Two brothers who allegedly attempted to rob Pier 1 imports in Manhattan Beach reveal why they did it and where they went wrong
It would only take a couple minutes.
The store was closing, so there’d be little foot traffic inside.
Neither of them would rob a store with just anybody. They were brothers, Los Angeles transplants from Chicago’s South Side.
Dressed in head-to-toe black with just their eyes exposed, they’d be in and out, hopefully three or four thousand dollars richer.
No one else knew about the plan. It would be quick. They’d planned it out just hours earlier.
Nobody would get hurt, and they’d finally have enough money to avoid eviction and pay the $725 rent for their Hawthorne home.
They’d even be out in time to take their female friends to the movies. They’d planned to see “Think Like a Man.”
But what they’d failed to discuss was what they would do if dozens of police officers, machinegun-bearing SWAT teams, two helicopters and two dogs from seven different cities flooded the scene.
They’d failed to discuss what they’d do if they got caught.
‘Not the worst guys in the world’
Deangelo Cal, 23, and Edwin Davis, 25 – brothers with different fathers – were primarily raised in Section 8 housing on the South Side of Chicago, in a crime-riddled neighborhood often laced with yellow caution tape, where metal bars shielded apartment windows.
At Thornridge High School, Davis played football and ran track. He planned to go to college after he graduated in 2004 and hoped to play football for a Division II school. When his mother told the family she was unexpectedly pregnant his junior year of high school, all that changed. With his mom’s income soon to be missing from the home and a baby to soon take care of, Davis would have to help pay the bills.
His stepfather moved in with the family and helped Davis get a job at Temperbent Glass, where he worked the graveyard shift for $12 an hour. He contributed half his income to family expenses.
Six years ago, using his tax return money, Davis bought a one-way ticket to Los Angeles to chase the California Dream. He wanted to be a rapper.
His little brother followed him out west about four years later, also to pursue a career in music.
In recent months, Davis spent 12-hour days in the recording studio, garnering interest from a major record label, according to himself, his friends and his family.
Both brothers worked while pursuing their passions. Cal worked as a security guard for school dances and, until earlier this year, Davis worked at California Pizza Kitchen.
His sister Vanity Spruill moved in with Davis from Chicago to attend Santa Monica College during the 2010-2011 academic year. She said Davis, whom she affectionately calls “P” after his stage name “The Kid Persona,” provided her with a car for her 40-minute commute to school, paid her school fees and bought her an iPad and a computer. Cal, who goes by “Ghost Da Writer” onstage, bought her clothes, shoes and personal care products. “They both really pitched in for everything,” Spruill said.
While in California, Spruill would often visit Davis in the studio to make sure he was eating. “The music was always first for them,” Spruill said. “Edwin would be at work coming up with music, Deangelo would be up all night [making music], and with an hour of sleep, go to work.”
She likened Davis’ music to a mix between that of J. Cole and Drake, while Cal more closely resembles a “more creative” Lil Wayne.
She’s since moved back to Chicago after Santa Monica College cut some of the classes she needed. Even after she moved back home, Davis would deposit money into her bank account, sometimes $300 or $1,000 at a time, she said.
“We’re not the worst guys in the world, trust me,” Davis said during a recent phone conversation.
Across the country, Davis still pitched in for his family in Chicago. He bought his younger sister an iPad for her eighth birthday in December, and recently bought his mom a new washing machine, Spruill said. “I’ve just never seen someone work so hard so that their two sisters could have what they need,” Spruill said.
Davis had prior run-ins with law enforcement. He was charged with grand theft from a former employer, Chili’s restaurant, that allegedly occurred sometime between January 1 and April 3 of last year, to which he pled not guilty. The case is ongoing. Cal does not have a previous criminal history.
One recent Sunday morning, Davis sat behind a glass window adorned with two metal, horizontal bars at the Pitchess Detention Center in Castaic, with a close-cropped haircut and a long goatee growing over his chiseled chin, and recalled the circumstances that led him and his brother to allegedly attempt to rob Pier 1 Imports in Manhattan Beach.
