Less than 60 seconds after it began, the Oct. 18 robbery of a Citgo gas station on Riverside Drive ended with a 15-year-old bystander shot in the abdomen and an errant bullet penetrating the front door of a nearby home before striking a TV set in an unoccupied living room.
One of the individuals who fired those bullets is being charged with a crime, while the other is not, though neither shot was fired by the actual robbery suspect, 26-year-old Joseph Soutullo.
It was a chain of events that local prosecutors have called “convoluted,” but the aftermath has Mobile police concerned about citizens who might take the law into their own hands as some residents seem confused about when it’s OK to defend themselves from a criminal with a gun.
In security footage from the Oct. 18 incident, the suspect is seen entering the Citgo store in a gray hooded sweatshirt that partially covers his face. He’s holding what appears to be a handgun.
The Mobile Police Department says it was Soutullo, who has some 18 prior arrests in Mobile for offenses that include domestic violence and harassment. District Attorney Ashley Rich told Lagniappe this week the gun Soutullo is seen brandishing was later determined to be a BB gun.
However, the gun that a second clerk at the store pulled from under the counter was a higher caliber, though the round fired from it missed Soutullo and struck a 15-year-old girl standing just outside the door.
As Soutullo fled, another bystander, 23-year-old Tyrone Taylor, opened fire after hearing a gunshot from inside the store and seeing a man running with a handgun. Like the first, that bullet also missed its target, sailing past Soutullo and into the adjacent home.
While Soutullo was able to briefly escape on foot with approximately $300 in cash, it wasn’t long before he was apprehended by MPD canine units canvassing the surrounding area. Charged with first-degree robbery, Soutullo has been in custody at the Mobile County Metro Jail since.
At the time, MPD Chief Lawrence Battiste warned other gas station owners and the general public that, even when acting in self-defense, those using firearms can open themselves up to potential criminal and civil charges and penalties.“Lately we’ve had a number of robberies that have occurred and in the process of the robberies occurring, some clerks have fired shots,” he said. “I would encourage them to allow us to do our job as law enforcement officers and be mindful that, when you fire a weapon — even sometimes in defense of your property — if someone is an innocent bystander, you could possibly be charged for your reckless behavior in a situation like that.”
Battiste said it’s not an issue of “whether clerks have a right” to defend themselves. Instead, he said, like police officers, citizens are accountable for every round that comes out of their weapon.
“I’m not advocating for the clerk or admonishing the clerk for their actions,” he added. “I want to make sure that those individuals, who are victims of crime, realize their actions could have criminal implications, particularly if the person they take action against is not directly involved in with the criminal act being committed.”
Though facts were still being uncovered, Battiste’s comments gave the impression that someone other than Soutullo could be facing charges stemming from the incident.
More than six days later, though, police arrested Taylor, charging him with discharging a gun into an occupied building for firing at Soutullo that night. After the initial incident, police said Taylor saw the robbery in progress but the suspect was already running away on foot when Taylor fired at him.According to court records, Taylor was also charged with two traffic violations and didn’t possess a permit to carry a concealed weapon. He posted bond and was released Oct. 24.
In his only public interview since Taylor told WPMI that Soutullo had “come running up with the gun and ran around my car.” While he said he felt bad that the bullet missed and ended up going into a neighbor’s house, Taylor has maintained he did nothing wrong.
However, the clerk who accidentally shot the 15-year-old girl outside the store has yet to be charged with a crime, as Rich has opted not to file charges immediately and instead put the facts of the case before a Mobile County grand jury.
While the girl who was hit by the stray bullet was treated and released from a hospital, several people sharing stories on social media about the incident have wondered why only Taylor was arrested.
Asked about the department’s role in Taylor’s arrest, MPD spokesperson Charlette Solis deferred questions to the Mobile County District Attorney’s office. However, Rich didn’t offer much insight either, as both cases are still pending.
However, she did take the opportunity to note that Taylor has a criminal record locally.
“He admitted that he did shoot at the robber because he thought it was the robber who was shooting at the clerk, not the clerk shooting at the robber,” Rich said. “He has prior arrests for drug and property crime offenses. This is first for what is considered a violent crime.”
A Lagniappe review did confirm that Taylor has previously been arrested a number of times locally throughout the past 10 years, including a pair of theft charges, possession of marijuana and unlawful possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute.
However, it’s unclear if those prior arrests played a role in the decision to charge Taylor immediately instead of presenting the case to grand jury, as was the case with the store clerk, has not yet been identified by police or local prosecutors.
Asked about any charges the store clerk might face, Rich only said “the other case will be presented to the grand jury … because it will be presented to the grand jury.”
Security video of the incident can be seen below: