LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - Officers with the Lufkin Police Department arrested a 22-year-old woman on a felony theft charge Monday in connection to allegations that she was an accomplice in a robbery that occurred at the Walmart money center on Sept. 17.
Kiara Michelle Houston, of Lufkin, was booked into the Angelina County Jail on a state-jail felony theft between $2,500 and $20,000 charge. She was released Tuesday after she posted an unspecified bail amount.
According to the arrest affidavit, LPD officers were dispatched out to the Walmart Supercenter located at 2500 Daniel McCall Drive on Sept. 17. The officers were told that the money counter had been robbed by a black man wearing dark clothing.
The LPD officers were also told that the suspect left the store in a light tan-colored car, the affidavit stated.
After the Lufkin PD officers met with the store's loss prevention employees, they reviewed the surveillance video footage. The footage showed Houston working at the money center counter when she was robbed of more than $9,700 in cash at about 10 a.m. on the morning of Sept. 17.
The footage showed a man wearing all black clothing and a hoodie over his head enter the money center. The suspect loitered in the money center for about 25 minutes and allowed other customers to go ahead of him.
When the suspect was the only one in the money center in need of service, he approached the counter and set down a bottled drink that he was trying to buy. Then he passed Houston a handwritten note that said, "Give me all the cash R U get shot. No small Bills stay calm," the affidavit stated. The note was recovered and placed into evidence.
At the scene, Houston told the Lufkin PD officers that she didn't know the suspect, the affidavit stated. She described him as a skinny black man thin facial hair that was wearing a red hat. She also allegedly said that he had an accent of some sort and said that the man requested to send some money, and at first, she thought the note contained information on where the money was going to be sent.
A Lufkin PD detective was assigned the case on Sept. 18. The surveillance video was released to Deep East Texas Crime Stoppers and local news outlets.
When the detective reviewed the surveillance video, he noticed that Houston had been the only cashier working in the money center. He also noticed that $9,700 was a large amount of money for a cashier to have in a register, the affidavit stated.
The LPD detective was also told that the money center typically only cashes checks and conducts business like Money Grams and Western Union, but they will check a customer out on rare occasions.
According to the affidavit, several people came forward to make anonymous tips in the case. Several people reported that the robbery suspect looked like a man named Ced Bell. After the LPD detective found two Facebook pages for the man, he noticed that Bell and the suspect did indeed look similar.
The Lufkin PD detective received screenshots of a Facebook Messenger conversation where a man appeared to be trying to bribe a Walmart employee. In addition, he received a tip that Houston was possibly dating Bell, and he found that the two individuals' Facebook profiles were friends with each other.
Management at the Lufkin Walmart told the LPD detective that Houston had been a good employee. However, they did point that Houston had been scammed out of $2,500 in Visa pre-paid debit cards on Sept. 9 by a person who left with the cards without paying for them. The store's management told the Lufkin PD detective that Houston had been trained in handling these types of incidents.
When the robbery note was checked for fingerprints, one of them matched Bell's right thumb, the affidavit stated.
On Sept. 27, the LPD detective was at the Lufkin mall on a follow-up investigation when he spotted Houston sitting at a table with a man he thought to be Bell near Corn Dog 7. He obtained surveillance footage from the restaurant that showed Bell and the man ordering food together.
According to the affidavit, Houston worked with Bell, her boyfriend, to facilitate the robbery of her register. She allegedly did not know that her co-worker had called in sick until she got to work on Sept. 17, but she had time to call Bell and let him know she was alone, the affidavit stated.
The Lufkin PD detective asked for and obtained the arrest warrant for Houston on Sept. 20.
According to Jessica Pebsworth, an LPD spokeswoman, Bell is still wanted by the Lufkin Police Department.
Anyone with any information about Bell's whereabouts is urged to call the Lufkin Police Department at (936) 633-0356. People wishing to remain anonymous can call Deep East Texas Crime Stoppers at (936) 639-TIPS.