“I was trying to take care of my business. No one sells crack ‘cause it’s fun,” he said, through the grainy phone connection, wearing a blue County jail jumpsuit. “We’ve all done things that other people may view as extreme.”
‘Put in a corner’
On the morning of March 3, Davis was stopped by a police officer while jaywalking on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, on his way to an interview.
When the officer searched Davis’ car, he found a toy water gun missing the orange tip. “It didn’t even look like a real gun,” Davis said.
His Chrysler 300 was impounded and it contained a safe full of money from “a good couple weeks in Vegas,” he said.
On February 8, he’d tweeted, “dear vegas, we hav had yet anothr successful nite. thanx alot4makn life slightly easier,” from Las Vegas.
He said he’d planned to deposit the cash into the bank after his interview. “If I did before, things would’ve been different, but everything happens for a reason,” he said.
Davis was charged with unlawful alteration of an imitation firearm, a misdemeanor, for allegedly removing the orange tip of a toy water gun to make it look real. He pled no contest and was released after serving 31 days in Los Angeles County jail.
After he was released, he had trouble obtaining his property. He’d have to shell out $700 to get his car back, and the cost was adding up every day.
“Sometimes you’re pushed in a corner and that happened to be the way out at the time,” Davis said, explaining why he and his brother chose to attempt to rob Pier 1. “I don’t think anyone likes the feeling of being behind on their bills.”
He didn’t foresee a difficulty in getting back his property. “If I could tell the future, I would’ve won the lottery a couple times by now,” he said.
Davis’ stint in jail set him and Cal a few months behind on rent. “We were facing eviction, had to come up with the money somehow,” Cal said, one recent Saturday morning from behind a window at Pitchess. He spoke softly, his brown eyes still behind dark eyelashes, as his thick goatee brushed against the phone. “We didn’t have anybody to give it to us.”
Robbery gone wrong
Clad in black hoodies, beanies and scarves covering their faces, Davis and Cal rang the back doorbell of Pier 1 Imports in Manhattan Beach just before 7 p.m. on Sunday, April 22.
Upon opening the door, the store manager gasped at the sight of two men in black and scampered toward her office.
Feeling the rush of adrenaline, the two shuffled inside, clutching a small stack of computer paper with handwritten instructions on how she should proceed.
The goal was to keep the talking to a minimum so no one could identify their voices later. There would be no conversing, no questions.
The messages said it all.
“Clear the store, lock the doors,” on piece read, according to the police.
Everybody needed to leave and they needed to know the location of the security cameras in the back that showed the store activity. They flipped to the next one.
“Put all the money in the bags from safe and registers.”
And to the next.
“I will shoot you in the fucking head for doing anything heroic.”
The manager was cooperative.
“Pier 1 isn’t worth my life,” she said, according to Davis, before either brother uttered a word. “She said, ‘I want to get home to my kids.’ I said, ‘You will be home to your kids,’” Davis recalled.
They told her no one would get hurt, as long as she followed directions. “I could’ve grabbed her, thrown her to the ground and tied her up. That wasn’t the situation. The situation was to get in there, get the money and get out to pay the bills.”
According to the police, who would later file kidnapping and false imprisonment charges, the suspects allegedly held a knife to the victim’s throat while they moved her from the back storage room to her office. The kidnapping charges were based on “moving the victim from one point to another against her will,” said Manhattan Beach Detective Mike Rosenberger. “Then detaining that person in that new location further is the second charge,” he said, explaining the hostage charge.
Davis and Cal said they told the manager they were armed to instill fear, but denied actually carrying any weapons into the store.
Police have not been able to recover any weapons. However, based on the victim’s testimony, police believe “there’s no doubt there were weapons,” Rosenberger said.
“If we had a weapon, where’s it at? I’m not a magician, I can’t make a gun and a knife disappear,” Cal said, with a laugh.
They’d hoped to come out with a few thousand dollars. “They sell expensive stuff,” Davis said, explaining why they chose Pier 1 over a liquor store. “To get a couple hundred dollars is really not worth it.”
When Cal moved to Los Angeles about two years ago, he worked at Pier 1 Imports, which sells home décor and furnishings. “We just knew it was a place that had a lot of money,” Cal said. “A lot of money we needed.”
