Police use gift cards, surveillance to track robber

Berkeley Police logoA Hercules man has been arrested, after the robbery of a woman in West Berkeley in March, after police used surveillance footage and gift cards bought with stolen money to track him down, according to court papers.

March 5 at 9:35 p.m., three men with a gun approached a woman on her way home in the 1500 block of Eighth Street and took her bag, police said.

Berkeley Police officers investigated, and found surveillance footage taken 20 minutes after the robbery showing a teenage girl at Target buying eight Visa gift cards with a credit card stolen during the robbery. Surveillance images also show a gold sedan in the parking lot.

Police tracked the use of those gift cards, and got surveillance footage from at least four locations in Contra Costa County: Motel 6, Nations, Pinole Vista Liquor and Wendy’s.

Using that footage, police identified a gold Lexus linked to the girl and 19-year-old Damon Dixon of Hercules. According to court papers, those two had recently been stopped by police while driving the Lexus.

Surveillance footage collected by police during the investigation shows a man police believed was Dixon at Motel 6, where one of the gifts cards was used, authorities said. Through a records check of Dixon, police found contact information for the girl, and were able to use her DMV photograph to identify her in surveillance footage of the initial Target gift card buy.

On March 26, Berkeley Police officer Mike Parsons got a warrant for Dixon’s arrest for the West Berkeley robbery. He also learned Dixon was wanted in Vallejo, and had a warrant there in connection with several robberies in that city, according to court papers.

On March 27, San Pablo Police officers stopped the gold Lexus, with Dixon and the girl inside. They were detained and Dixon was questioned by police, according to court papers. No further information was available about the girl because of her status as a minor.

Parsons wrote that Dixon initially denied involvement in the West Berkeley robbery, but later told police he had been at the scene of the robbery with two others, and the juvenile girl. He also admitted to using one of the gift cards at Motel 6.

Dixon also confirmed some of the property taken from the victim, and told police that the gun used in the robbery was hidden in the Lexus, which had been towed by the San Pablo Police Department.

Vallejo Police obtained a search warrant for the vehicle and found the gun that had been described by Dixon.

Dixon has been charged by the Alameda County district attorney’s office with one count of second-degree robbery with a special allegation related to prison eligibility, and a clause related to the use of the gun during the robbery.

He is being held at Santa Rita Jail and is scheduled for a pre-trial hearing April 10 at the Wiley W. Manuel Courthouse in downtown Oakland.

[Editor’s Note, April 6: Police said the Target Visa cards were bought with a credit card stolen during the West Berkeley robbery. This information has been added to the story for clarification.]

Robberies rise, but serious crime down overall in 2013 (03.14.14)
Alleged Berkeley wedding ring robber arrested, charged (02.05.14)
Teen arrested after cellphone robbery in Berkeley (01.31.14)
South Berkeley robberies on the rise near Ashby BART (01.17.14)
Judge says alleged Ashkenaz shooter must stand trial (12.13.13)
Teen arrested after robbery tied to medical cannabis buy (12.12.13)

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  • Bill N

    Good job BPD!

  • Guest


    Maybe my reading comprehension is lacking here, but is there any information about how the connection was made between a robbery committed by 3 men in West Berkeley and the purchase of the gift cards by a teenage girl at a Target 20 minutes later?

    The article does a good job of filling in the details of how the purchase of the cards was tracked to the suspects, but not how that purchase relates to the robbery. Presumably the gold sedan figures in, but it isn’t clear.

  • bgal4

    another young man who graduated from high school and received all the extras playing football yet turns to crime.

  • notnot2

    I assumed the gift cards were purchased with a credit card stolen in the robbery.

  • bgal4

    I hesitate to take note of the use of Man vs Teen in describing a 19 year old suspect least I trigger my audience of haters.

  • Jennysings

    I agree– sounds strange. I don’t think you can purchase those visa/bank gift cards using a credit card. It has to be debit or cash. They don’t specify about the type of gift card, but I doubt Pinole vista liquor has their own cards…. Anyway it makes me wonder if target just routinely hands over all their surveillance video of gift card purchases to police.

  • John Freeman

    im assuming she used a stolen credit card to buy them.

    I don’t think that should eliminate the need for a warrant but, anyway, the article says:

    gift cards bought with stolen money

    which I take to mean a cash purchase.

  • guest

    Well, once he’s out of high school it’s “oh crap, now what do I do..”

    Not excusing, just remembering where I was at that point in my life and projecting a little.. At that age you get caught up in something that’s seems like a winner, but forget that you need a plan B for when it ends. And going from good to bad is harder than having bad all along.

  • Doug F

    Sounds like all the businesses involved turned over the data w/o a warrant, on being asked. It happens a lot.

    It’s nice that you’re more concerned with the rights of armed robbers than robbery victims.

  • Guest

    The article makes it sound like a cash purchase.

    My assumption was that the ‘gold sedan’ was reported by the victim as the vehicle used by the perpetrators to flee, and that ultimately video was used to track the vehicle to Target and an educated guess was made to connect it to the gift card purchase.

    I thought Emilie might actually have the information though.

  • Doug F

    It’s always so cute how hoods are so terrified of being ostracized by gang society that they look, dress, talk & act like hoods. And have hood cars. Nothing screams “criminal coming!” from a block away like a gold Lexus.

    And then they wonder why they get caught so easily.

  • John Freeman

    Doug my main concern is with the erosion of fourth amendment rights. You are correct that the third party doctrine is being stretched so that it “happens a lot”.

    In this case the gift card transaction tracking would seem to require that first Target handed over gift card numbers because the police asked nicely, and second that Visa or some payments clearing house made it easy for municipalities to track transactions without any kind of warrant or auditing. I’ll bet there’s a web interface for that.

    The potential for abuse here is pretty staggering especially when you compare it to very bad but “low level” crime like, say, the Dirty DUI case.

    Did you grow up in this country? I remember back before the Internet and even when credit cards were only starting to become common that there was a lot of populist care for our civil rights. This really seems to have eroded in the past 15 years or so.

  • Culper Agent 355

    So glad BPD is following up on these cases, and also cooperating with other jurisdictions to bring these folks to justice!

  • Ian Wildboy

    Do you have any specific information about this case? Your problem is that you don’t know what happened – you are simply inventing scenarios in order to support a point that you want to make (about 4th Amendment rights). If any information pertinent to the case was obtained illegally, the defendants’ defense attorneys can challenge it.

  • emraguso

    I’ll look again at the documents when I get to my computer and see if there’s anything I can clarify.

  • Mel Content

    Doug my main concern is with the erosion of fourth amendment rights.

    Are you assuming that the police coerced the businesses into providing that info? Maybe, like most of us living in the real world, they were happy to cooperate in catching a bunch of low-life thugs.

  • Mel Content

    You can use a credit card for most of these purchases.

  • bgal4

    nope, the retailers policy are unbelievably lax, we were victims of ID theft last year, within a couple of days our information was sold to numerous buyers who opened up new credit account at a dozen major retailers including thousands of dollars in gift cards. I contacted all the retailers once I discovered the accounts were opened, some were prepared to cancel the gift debit cards while other retailers could have cared less about the theft.

    Retailers lax policies are an incentive for Identity theft.

  • Biker 94703

    Its ok, all credit cards used at Target are keylogged straight to the russian mob anyhow.

  • Heather_W_62

    You make some very good points here, John Freeman. It’s really not about caring for the rights of the criminals as much as we should be concerned about the bigger picture of the 4th amendment rights violations. I recall someone I used to work with saying in regard to the monitoring of citizens phone calls “I don’t care about it because they’re not listening to me, I’m not a terrorist”.

    Remember “First they came for the Socialists….”

  • bgal4

    The victim could have easily checked with her credit card company or bank and located all the retailers the thieves brought gift cards using her stolen ID and credit information.

    I had Kohls send the surveillance footage of the people who stole my ID to BPD for investigative purposes, some retailers are more proactive than others.

    Victims have rights.

  • John Freeman

    Heck, bgal4, the police could even have obtained a warrant to track the gift cards. My question is what actually happened in this instance.

  • emraguso

    So, for clarification, and I meant to include this — 20 minutes after the robbery, police said surveillance show the girl using a stolen credit card from the robbery to buy the Target Visa cards. I was using the concept of “money” loosely in the beginning of the story. But I did mean to include how the cards were bought, according to authorities.

  • SueT

    The original story says there were THREE MALE suspects. I hope BPD is able to catch the other two!

  • guest

    >in the past 15 years
    Oh, you mean since 9/11/2001?
    Yes, EVERYTHING Is now justified in hunting down suspects .

  • guest1

    Curious what this comment is about–what are the extras he received, and what does football have to do with anything?

  • notnot2

    You can definitely use a credit card to buy a Visa gift card.

  • notnot2

    I have noticed this aswell. He seems very concerned with the “rights” of criminals and thugs. Sheesh!!

  • notnot2

    Doomin’ and gloomin’ is a pastime for some.

  • MarkH2

    The thieves had no privacy rights in the stolen credit card. The victim did, and her rights to be free from violence and theft were being vindicated by the police investigation. I’m sure she wouldn’t complain, even if she hadn’t given consent. If you are contending that the thieves had privacy rights in the gift cards they purchased with the stolen credit card, I don’t think the Fourth Amendment extends that far.

  • Guest

    Thanks Emilie!

    That certainly makes more sense.

  • bgal4

    I take it you are not familiar with the support industry for AA males? and have not raise a kid in today’s biased systems.

    Any kid who plays ball receives a lot of adult attention and additional $$$ spent on their development to be successful through and after high schools, i.e. how to avoid the pitfalls of the street, yet time and time again, we see these supports systems fail to change behavior.

    Have you been paying attention to the recent criticism of the NFL gun culture?

  • TN

    Keep in mind that the Target store itself was a victim. The original robbery victim can have the purchases made with the credit card backed out of her account as an unauthorized charge. If the Visa gift cards purchased by fraud are used, either Target or the company issuing the gift card will end up holding the bag. They too are victims of crime.

    As victims they have the right and obligation to fully cooperate with the police once it was known that a stolen card had been used. No warrant necessary.

  • guest1

    I’m quite familiar with how much adult attention comes to the football team, the jazz ensemble, the JCL and many other BHS activities. I think every bit of adult involvement in students’ lives helps, and I think you have greatly overestimated what little there is. I think that football may have saved the lives of a few of my teammates, failed to save others, and was just a school activity for the vast vast majority (and underfunded, as all activities at BHS are). I also remember playing certain football games with zero fans other than 5 parents total, so let’s not turn BHS into Friday Night Lights. Anyway, this kid wasn’t a BHS student, so I don’t even have a guess as to what his experience was. I guess you know that he’s black, he played football, and he committed a crime. Do you need to know anything else? Want to know how many white BHS students who take Latin and AP Physics and go on to Ivy League schools lie, cheat, steal, drive drunk, and deal drugs–or is that less interesting because it doesn’t support your narrative? I guess I have a different concept from yours of what constitutes an inappropriate “support industry” (whatever that is).

  • emraguso

    Looks like police arrested a second subject in this case. Details here: