By Joey McWilliams
CALERA – One man was arrested early Sunday morning in conjunction with a robbery outside the First United Bank location in Calera.
Philip Chaz Daffern, 30, was taken into custody with charges of Robbery in the First Degree, Assault and Battery and Larceny of an Automobile.
Patrolman Mark McMurry of the Calera Police Department was dispatched to the E-Z Mart convenience store in Calera just before 2 a.m. on Sunday. There he met with Jessica Swearingen, who stated she had been attacked and robbed of her night deposit bag from Burger King and that her car had been stolen, according to a release from the CPD.
Swearingen, a shift manager at Burger King said there were two males involved in the robbery and that one had punched her twice in the head and taken the money. He then left in her car.
She described the attacker as wearing a black trench coat with black gloves and black tennis shoes and that she could not identify her attacker. She also expressed concern that she had left the key to the night deposit drop box in the key slot.
However, Patrolman McMurry said he observed that her emotions seemed contrived and that he could not observe any obvious indications of injury to the side of her head. He dispatched his location to assist Swearingen and Bryan County EMS medics arrived, but Swearingen declined transport to the hospital.
McMurry notified his supervisor, CPD Captain Daniel Thurman, who came to First United and reviewed the surveillance video of the robbery. Upon viewing several still shots taken of the scene, McMurry said he immediately noticed discrepancies in Swearingen’s story.
The attacker was not wearing a black trench coat, but instead what appeared to be a gray hoodie with white covering over his lower face and no gloves. His jeans appeared to be faded. McMurry said it was also obvious he was Caucasian.
The subject in the video also appeared to be wearing both gray and black items under the jeans, which was visible to McMurry as the subject turned away from the surveillance camera.
McMurry then attempted to get the vehicle tag of the car that was stolen. Swearingen said she did not know the tag number. The patrolman then asked if she had been in contact with law enforcement, so he could get that information.
Swearingen said she had not been stopped by police, but her boyfriend had been. The boyfriend was identified as Daffern and had received a citation from the CPD approximately two weeks prior for driving with a suspended license. McMurry was able to get the tag number and relay the information to surrounding law enforcement agencies.
At around 2:39 a.m., the Durant Police Department reported the recovery of the stolen vehicle at an empty parking lot near 21st Avenue and Mississippi Street in Durant. The keys were not in the vehicle, but it was reported to have been warm and had not been there long.
A little after 3 a.m., Thurman reported the recovery of the key to the deposit box. McMurry, with Swearingen, drove to meet with him the First United parking lot.
At around 3:30 a.m., a male subject walked over to speak with them. The man was wearing a black trench coat and flip flops, according to the release, as well as gray sliders beneath black gym shorts and a blue sports jersey. McMurry said his dress was highly unusual considering the relatively cool temperature at the time.
McMurry also said he was struck by the sliders and shorts, which appeared to be consistent with what the robber had been wearing under his blue jeans.
The subject identified himself as Philip Daffern and said Swearingen was his girlfriend, and had been so for about 11 years. He said Swearingen had called him from the E-Z Mart to report the robbery.
McMurry told Daffern he needed to rule him out as a possible suspect and asked where he had since the time of the robbery. Daffern said he had been staying with a couple in Kenefic for the last four days and had known the couple for about four months.
Daffern said he knew only the first name of the female and did not know the name of the male, who spoke Spanish and very little English.
As McMurry continued to question him, the patrolman said Daffern struggled with consistency in his story and timelines. He eventually said the couple dropped him off at the E-Z Mart store, where he saw the patrol cars across the street and walked over. McMurry offered Swearingen and Daffern a ride to her residence, but Swearingen wanted to be transported back to Burger King, and McMurry agreed to that.
At Burger King, the three were met by Durant Police Officers Brandon Carbaugh, Brandon Mitchell and Shane Walker. During conversation with Daffern, Officer Mitchell identified the couple Daffern spoke of as living in Durant, not Kenefic, and that information was relayed to Captain Thurman.
Thurman went to the address of the couple, Leslie Steakley and her boyfriend Arturo Rivera, which was about three or four blocks from where the stolen car was recovered.
With pictures of what Daffern was then wearing, Rivera identified him. Steakley said Daffern had shown up at her house around 2 a.m., out of breath and bear on their window to let him in. Daffern had asked if she and Rivera could give him a ride to Calera. She also said he was in those clothes and the blue jersey he was wearing had been taken from their home and belonged to Rivera.
Upon receiving that information from Thurman, McMurry read Daffern his Miranda Warning and sat down with him for an interview in the Burger King lobby. Daffern denied involvement in the robbery and theft of the car.
At approximately 5:49 a.m., McMurry and Mitchell arrested Daffern without incident. During the search incident to arrest, they discovered a paper bindle which had the definite appearance of methamphetamine, according to the release. It was taken as evidence.
McMurry then read Swearingen her Miranda Warning and interviewed her. He told her he believed Daffern was the person who had hit her and took the money and the car and that was inconceivable to him that she would not recognize her during the assault. After questioning, Swearingen admitted that she had thought it could be him, but that she was only about ’20 percent’ sure of that.
Patrolman McMurry then transported Daffern to the Bryan County Jail, where Daffern was charged with robbery, larceny and assault and battery. McMurry left the possession of the CDS charge to Officer Mitchell and the Durant Police Department.
Calera Police Chief Don Hyde commended those involved for their work and said he appreciated all of the assistance on the case.
“With cooperation from surrounding agencies, we were able to recover the stolen vehicle and get the suspect in custody quickly,” Hyde said. “The investigation is still very much ongoing.”