A shoplifting turns violent at the Brooklyn Heights Key Food

March 13, 2023 Mary Frost
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BROOKLYN HEIGHTS — “He looked like a California surfing dude,” Ivan Arguello, co-owner of Key Food in Brooklyn Heights, told the Brooklyn Eagle.

But the dude was not California mellow. What started as a shoplifting incident quickly escalated into a violent confrontation outside the Montague Street grocery store, when the man pulled a knife on Arguello and threatened to stab him.

Arguello credits his long-time cashier Carla for helping to save his life.

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“This happened on Monday morning [March 6],” Arguello said. “I had never seen this person here and he looked suspicious. He looked like he’s not a New Yorker.”

Arguello watched the man as he walked up and down the aisles. The green shopping bag he carried had been empty when he entered the store, but it was full when he walked out the door. 

The suspect, on the right, tussles with Key Food co-owner Ivan Arguello as cashier Carla, left, cautions Arguello that the man is threatening him with a knife. Arguello later credited her with pulling him out of danger. Image via Key Food video system

Arguello followed him out onto the sidewalk and asked to see his receipt.

“I asked him very nicely to show me the receipt. Immediately he got aggressive,” Arguello said.

Video shows Arguello and the man both tugging on the shopping bag as the cashier, Carla, runs out of the store, hands raised in alarm. As they tussled, the man suddenly waved an open knife in a menacing manner at Arguello.

“He said to me, ‘Back off,’ and then he said, ‘I’m gonna stab you,” Arguello said. 

“Carla, she went after me and she heard him say ‘I’m gonna stab you’ and she kind of pulled me off. Carla was amazing. She was worried about me,” he said.

Crime statistics for the 84the Precinct, which includes Downtown Brooklyn, Brooklyn Heights, Brooklyn Bridge Park and nearby areas, from 2/27/2-23 to 3/5/2-23. Comparisons to earlier years can be seen in the table. Table courtesy NYPD CompStat

“I tried to grab the bag but he ran,” Arguello said. “He ran about two blocks and I chased him, thinking that hopefully we would see a police officer. And then the police officer would react immediately and we would catch this individual that doesn’t belong in our neighborhood and is dangerous to society.” 

As shoppers strolled by and moms pushed baby carriages along the sidewalk, unaware of the confrontation, the man ran up Montague Street to Henry Street, chased by Arguello. He made a left on Henry and made his getaway.

Arguello describes the suspect as Caucasian, roughly 5’10” and weighing approximately 140 pounds, with leaf tattoos on both sides of his neck. He wore a dark coat covered with graphics including letters.

Key Food co-owner Enrico Palazio said he was told at a neighborhood police meeting on Wednesday that a man fitting the suspect’s description had been reported to police previously.

“These guys don’t stay in jail,” Palazio said. “A couple of hours and they’re out.”

Palazio said he was also told at the meeting that the crimes of murder and rape are down in the 84th Precinct year-to-date. “But the petty crimes are up — car theft, aggressive assault, petit larceny,” he said.

The suspect (carrying a green bag) peers into the Montague Street Key Food before entering the store. Unaware of the man’s presence, store co-owner Ivan Arguello stands with his back turned as he places a chain on the stairs next to the store. Image via Key Food video system

“People get upset with the police but what can they do? Their job is to apprehend, not policy or judgment. If they don’t stay in jail, they keep on apprehending,” Palazio said.

NYPD’s CompStat report for the year-to-date ending March 5, 2023 shows rape down 50% and robbery down 30%, but petit larceny up 48% and felonious assault up 52% in the 84th Precinct compared to last year. (Murder showed no statistical change, with one murder during that time period, compared to zero murders during the same period last year.) 

Felonious assaults were up 10.5% citywide during that time period. 

“This nonsense has got to stop. I have a wife and a kid and I have to go home. That’s why I backed off. However, in the city of New York, there’s been murders, there’s been all kinds of violent stuff,” Arguello said, citing the recent high-profile shooting of a bodega owner on the Upper East Side.

Key Food’s cashier raises the alarm as she and another store employee watch the store’s owner chase the suspect up Montague Street. Image via Key Food video system

Arguello thinks Gov. Kathy Hochul isn’t doing enough to keep repeat perpetrators off the streets.

“Mayor Adams, I think he’s on the right track but the governor? We got to do something about a tougher bail law,” he said.

The state’s budget proposal is due April 1, and Hochul is pushing for a rollback of the state’s cash bail laws that would remove the mandate that judges must impose “the least restrictive kind and degree of control or restriction that is necessary to secure the suspect’s return to court when required.”

At an event in Rochester on Tuesday, Hochul said the rollback would give clarity to judges, according to a transcript of her speech received by the Eagle. 

“I want to make sure that our judges have what they need. So, removing the least restrictive means standard for bail-eligible cases, which are the serious violent offenses, is what we’re going to be looking for,” Hochul said. 

Arguello is not convinced, however. “She’s been in office already. If you want to do it, do it, don’t talk about it. We need action.”

Arguello also wants more police patrolling the main shopping street in Brooklyn Heights on a regular basis.

Key Food co-owner Ivan Arguello was thankful he survived a violent confrontation at his Brooklyn Heights grocery store on March 6. Eagle photo by Mary Frost

“Right now it’s 10:30 a.m., we don’t see anybody. We only see people that give tickets, that’s all,” he said. 

“This is a highly unsettling incident and I am relieved that everyone is okay,” Councilmember Lincoln Restler said. “My team has been working closely with the 84th precinct and the District Attorney to address safety concerns at Key Food and we will continue to do so to make sure everyone in our community is safe.”

In July 2022, the Brooklyn Heights Key Food was one of the retail outlets featured in a story in the Eagle about organized shoplifting rings wreaking havoc on stores in Brooklyn Heights.

Since that time, Arguello and Palazio have taken a number of steps to improve security at the store, including installing more video cameras and monitors, and closing the entrance door.

“I think things have got better because a lot of the stuff that we did is a deterrent. Closing the entrance door and allowing everybody to come into the exit door has helped us out tremendously. That doesn’t mean that it has stopped completely,” Arguello said.

He added, “Whoever is out there, they’re violent. It’s a problem. I mean, I could have died that day. He could have stabbed me.  I’m glad that my cashier Carla asked me to back off.”


Our Readers Respond:

Responses directly to our website:

  • “I have lived in Brooklyn Heights for 48 years and never saw a robbery in progress. Unfortunately in the last 11 months have seen 4 robberies. Two in Marshalls on different days, and two robberies in CVS on Henry Street, and the robberies in CVS were in the last two months. This is scary and unbelievable.”


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  1. I was born in 1950 and lived in Brooklyn until 1995. There are no cops that have backup, the Mayor is useless as the governor. They have great gigs. Get good taxpayers money and don’t have to protect the citizens that are paying them. They keep bending to the criminals. They are on Soros payroll. Glad I am out of there!