For several weeks in the fall of 2017, two men terrorized business owners in metro Atlanta in a series of violent armed robberies. The two shot three women and pistol-whipped others. Then, earlier this year, similar crimes took place in restaurants across several counties, according to police.
The same suspects weren’t responsible for all of the crimes, according to police. But in all of the cases, the suspects targeted the same people: Asian-American business owners.
On Monday, the U.S. attorney’s office in Atlanta said a federal jury has convicted a 23-year-old linked to nine 2017 robberies. Law enforcement leaders credited a team effort with finding those responsible for the crimes.
Dravion Sanchez Ware, 23, participated in robberies in October and November 2017, according to U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak. Ware shot three women — including one at point-blank range — and pistol-whipped several victims in Atlanta, Doraville, Duluth, Roswell, Stone Mountain and Norcross, Pak said.
“Ware terrified his innocent victims, demonstrating a callous disregard for the lives of these small business owners and their customers,” Pak said in an emailed statement. “The courage of his victims, and the coordination of federal and local law enforcement officers who were determined to bring him to justice, will ensure he faces a very lengthy prison sentence.”
According to federal investigators, the 2017 crimes began on Oct. 13 when two men went into Cedar Message on Bakers Ferry Road in Atlanta and pretended to be customers. But one of the men then pulled a gun and demanded cash from an employee, and the second man stole purses containing cash, cellphones and other items, court documents state.
Three days later, men matching the description of the previous robbery pulled off a similar heist at QI Clay Sauna on Buford Highway in Atlanta. This time, the armed robbery turned physical when one robber struck an employee twice in the head with a handgun and the other robber pushed and kicked an employee, according to investigators.
A week later, a Buford Highway restaurant, Kochi Maru, was targeted. Two customers were shot in their legs, and purses were stolen from other customers, police said. Two massage businesses on Holcomb Bridge Road were also hit.
But Ware and his co-defendant, Tabyron Rashad Smith, wore the same clothing in many of the robberies, and security cameras captured images of the two. A tipster helped investigators identify Smith. And Facebook photos of Ware, including a photo of a tattoo seen during robberies, helped investigators nab him, court documents state.
“The victims of these violent armed robberies will be emotionally scarred forever, but thanks to a federal jury, hopefully they can rest easier knowing that Ware will not traumatize any more victims, like they were, for a long, long time,” said Chris Hacker, special agent in charge of FBI Atlanta.
Ware was captured on Nov. 22, 2017, after an FBI-led investigation involving multiple local police agencies. At the time of his arrest, Ware was already on probation following a December 2015 robbery conviction in Gwinnett County. Smith was also arrested while already on probation, according to investigators. In 2012, both Ware and Smith were arrested in Douglas County after stealing from a nail salon staffed by Asians, court records state.
Smith pleaded guilty to his role in the crimes in July, Pak’s office said. Ware was convicted on Aug. 2 of conspiring to commit, and commission of, multiple Hobbs Act robbery offenses, and discharging or brandishing a firearm during the robberies, the U.S. attorney’s office said. His sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 5.
Earlier this year, a separate string of armed robberies targeted Asian-owned restaurants, including in Gwinnett and DeKalb counties. According to police, robbers entered restaurants near closing time, sometimes pistol-whipping victims before stealing cash.
In June, two suspects, Emmanuel Rakestraw, 26, and Earnest Sims, 19, were arrested as suspects in at least one restaurant robbery, police said. Rakestraw was being held late Monday in the Gwinnett jail and Sims remained without bond in the DeKalb jail, records showed. Investigators have not said whether the pair is linked to additional robberies.