THE BRONX — A convicted robber who just finished a six-year prison stint went on a violent robbery spree across the city within a month of his release, according to federal prosecutors.
Johnell Turner, 24, robbed a Union Square Sweetgreen in September, shot a cabbie after taking a ride from Queens to Harlem, and held up a video game store in The Bronx just hours after shooting the cab driver, according to an indictment filed Oct. 17 in Manhattan.
Turner, who police said had been staying at the Bellevue Men’s Shelter, was released Aug. 11 from upstate's Greene Correctional Facility, where he had been locked up since 2011 for robbery, according to Department of Corrections and Community Supervision records.
According to prosecutors, less than a month after his release, on Sept. 6, at about midnight, just before closing time, Turner walked into the Sweetgreen at 8 E. 18th St. in Union Square, where police said he had previously worked. Turner pulled out a black handgun and pushed a 26-year-old male employee into the back office, shoving him to the floor and demanding he open the safe, police said.
“You really don’t want to die for Sweetgreen,” Turner said.
The victim told Turner he couldn’t open the safe and turned his head to stare directly into a security camera, according to prosecutors. Turner also turned and looked directly into the camera, at which point he left without stealing anything, federal prosecutors said.
It was not immediately clear when Turner had worked at Sweetgreen. An employee and the shop declined to comment.
On Oct. 5, Turner hailed a green cab in Ozone Park just before 9 a.m., prosecutors said. The driver, a 56-year-old man, drove Turner to Harlem, and as they crossed the Triboro Bridge Turner asked the driver if he had change for $100, which the driver said he did, according to the Manhattan U.S. Attorney's office.
After reaching Manhattan, however, Turner told the driver that he didn’t have cash for the fare and that they would need to stop by a pal’s place to get money, prosecutors said. Turner told the driver to pull over outside 2369 First Ave., near 121st Street, and the driver asked Turner to hand over his cellphone as collateral before he went inside, prosecutors charge.
Turner complied, but as soon as he got out of the cab he went around to the driver-side door began berating the driver and demanded his phone back, according to the indictment. The driver was about to hand over the phone when Turner pulled a gun on him and pointed it at his face, prosecutors said.
The driver pushed the gun aside just as Turner pulled the trigger, and was shot in the hand and forearm, according to the indictment. The driver was taken to Harlem Hospital with minor injuries, according to police.
Two hours later, Turner allegedly walked into a videogame store in the South Bronx, browsed for a while until foot traffic died down, and then approached the clerk, once again pulling a black handgun from his bag and shoving it in the clerk’s face, according to a criminal complaint.
The clerk opened the register and handed over $500, the investigating detective said.
Roughly a week later a bodega clerk in The Bronx recognized Turner from a wanted poster stemming from the Oct. 5 shooting and notified police, who tracked Turner’s EBT purchases at that store, according to an affidavit by NYPD Detective Ellis DeLoren.
Officers stopped Turner nearby and patted him down, finding a .25-caliber semiautomatic pistol tucked into his waistband, prosecutors said. While they were taking him downtown, Turner acknowledged the gun was his, and when asked about the Oct. 5 shooting he told police it was not a robbery, according to prosecutors.
Turner was charged with three counts of robbery, one count of criminal weapons possession, and one count of possessing a weapon as a felon, according to the indictment. He is currently being held without bail at Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, according to federal Department of Correction records.
Turner’s arrest came as welcome news to the Taxi and Limousine Commission, according to spokesman Allan Fromberg.
“We are very pleased to know that, thanks to the NYPD, this individual will be held fully accountable for his alleged actions,” he said. “We have every confidence that this will send a strong and clear message to all those who would contemplate any form of violence or abuse against a taxi or for-hire vehicle driver — you will be caught, and you will be prosecuted.”
Information for Turner's defense attorney was not immediately available.