Police were originally perplexed at why the suspects chose Pier 1. “Does one really think a place like that has a lot of cash?” Rosenberger said, adding that most customers probably pay using credit cards.
Once the suspects planted themselves in the manager’s office, they were able see who remained inside the store.
One employee approached the back door connecting the storage room and the store and retrieved the keys from the store manager, who instructed the employee to lock the doors.
Shortly after, Davis noticed two people running out of the store on the screen. Although slightly worried, he didn’t think much of it. “I don’t think they knew we were there,” he said. “No one at all saw us.”
Police said the five employees, excluding the manager, closing that night had managed to flee the store through the front. Whether or not they saw the suspects, the employees did realize something was wrong.
The call came into the police at 7:04 p.m. A Trader Joe’s employee reported a robbery in progress after a Pier 1 escapee ran into the grocery store with the news.
The police arrived shortly thereafter, evacuating adjacent businesses, including Barnes and Noble and Old Navy. Camouflage-cloaked SWAT team members and officers in patrol cars flooded to the scene, surrounding the store’s perimeter.
Planted outside, the police called the store to get in touch with whomever was inside. The manager answered the call on speaker.
“Are you okay?” the police asked, according to Davis and Cal, and subsequently asked her to come outside. She said she couldn’t because she was counting the register.
She was lying.
She was still in her office with the cloaked men, who remained silent.
Davis said he didn’t think the police knew they were still inside.
Minutes after she hung up, the police called again requesting that she come outside. “We let her go,” Davis said. “She wasn’t the reason we were there.” According to police, she was released 25 minutes into the start of the incident.
Citing safety concerns for their associates and customers, Pier 1 declined to comment on the robbery.
When they realized their source for cash was gone, Davis and Cal knew they needed to bolt. But the store was completely surrounded. They were trapped.
That didn’t stop them from hunting for an escape.
Armed officers wearing helmets and safety glasses blocked the back door and radio dispatch reports were audible near the emergency exit door, so those exits weren’t viable options. Officers were planted outside near the store’s front windows, which advertised Mother’s Day items and a 20 percent off sale.
“I don’t think anyone’s comfortable in that situation, but it wasn’t a shock to me,” Davis said, adding that he remained levelheaded and didn’t panic. “There’s always a possibility you can get caught. That’s a risk that you take.”
A ladder chute outside the manager’s office led to the roof, but the exit was locked. Amidst a perpetually ringing phone – the police were calling the store phone every 10 or 15 minutes – Davis and Cal unsuccessfully searched for the key, and later, for a hammer to break the lock open, but couldn’t find a tool strong enough.
For the most part, they just let the phone ring. The police were suggesting a peaceful resolution, and the suspects kept saying they’d be out shortly.
They had to get more creative.
In a few weeks Cal was supposed to try out for the NBA Development League in Los Angeles, and Davis would continue recording his rap music with his already-paid-for 50 hours of studio time.
Perhaps the bathroom had answers. They moved the toilet to check out the sewer hole, but determined it was too small. “If it was a hardware store, we probably could’ve broke up the hole,” Davis said. “But it was Pier 1. There’re more fragile items in there than anything.”
For a fleeting moment, they considered hiding in the big boxes storing home goods. “If they would’ve sent the dogs in there, which was main reason we chose not to, they would’ve found us,” Davis said. “I’m not trying to get bit or anything, especially by those dogs. They were kind of crazy.”
Cal concurred. “We were going to get bit up pretty bad,” he said, with a laugh. “Them dogs don’t know what surrender means.”
Out of all the noise outside, the dogs were the loudest. And the most terrifying. “They must feed the dogs the food they give us in jail to make them that mad,” Davis said.
Davis and Cal weren’t prepared for this. In their brief robbery planning, they’d never seriously considered what they’d do if they were caught.
At first, Cal offered to take the blame, which caught Davis by surprise. Davis figured that if they surrendered, they’d do it together.
But if Cal met the police outside, Davis would have time to hide.
Davis wasn’t having it. “I was more concerned about him…He has a son, I don’t have any kids,” Davis said. “I’m not going to let him take the blame.”
