After a man allegedly walked out of a Lockwood store with two stolen cellphones Wednesday evening, law enforcement believe he repeatedly reached into his waistband and threatened to shoot an employee who confronted him in the parking lot.

The Yellowstone County Sheriff's Office was contacted at about 6 p.m. Wednesday about a possible armed robbery at the Verizon Wireless Cellular Plus store located at 700 Johnson Lane.

Within 20 minutes of the theft, Joseph Robert Daugherty, 36, was found in a pickup truck near MetraPark, about five miles from the store, by members of the Yellowstone County Sheriff's Office.

Facing one charge of felony theft, Daugherty's bond was set at $30,000 when he appeared in Yellowstone County Justice Court on Thursday.

YCSO Lt. Dan Paris attributed the quick arrest of Daugherty on Wednesday to a combination of "very good information and public assistance."

The store employee who said she had been showing Daugherty cell phones when she turned her back to him, told police she saw him walking away with the stolen phones before he had left the store. That employee said she confronted Daugherty in the parking lot and reached toward the back of his shirt.

At that point, Daugherty told her "'these phones aren't worth your life,'" according to court documents. As the employee yelled out to another employee the license plate number for the truck Daugherty ran to, he was seen "trying to rip off his license plate," according to court documents.

"She said the Defendant told her two or three more times that the phones were not worth her life," documents say. "She said he told her three times he would shoot her. She said that after the Defendant told her he would shoot her, she realized he might be serious and she stopped pursuing him."

A man in the drive-through lane of a nearby tobacco shop saw women chasing Daugherty into the area of a nearby Ace Hardware. That man, "after seeing the escalation and hearing the women screaming," followed Daugherty southbound onto Johnson Lane and took photos during the pursuit, which he later provided to law enforcement, according to court documents.

Found inside the pickup truck police say Daugherty was driving were the two phones said to be stolen, both 65 GB Samsung Galaxy S8's, one in "Orchid Gray" and one in "Midnight Black." Also inside the truck was an empty box for a Taurus Millenium G2 9mm handgun. Court documents state that a weapon was not found. The truck was not registered to Daugherty.

Interviews with store employees suggested that Daugherty had called earlier in the day in what was described as "a suspicious phone call from a male about possible employment," during which they were asked how many people work at the store at once and how many people were there at the time of the call. "They said later, an extremely suspicious male came into the store, looked around the store and asked a lot of questions that did not entail their services," according to court documents. That person was described as bald, having facial hair including "possibly a goatee," and "possibly having tattoos." That description was similar to the one given of the suspected cellphone thief.

A phone number from the suspicious call earlier was found to be Daugherty's personal phone number, according to court documents.

After he was taken into custody near MetraPark, Daugherty "was sobbing and saying he was sorry, and that 'they made me do it,'" according to court documents. He continued to express remorse in a later interview, during which he admitted to calling the store earlier and stealing the phones, according to court documents.

Out on bail from Carbon County and with his life "going downhill," Daugherty said he was "hanging out with a bad group of people," and that he'd stolen the phones to prove "'he was 'not a square,'" to a man he said threatened to kill him.

One cell phone was to go to that man, and another was to be sold and the money sent to loved ones, Daugherty said. Of the threats toward the employee, Daugherty said he was unable to run because of limited use of his arms and legs and that "as the employee got closer he thought she was going to tackle him to the ground and injure him," according to court documents.

"He said out of fear he faced the employee and told her the phones were not worth her life," documents state.


Night Reporter

General assignment reporter for The Billings Gazette.