WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) -- On the same night Wilmington Police launched a joint patrol effort with New Hanover County Sheriff's deputies to combat the city's gang problem, officers wound up in a shoot-out after the latest late-night restaurant robbery. When it was over, two suspects were dead and a third was in the hospital.
Police say around 11:45 p.m. Friday, three men approached an employee outside the Pizza Hut at 2402 S. 17th Street. Investigators say Jalani Smith, 20, Ronald Roland, 18, and Tevin Robinson, 20, all from Brunswick County, forced the employee back into the restaurant at gunpoint and robbed the people inside.
When the suspects left the building they met police officers outside. WPD says the suspects refused commands from officers and gunshots were exchanged. All three suspects were injured and taken to New Hanover Regional Medical Center. Roland and Robinson were pronounced dead a few hours later.
Smith has been released from the hospital and is now in the New Hanover County Jail under a $1.5 million bond. He is charged with conspiracy to commit armed robbery, multiple armed robbery charges and four counts of first degree kidnapping. He is scheduled to make his first court appearance Monday.
Court records show Smith has pending drug charges in Brunswick County, as did Roland. Smith is also due in court in February in Brunswick County for a misdemeanor charge of carrying a concealed gun.
Police say they had been monitoring restaurants due to several recent armed robberies at restaurants in Wilmington and Leland. Officers were close by the Pizza Hut when the robbery happened. Police say the three suspects may have been tied to multiple business robberies in both Brunswick and New Hanover counties.
Both Wilmington Police and New Hanover County Sheriff's deputies responded to last night's robbery. No officers were injured in the shooting. A WPD spokeswoman said the names of the officers could not yet be released as SBI investigates.
All three suspects were recent graduates of North Brunswick High School in Leland, where they played various sports.
A friend who did not wish to appear on camera says Roland and Robinson were good guys with promising futures ahead of them.
He says Roland, the father of two young children was a basketball and track star who had just graduated in June.
And he says Robinson was like a brother to him.
Robinson’s aunt says her nephew was attending A & T College and was in the navy reserve with hopes of being a police officer.
Robinson’s friend says surviving suspect, Smith was a presidential scholar and a leader in his ROTC class.
North Brunswick coach Bryan Hayes said in a statement,"I personally knew all three young men involved in this tragedy. My thoughts, prayers, and condolences go out to the family and parties involved. I hope everyone sees the learning opportunity in this situation.”