They went back and forth, both offering to deal with the police alone.
They finally came to the conclusion that they’d robbed the store together, so they’d face the authorities together.
Since they’d finally determined there was no way out, they pulled out their cell phones to call their loved ones. “They were hard conversations,” Davis said, explaining why the brothers were inside the store for so long. “It was emotional.”
Vanity Spruill, Davis and Cal’s half-sister who lives in Chicago, was surprised to get a phone call from Cal on Sunday night. Usually, she initiates their phone conversations. They often spend hours talking on the phone together.
“I’m sorry Vannie, I’m sorry, I love you,” she heard Cal say when she answered the call.
Her voice grew stern.
“What did you do?”
He wouldn’t tell her. He just apologized and told her he was okay. “I’m sorry, things went bad,” she recalled him saying. When another call came in to Cal, he hung up, promising to call Spruill back.
She said she then called Davis, who apologized, still neglecting to tell her the specifics of the situation. Davis actually remembered calling her first.
Spruill couldn’t contain her tears and passed the phone over to her mother. “It was just bad, it was a bad night for me and her,” Spruill said.
She didn’t find out what happened until friends and news reports told her the following day. “I didn’t know it would get to that point…they were never violent people. To go on the Internet and see the SWAT team with guns pointing to them, and they were charged with kidnapping and hostage, it was really surreal,” she said. “It’s just not in their character at all.”
In fact, Spruill had been concerned about her brothers’ finances when Davis, who takes care of the bills for him and his brother, was a few months out of a job and recently released from jail. She was making some extra cash working at a beauty supply store and interning at a construction company. “I kept asking him, ‘You got money? I can send you money.’ He said, ‘You trippin’ Vanz. Lil’ sis, I don’t need money.’”
His pride would lead to his undoing.
“We’ve always been communicative,” Spruill said. “For them to do that and me not have any kind of knowledge that they were going to do it kind of hurt me.”
After the incident, Spruill told Cal he could’ve come to her. “He said, ‘You don’t have that much to be spending on us,’” Spruill recalled. “After all they’ve done, they’re proud people. They’re like, ‘We’re men. We got to provide for ourselves.’”
Erica Robinson, 23, Cal’s girlfriend of about six months and mother of a one-year-old boy, was watching a breaking news alert on a robbery attempt at Pier 1 when she got a call from Cal.
“I got bad news,” he told her.
It didn’t take long for her to realize that the drama unfolding on her television was a result of an “ignorant” choice her boyfriend made. She felt irritated, annoyed and hurt. “Me and Deangelo were supposed to get married, have kids, move,” Robinson said. “He can’t do that if he’s in jail.”
Robinson, a nursing student from Lancaster, has been dating Cal since November. The two met on Twitter and have been inseparable since.
At the time, Erica was with Jemela Robinson, 22, Davis’ former girlfriend. Realizing something was wrong while Erica was on the phone, Jemela called Davis.
“Where are you?” she asked.
He wouldn’t say.
“I know you went somewhere to do something stupid,” Jemela recalled saying.
She reminded him how close he was to achieving his dreams, and that he just gave up years of his life. “A lot of what I said to him was very bad. I cursed a lot,” she said. “He said, ‘I really don’t need this from you right now. I’m going to hang up.’ I calmly said ‘Okay.’”
Shortly after, he called her back and apologized. “He said when he’s out, he’ll be happy if I’m married with children,” Jemela said. “Stupid things I didn’t want to hear at the time. He didn’t want me to wait for him.”
No one knew the situation had escalated to this point. “Edwin is the type of person, if he needs something, he’s not going to ask for it,” Erica said. “Pride is a terrible thing, and they both have a lot of it.”
After the phone conversations, it was settled. They were going to jail. Before they surrendered, they sought their last supper from the refrigerator of Pier 1’s break room. “You got to salvage your last meal, I guess,” Davis said, with a laugh.
They feasted on orange juice, oranges and watermelon they found stocked in the fridge. “I had $10 in my pocket and I knew the police were going to take it, so I left it in there,” Davis said. “So everything we ate was technically paid for. Technically.”
