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State bail reform criticized following Warren robbery

Michael C. Lee

WARREN, Pa. — A man who was released last week following an alleged robbery attempt in New York has been charged with subsequently robbing a man at gunpoint in Warren County.

Warren police say the local robbery was preventable due to the arrest Nov. 21 in Chautauqua County.

Michael C. Lee, 34, of Jamestown was taken to Warren County Jail on charges of robbery, a firearms violation, simple assault, two counts of possession of controlled substances, two counts of possession of drug paraphernalia, and theft.

“We were dispatched to the Warren County Jail at 2:15 a.m. to speak to a victim about just being robbed,” City of Warren Police Capt. Jeff Dougherty said Friday. “The victim described a tall male wearing dark clothes and a ski mask who pointed a gun at him.”

The victim told police the robber took a cell phone, a pack of cigarettes, and a cigarette lighter with a skull on it, Dougherty said.

The caller fled the scene of the alleged robbery and called police from the jail

“Within four minutes of receiving the information from the victim, Warren Police Department officers located a male matching the description on Fourth Avenue,” he said. “After a brief foot pursuit, the suspect was taken into custody.”

“The suspect was found to be in possession of items the victim described,” Dougherty said. “There was a handgun found in the vicinity of the suspect.”

He said Lee admitted to robbing the man in Warren.

Dougherty said he was very proud of the city officers for their immediate handling of the situation.

Lee was charged in New York state after he allegedly tried to rob a store at the Chautauqua Mall on Monday, Nov. 21, saying he had a bomb. He was located after allegedly shoplifting at Walmart in Lakewood and arrested.

“This guy should not have been released and should not have had the opportunity to commit the robbery today,” he said. “This robbery was completely preventable.”

He said the blame does not lie at the feet of the arresting department or officers.

“The Lakewood-Busti Police did their job,” Dougherty said.

Dougherty said Lee was issued an appearance ticket and released after his arrest in New York, rather than being jailed. New York state eliminated cash bail for some charges in 2019 as part of a bail reform act.

Lee is also accused of using a gun to threaten a man in Conewango Township on Wednesday, Nov. 30.

According to the affidavit of probable cause, a man drove his car close to Lee, then came back to apologize, at which point Lee allegedly pointed a gun at him. Police conducted a search, but did not find any suspects at that time.

In relation to that incident, Lee is charged with terroristic threats and defiant trespass.

Police requested that Lee be jailed without bail or at a high bail. “The defendant has been accused of several crimes of violence,” police said in the affidavit.

Lee was arraigned from the Warren County Jail by video Friday before District Judge Laura Bauer.

He remained in jail after bail at $500,000 on the robbery docket and $250,000 on the threats docket.

A preliminary hearing is set for 11 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 4.

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