Two robbers pepper-sprayed and beat a man to the ground late Tuesday while he was walking near Maritime Heritage Park, according to Bellingham police.
Officers arrested one suspect, but another remains at large.
The man reported he was walking by the Waterfront Tavern, 521 W. Holly St., around 10:45 p.m. when two strangers came up to him demanding “money and weed,” said Bellingham police spokeswoman Lt. Danette Beckley.
One suspect sprayed the man, 55, in the face with pepper spray and beat him with repeated blows to the head. He fell down and may have lost consciousness, Beckley said. The suspects took the man’s phone and wallet from his pockets.
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Police found the beaten man had a potentially broken nose and swelling to his face. An ambulance took him to St. Joseph hospital. He couldn’t open his eyes because of the pepper spray. But he gave a clear description of one suspect’s clothes, appearance and an apparent eye condition, according to police. The victim could not give a good description of the second man, except that he looked Hispanic.
About 15 minutes later officers saw Eliezer Figueroa Jr., 27, a couple of blocks from the scene of the incident. He ran until police caught him. He denied being involved in a robbery. According to police, Figueroa matched the description, but he was shirtless – not wearing a tank top as described by the man. Figueroa let officers search his backpack and they found a white tank top inside. Earlier Tuesday, an officer had spoken with Figueroa and he was wearing a white tank top then. Security cameras showed he wore the tank top minutes before the robbery, police said.
Officers recovered a canister of what looked to be pepper spray. Initial police reports don’t say where it came from, Beckley said. The victim’s wallet was recovered, too, and taken as evidence.
An open tube of toothpaste was found at the scene. Figueroa had “toothpaste residue” on his hands, according to charges read in court Wednesday.
Figueroa has two prior first-degree robberies on his record, from 2007 and 2012, according to court documents. He has a history of car thefts and drug crimes involving methamphetamine. He was sentenced to 22 months in prison in early 2016, for stealing a Toyota Camry. Court records say deputies pulled over the car, searched Figueroa’s coat pocket, and found a pair of earrings that belonged to the car owner’s deceased grandmother.
Figueroa was still on probation at the time of his arrest. He’s being held in Whatcom County Jail to face charges of first-degree robbery, second-degree assault and third-degree theft, as well as a Department of Corrections warrant. Superior Court Commissioner Leon Henley set bail at $25,000.
Police don’t know if the robbery on Holly Street has any connection to a recent case where an unidentified man attacked a jewelry kiosk clerk with pepper spray at Bellis Fair mall. The suspect wore a blue hoodie and goggles when he rushed at the kiosk, sprayed the clerk and smashed a glass countertop with a rock in a sock around 8 p.m. July 18. The man fled with about $50,000 in gold chains.