East Hampton Town Police have arrested a Springs man and charged him in connection with the armed robbery of a woman near the Springs School earlier this month.
Jay Rowe, 47, surrendered to East Hampton Town Police at department headquarters on Monday morning and was charged with three felonies: armed robbery in the first degree, kidnapping in the second degree and grand larceny in the fourth degree.
Mr. Rowe was scheduled to be arraigned on Monday afternoon, but computer problems with a state filing system delayed the arraignment. He did end up appearing in court on Monday afternoon, when Justice Richard Ambro set bail at $150,000 cash or $300,000 bond.
His attorney, Colin Astarita, said Monday that Mr. Rowe was only implicated because he happened to be at a local bank at the same time as the victim, shortly before the robbery — and was wearing an article of clothing similar to what the robber was reported to have been wearing.
Police have accused Mr. Rowe of kidnapping a 38-year-old Springs woman on March 8 from the Springs School property and then robbing her of $8,000 at gunpoint.
The woman was parked in the rear parking lot of the school at about 2:45 p.m. talking on a cell phone when a masked man entered her car brandishing a black handgun, police say. The woman said that the man ordered her to drive to the end of nearby Shipyard Lane, which dead-ends at Accabonac Harbor less than a quarter mile from the school parking lot. He demanded that she hand over the stack of cash that she had in her possession and then exited the car and ran off.
The woman drove to the Springs General Store, where she called police to report the incident. She described the thief as a white male about 5 feet, 5 inches tall, wearing a camouflage sweatshirt.
A manhunt ensued, and East Hampton Town Police called in a Suffolk County Police Department helicopter and a K-9 Unit from Southampton Village to help search for the man, but no trace of the suspect was found in the area. The Springs School, which was preparing to dismiss students, was put on lockdown for more than an hour.
Detective Daniel Toia said on Monday that investigators believe the robber likely ran to a vehicle that was parked somewhere nearby to get away.
Police do not believe that the accused perpetrator was working in coordination with any other person, but they do think he knew ahead of time that the woman, who has not been identified, had a large amount of cash in her possession, Det. Toia said.
Police had said little about the investigation of the alarming crime in the weeks since it happened, but a few days after the incident town officials said police wanted to assure residents that they did not think there was a lingering threat in the community.
Mr. Astarita said his client has been wrongly tangled up in the case because he had been in a local bank branch that day, apparently at the same time as the victim, as well as at the Stop & Shop grocery store in East Hampton Village a short time later, also at the same time as the victim. He was wearing a camouflage sweatshirt.
Police, he said, had viewed security camera footage from the bank, and bank employees identified Mr. Rowe.
Mr. Astarita noted that his client is taller than the height the victim gave police in describing the armed robber. He also said that the victim reported the man was wearing a mask and sunglasses, so she could not have seen his face well.
Police had contacted Mr. Rowe fairly soon after the robbery, Mr. Astarita said, and his client agreed to be questioned. He denied any involvement, the attorney said, and cooperated with the investigation at every turn.
When notified on Friday that a grand jury had handed up an indictment based on the evidence police presented, he agreed to surrender on Monday morning.
“The evidence is circumstantial at best, and we are not aware of anything that links him directly to this crime,” Mr. Astarita said on Monday. “I’m afraid that Jay was at the wrong place at the wrong time. In some communities, a camouflage sweatshirt may seem out of the ordinary — but certainly not in East Hampton.”
Police say the investigation is ongoing.