good shape, and he wasn't," Spanjers says. While he was running, Spanjers dialed 911.

When he was about 50 yards behind him, Clark turned around and shouted, "I'm going to kill you," Spanjers recalls. Clark threw a few of the brass plumbing fittings he had just stolen, and ran onto a wooded trail. Spanjers remembers Clark saying something like, "I dare you to chase me in here," a taunt that made him finally relent and wait for police. Clark was cornered, and Spanjers could hear sirens.

"Many" police arrived to bring Clark in, says Capt. Hattstrom. "He wouldn't surrender when he was surrounded, so he was tasered." The officer on the scene thought Clark appeared to be "under the influence of some kind of controlled substance," Hattstrom reports.

Clark later told police that he owed someone several hundred dollars, and "had to" steal from the store to pay the person by 4 p.m., or he would be killed. He was charged with two counts of aggravated robbery in the first degree, which carries a sentence of up to 20 years, and one count of simple robbery.

Court records show that Clark has a lengthy criminal record, including aiding home burglary, driving without a valid license, check forgery, and possession of a controlled substance.

Spanjers estimates that the brass plumbing fittings that started all this are worth about $30.

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