With their hands raised over their heads, the brothers exited the store at around 10:20 p.m., nearly three and a half hours after they entered it. With automatic weapons in hand, police instructed them to walk out backwards and kneel on the cement. They were cuffed and transported to the Manhattan Beach Police Department for booking.
Whatever circumstances led the two brothers to hatch their ill-planned robbery scheme, they’d failed miserably. And even if they are not what police call “professional criminals,” the consequences for an alleged armed robbery and kidnapping will be severe.
“Maybe this is their first start and they botched it,” said Detective Mike Rosenberger. “But that doesn’t take away from the severity of the crime.”
‘Life isn’t over ‘cause we’re in here’
Davis and Cal were each charged with one count of kidnapping, false imprisonment of a hostage and second-degree robbery. The maximum sentences are eight years, eight years and five years, respectively.
Cal faces a sentencing enhancement for allegedly using a handgun while committing the crimes, which could add an additional 10 years in state prison for each charge. The enhancement is known as California’s “use a gun and you’re done” law and is the state’s strictest sentencing enhancement, according to Shouse Law Group, a criminal defense firm. “The firearm doesn’t need to be loaded or operable to be convicted of this sentencing enhancement,” according to the firm’s website.
Cal maintained he was not armed.
Since police weren’t able to recover any weapons, Detective Rosenberger said it could be a challenge to prove weapons were involved. “Our challenge is we have to convince the jury that a real firearm was being used,” he said.
During their arraignment, Cal and Davis both pled not guilty. During that April hearing, half the courtroom was filled with friends and loved ones, Davis said. “I’ve always looked out for everybody, that’s why I have a lot of support,” Davis said.
On Wednesday, May 9 just before 9 a.m., three chatty girls sat in the front of a courtroom at Torrance Courthouse. They waved behind them as other friends trickled in and out.
“We have a large audience today,” the courthouse bailiff told the crowd, in between hearings.
“Yup,” said Erica Robinson, donning a blue velour sweat suit as she sat in between Jemela Robinson and another friend.
The bailiff recited courtroom etiquette – no texting, no electronics, no talking.
Cal and Davis entered the room together a couple hours later, clad in blue Los Angeles County jail jumpsuits, with their hands cuffed behind their backs. Upon noticing his friends, Davis smiled and nodded toward the group. During the short appearance, the judge scheduled a preliminary hearing for the brothers on June 4.
Missing from the crowd was Spruill, who couldn’t take time off school to visit her brothers in California. “I go back and forth to being okay to crying to being okay. I know how close they were to achieving their dreams and I felt like they could’ve done something different than what they did,” Spruill said. “We know that we don’t need the whole family to be grieving, so when we’re around others, we try to stay positive.”
Davis and Cal both grew up estranged from their biological fathers. Spruill’s father served as their father figure growing up. When Cal had a son, he vowed to stay in his son’s life. “I know it’s killing him not to be able to be out with his son, watch him grow up,” Spruill said. “That’s something that I know is hurting him.”
It’s likely his six-month-old son will move out of the state with her mother, Cal said. “If I’m in here 10 years, when I get out, he’ll pretty much basically be grown.”
Davis’ biggest regrets also involve family.
“Looking back, I do regret the situation, but it is the choice I made,” Davis said. “I regret my brother being here more than anything. Just because if I could be here by myself and do my time, I would feel a little better.”
After spending a few weeks serving time apart, the two have been transferred to the same jail dormitory of about 130 people. “In the end, it’ll make us stronger,” Davis said.
Behind bars, Davis remains dedicated to his music. He spends his days working out and writing songs. “Life isn’t over ‘cause we’re in here,” Davis said. “Everybody makes mistakes to a different degree…you move on from it, try to improve from the situation,” Davis said.
Cal said he is prepared to face the consequences for his actions, whatever they may be.
“I know what I did was wrong. At the end of the day, whatever they charge me with, I’ll have to accept that,” Cal said. “I’m hoping for the best but if the worst comes, I do understand what I was doing was wrong. And at the end of the day, I can’t blame anybody but myself.”