Madison police have arrested a 28-year-old man and four youths — including a 12-year-old — for their alleged involvement in a string of violent armed robberies last month.
Police believe Eric Clay, of Madison, three teenagers and the 12-year-old had roles in seven robberies across Madison between Dec. 14 and Dec. 31, Madison Police Chief Mike Koval said Thursday.
Clay, a teen and a third person also are believed to have robbed a Sun Prairie BP gas station on Tower Drive, police said.
“Today, Madison is a safer place because ... Clay is under arrest (and) sitting in the jail,” Koval said.
Clay was arrested Jan. 8 on a parole violation. He is tentatively charged with five counts of being a party to armed robbery for crimes in Madison.
Clay’s criminal history includes convictions for robbery with the use of force, armed robbery and battery.
Koval said investigators were still reviewing the crimes and trying to determine how, or if, all the suspects were connected. He said Clay and a 16-year-old suspect knew each other from working together at a fast-food restaurant.
The crimes are among a series of violent robberies, carjackings and a home invasion in Madison dating back to November that police believe were committed by a small number of groups, or “crews.”
In mid-December, police said they thought 14 of those crimes starting Nov. 20 could be linked to those groups.
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Police were alarmed by the violent nature of the robberies, which all involved weapons. Victims, including teenagers and older men, in some of the crimes were physically assaulted despite complying with demands.
“These were up close and personal,” Koval said. “One can only begin to think what kind of terror was inflicted upon these various people.”
Cab drivers and food delivery drivers were frequently targeted, causing one Madison cab company, Green Cab, to suspend service for one day last month.
On Thursday, Jodie Schmidt, one of Green Cab’s owners, said the company and its drivers were relieved that some arrests have been made.
“Although we still need to be vigilant, we’re feeling much better,” she said. “Ninety-nine percent of the time ... we’re taking Madisonians to and from where they need to be and (robberies don’t) happen, so we have to remember that.”
After the robberies, she said the company reminded drivers of safety precautions, gave them the chance to alter their hours and made other changes, such as adding lighting to their cabs. The company had already been recording its trips.
Since Clay’s arrest, Koval said “there has been a precipitous drop” in the number of “armed encounters” in the city.
“I think that has taken the legs out of that kind of crime spree, at least for the time being, knock on wood,” he said. “This situation was so unrelenting for a while.”