COOK COUNTY CRIMINAL COURTHOUSE — A Bucktown store that sells a marijuana-like substance called Kratom was robbed by a repeat customer who pepper-sprayed the clerk and grabbed $160 and a big bag of the popular plant, prosecutors said.
The 32-year-old suspect, James Sitkiewicz, is a married Sunday school teacher with a child on the way, said his defense attorney, who told a judge on Wednesday that prosecutors have it all wrong.
Sitkiewicz and his wife were in CBD Kratom at 2048 N. Damen Ave. in Bucktown on Dec. 10 when the robbery went down, prosecutors said.
As the two checked out the store's offerings, Sitkiewicz asked for something on a shelf, Assistant State's Attorney Erin Antonietti said during a bond hearing Wednesday.
That's when the employee recognized Sitkiewicz as a return customer and offered the couple free samples, Antonietti said.
As an employee turned toward the shelf, Sitkiewicz grabbed the man from behind and pepper-sprayed him in his eyes, Antonietti said. Sitkiewicz then made off with $160 cash and a bag of Kratom worth about $100, authorities said.
Kratom is a tropical tree native to Southeast Asia similar to the coffee plant that is used in Eastern medicine. Supporters boast that it legally provides pain relief, energy, relaxation and euphoria.
CBD Kratom has Chicago stores in Bucktown and Andersonville. The latter opened just last month.
The pepper-sprayed employee, who said he had "severely irritated" skin for more than a week, identified Sitkiewicz in a photo array. Police were given a description of Sitkiewicz's car, and he was arrested in Austin about 7 a.m. Tuesday.
Sitkiewicz, of the 4800 block of West Augusta Boulevard, is charged with armed robbery.
According to defense attorney Steven Hunter, the incident happened after a heated disagreement with the store employee. Sitkiewicz has no criminal history, the attorney said.
Hunter also noted that Sitkiewicz formerly worked as a cook and teaches Sunday school at his church.
Cook County Judge James Brown on Wednesday ordered Sitkiewicz held in lieu of $50,000 bail.
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