Purse snatcher given hot pursuit by Richmond citizens

A man robbed a middle-aged woman of her purse last week, and was then pursued by witnesses down Grace Street. How did the Good Samaritans intervene, and just how far should one risk their own life for the sake of another?

It’s a crime famously depicted in television and movies: a woman blindsided by a young man who yanks the purse from her unsuspecting hands. This very crime occurred last week downtown, and while many purse-snatchers get away, this perpetrator ran into an unforeseen obstacle: Richmond citizens.

A 39-year-old woman had just exited Bar Code, located at 6 East Grace Street, just shy of 10:30pm. While still on the sidewalk, Murphy Hughes, 31, approached the victim and told her that he had a gun. He plucked the purse from the victim’s hands and fled.

Richmond Police Captain Yvonne Crowder said that several witnesses in the vicinity began chasing the purse-snatcher. At least one of the Good Samaritans simultaneously used his or her cell phone to contact and update police with the thief’s whereabouts during the pursuit. Police officers of the Fourth Precinct later arrived and took Hughes into custody not far from Bar Code after witnesses identified him as the offender. No weapons were found on Hughes’s person, the victim was unharmed, and Police returned her purse.

“That is good news all around,” said Dr. Jay Albanese, a Criminal Justice Professor at VCU and author of Professional Ethics in Criminal Justice: Being Ethical When No One is Looking. “That’s what being a Good Samaritan is all about.” Dr. Albanese said that the witnesses who pursued the thief while keeping in contact with 911 operators highlights a new asset for those who want to help even complete strangers. “In our cellphone-era I think it’s easier to be responsible.” However, Dr. Albanese cautions that not all Good Samaritans intervene with impunity. “Sometimes the outcome is not what’s intended.”

Earlier this month in Lynwood, California, two Good Samaritans were shot after intervening in an armed robbery at a meat market. Recently, an off-duty Denver police officer intervened during a robbery at a pharmacy. The officer pulled her weapon against the two robbers, one of whom attacked the police officer and stole her gun before the pair fled the scene. Just last week, a New Orleans man was shot to death after intervening during a car jacking.

“Resistance works in Steven Seagal movies,” said Dr. Albanese. “It rarely works in real life.” He says that when bystanders confront either a criminal or medical emergency, the first move should be to dial 911. Once in touch with a dispatcher, Good Samaritans can channel information between first responders and victims. “The utility is in the information rather than wrestling the guy to the ground,” said Dr. Albanese. “You don’t want to risk your life for someone who has [merely] lost property.”

photo by AnnieGreenSprings

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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

Notice: Comments that are not conducive to an interesting and thoughtful conversation may be removed at the editor’s discretion.

  1. Richmond had its own Good Samaritan gone awry situation not too long ago. A GS got stabbed I believe in Church Hill last month for attempting to intervene. The truth is as much as we’d like to help, as untrained individuals, it’s usually best if we don’t physically, but rather, just call the police and get as many details as possible.

    The off-duty police officers still being overtaken by assailants should be proof enough that it doesn’t matter if you’ve got a gun or not–if you don’t have the training AND the backup, it’s not smart to get involved.

    That said, I know that if it were me, and I had the ability to intervene in a safe manner, I may well attempt to do so. I don’t think I could live with myself if there were a chance someone might die when I could have helped in some capacity.

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