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Store employees hold suspected thief until police arrive

Man had stolen gun, faces multiple felony charges

Published: Wednesday, May 21, 2014 12:41 p.m. CST • Updated: Thursday, May 22, 2014 9:23 p.m. CST

STERLING – Police say a man suspected of retail theft and carrying a stolen gun was restrained by employees Tuesday at Bergner's in Northland Mall.

In a news release, Sterling police said Justin A. Phillips, 32, became combative with employees and tried to flee. When police arrived, employees had the suspect restrained near the mall's rear entrance.

Officers took Phillips, who police say is homeless, into custody for retail theft and, while searching him, found he had a stolen firearm. The amount of merchandise stolen, police said, was less than $300.

Phillips has been charged with burglary, aggravated battery in a public place, aggravated assault in a public place, armed violence, possession of a firearm without a requisite FOID card, possession of a firearm ammunition without a requisite FOID card, possession of a stolen firearm, and unlawful use of a weapon.

Police say Phillips also has been charged in a burglary that was reported the night before the Bergner's incident. Phillips is facing charges of residential burglary and theft, less than $500, with a prior conviction. Those charges are related to a burglary reported about 7 a.m. Monday in the 600 block of Avenue D in Sterling.

Phillips received minor facial injuries during the Bergner's incident, police say.

"From what I understand, the injuries took place while he was attempting to flee from employees before the police arrived on scene," Sgt. Jeff Mohr said. "He had been confrontational with them, and there was a struggle to detain him. We think he also may have fallen outside when detained by management."

The gun had not been seen by store employees throughout the duration of the Bergner's incident, Mohr said.

"The weapon was concealed," Mohr said. "Police recovered it when they arrived and detained him."

Police said the stolen gun was connected with a previously reported burglary. They refused to comment on whether it was the residential burglary in which Phillips was charged.

He remains in Whiteside County Jail in lieu of bond.

Bergner's declined to comment on the incident.

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