La Habra police find robber in trunk of Honda Civic

By Behind the Badge Staff and Elysse James

Officer Kevin Love of the La Habra Police Department intently listened to the broadcast of an armed robbery that had just occurred at a local gas station. With the information provided in the broadcast, he had reasonable suspicion that a vehicle he was following was involved in the crime.

He conducted a traffic stop that led to the arrest of an armed robber in the early morning hours of January 6.

The armed robbery had occurred at about 12:30 a.m. at the Arco gas station at 501 W. Whittier Blvd. in La Habra. Witnesses said the suspect was a woman wearing a sweatshirt and baseball cap and armed with a handgun, and the suspect fled on foot. The clerk at the store also believed an older model green Toyota Camry might be involved. All officers in the area began searching for the armed suspect and similar cars.

Officer Kevin Love of the La Habra Police Department arrested a woman suspected of robbing a gas station, who had been hiding in the trunk of a car. Photo by Janine Swiatkowski/Behind the Badge OC

Officer Love saw a green Honda Civic driving away from the area of the crime at about 12:54 a.m. The car could have been mistaken for a Toyota Camry so he decided to pull the car over for an investigatory stop — the kind officers perform when a vehicle might be connected to a crime.

The car was being driven by a woman and she gave consent to Officer Love to search the car. He searched the passenger compartment of the car but didn’t find anything interesting. That’s when he opened the trunk.

“As soon as we pop the trunk, we find another female hiding in the trunk of the vehicle,” Love said. “She had a sweatshirt right next to her with about $500 in cash in the front pocket of the sweatshirt and a handgun in the pocket as well. So, we get her out of the trunk and have the victim of the robbery come by to identify her. She was positively identified and we took her into custody.

“If the driver hadn’t given consent to search the car,” Love said, that would have raised his suspicions further, and he would have called over K9 Officer Travis Nelson and his K9, Rita, to sniff the vehicle.

“Rita would have alerted to the odor of the person hiding inside the trunk,” Love said.

Love, who’s been with La Habra Police Department about three years, has never encountered a person hiding in the trunk. In fact, though officers train for this exact situation at the academy, it’s not an everyday occurrence for a patrol officer to come across.

“I remember having a person hiding in the trunk as a training scenario in the academy, but it’s never something I’ve encountered personally or heard of since I have been in the field as an officer,” Love said. “I was looking for a gun and the money, to be quite honest. I wasn’t looking for somebody in the trunk.”

When the trunk opened, the woman reached for a sweatshirt and gun, but officers were able to quickly detain her and remove her from the trunk before she could get to the weapon. The driver, it turns out, was the suspect’s sister.

Officers recovered all of the cash that was taken from the gas station during the robbery — it was still paper clipped from being in the cash register. They also recovered a loaded handgun, magazine, and the clothes the woman had been wearing during the robbery. She had apparently changed in the trunk of the car.

“(It was) one of those police hunches that he (Officer Love) played his bet on, and it turned out to be the right one,” Sgt. Eric Ocampo said. “I was just super impressed.”