- Associated Press - Friday, March 18, 2016

HOUSTON (AP) - A tactical team had been tracking a group of five robbery suspects in the hours before their last stop, a Houston furniture store where officers opened fire and killed two of the suspects and injured two others, authorities said Friday.

Houston police spokesman John Cannon declined to explain Friday why the suspects weren’t apprehended before the holdup and shooting late Thursday at the Affordable Furniture store in a shopping plaza adjacent to busy Interstate 45. He did, however, mention that the group had been changing vehicles during the day and that police lost sight of them for a while before catching up with the group as they exited the store.

Five officers shot at the group when at least one of the suspects pointed a weapon at them, Cannon said, and two guns were recovered at the scene. One injured suspect was taken to a hospital with an undisclosed injury and another was treated by paramedics before being arrested.

The ages and identities of the suspects have not been released.

The one who wasn’t hit by gunfire had posed as a store employee and tried to hide in a truck parked in front of the business before he was arrested, Cannon said. Officers saw that the man was wearing an ankle monitor and determined he was one of the suspects, according to Ray Hunt, president of the Houston Police Officers’ Union.

Hunt said the tactical team did not have the evidence, or “probable cause,” it needed to apprehend the suspects before they were tracked to the furniture store. When a few of them walked out holding what appeared to be stolen items, officers determined they needed to intervene, Hunt said.

The suspects failed to comply with police orders, he said, and officers were forced to shoot rather than allow the group to claim a hostage or flee into nearby businesses.

“With the evidence that this tactical team then had, they did everything absolutely appropriate to engage the suspects,” he said.

Affordable Furniture owner Taj Ali told The Associated Press that an employee who was inside during the holdup said the gunmen were wearing masks and that one pointed a gun at her head and ordered her to lead them to the safe.

At that point, officers interrupted the robbery, shots were fired and one of the suspects yelled, “Time to go,” Ali said his employee told him.

Harry Cheng, the manager of a Lumber Liquidators store adjacent to the furniture shop, said he was helping a customer and unaware that a robbery was in progress until he saw a police officer in SWAT gear through a window.

“He just told me to get down,” said Cheng. “And all of a sudden I heard gunshots.”

Cheng said he and the customer hugged the floor and heard an exchange of gunfire that lasted from three to five minutes.

Cannon said one of the suspects taken into custody was wearing an ankle monitor, but he didn’t have details of his criminal record. A call to a spokesman for the Harris County district attorney’s office was not returned Friday.

Cannon said it wasn’t immediately clear if the suspects had fired any shots but that investigators would analyze shell casings to account for all shots that were fired.

___

Associated Press videographer John L. Mone in Houston and writers David Warren in Dallas and Jeff McMurray in Chicago contributed to this report.

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