PALMDALE – A 21-year-old transient suspected of robbing more than a half-dozen people since the Labor Day holiday weekend was captured this week and charged with multiple felonies Thursday.
Niko Kymonte McClaren is charged with nine felony counts that include robbery and attempted robbery, according to court records. The complaint includes a special allegation that McClaren personally used a deadly and dangerous weapon, a pellet gun, in the commission and attempted commission of the crimes.
McClaren was arrested in the early morning hours of Tuesday, Sept. 16 after multiple deputies surrounded a vacant church, at the corner of 10th Street West and Technology Drive, where McClaren had been squatting.
Detectives could be seen taking several bags of evidence from the scene Tuesday morning, according to a photographer. Detectives have said little about the case; however, McClaren is suspected of robbing or attempting to rob at least nine people during a spree that started on Aug. 31 and ended on Sept. 16, the day of his capture, according to the criminal complaint.
The AV Times spoke to the alleged victims of the Aug. 31 robbery, which happened in the parking lot of a Palmdale strip mall near the church.
A woman said she was standing in the parking lot with a group of friends when a beggar approached them asking for change. When the group refused, the beggar said “God bless you guys,” and then started to walk away, the woman said. But seconds later, the beggar doubled back, brandished what appeared to be a gun and robbed the group, the woman said. [View her video below.]
McClaren allegedly committed another robbery on Sept. 3, a robbery on Sept 14, and an attempted robbery on Sept. 16, according to the felony complaint.
Serial robber targeted IHOP and got bolder each time, detectives said
Palmdale Sheriff’s Station detectives on Friday revealed more information about the string of robberies that led to McClaren’s arrest.
After the first robbery on Aug. 31, McClaren began targeting victims in the late night or early morning hours outside the IHOP Restaurant on 10th Street West near Technology Drive, according to Detective Rick Manes of the Palmdale Sheriff’s Station.
“He realized the IHOP was really the ideal place for him, and it looks like he set up his operation to hit there. He was preying on people who were either exiting the IHOP or employed in the IHOP but were out on break,” Manes said.
During his alleged robbery spree, McClaren was either squatting at or near the vacant church across the street from the IHOP, Manes said.
“He used the church as a staging area that he probably retreated to after each robbery. From the church he had a fairly good line of sight to see who was outside the IHOP,” Manes said.
During the Aug. 31 robbery, McClaren allegedly panhandled his victims before robbing them, wore sunglasses, and brandished what closely resembled a semi-automatic handgun, Manes said. On Sept. 3, McClaren was wearing sunglasses and a black hat when he allegedly robbed two females and an elderly male outside the IHOP, Manes said.
“He did the same thing, produced [what appeared to be] a handgun,” Manes said. “But he got a little bolder this time and straight up robbed them.”
On Sept. 14, McClaren added to his disguise, and was wearing sunglasses, a black hat and a fake mustache when he robbed two females outside the IHOP, Manes said.
On Sept. 16, around 2 a.m., local deputies were surveilling the area in response to the rash of robberies, when they spotted McClaren, according to Manes.
“A deputy observed him hiding in a bush, lying in wait for another victim; the deputies went to approach him and he took off running,” Manes said.
Deputies pursued McClaren across the street to the vacant church, “where he tossed what appeared to be a black semi-automatic handgun, which later turned out to be a pellet gun, along with some of the items he’d been wearing, like the hat and mustache,” Manes said.
McClaren was promptly arrested and ultimately charged with multiple felony counts of robbery.
“There are seven victims and two that he would have robbed if detectives wouldn’t have stopped him,” Manes clarified. “With each robbery he got a little bolder until he was finally caught.”
McClaren pleaded not guilty to all charges Thursday afternoon, and his bail was set at $400,000. He is due back in court Tuesday, Sept. 30, for a preliminary hearing. At the conclusion of that hearing, a judge will decide whether there is evidence against McClaren to take the case to trial.