Police: Vista restaurant robbery may have been an inside job

Published: Jun. 9, 2016 at 9:13 AM EDT|Updated: Jun. 10, 2016 at 1:32 AM EDT
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Surveillance photo from Hickory Tavern robbery (Source: CPD)
Surveillance photo from Hickory Tavern robbery (Source: CPD)

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Columbia Police suspect an employee of a popular Vista restaurant that was robbed last week may have been involved in the crime.

Police say the man who claimed he was a victim in the robbery is now a suspect in the case.

Police arrested Jermaine Heller on Wednesday, charging him with armed robbery, kidnapping and criminal conspiracy.

Heller told investigators that he and another man were robbed at gunpoint and forced to stay inside a room after the robbery at the Hickory Tavern last week. Heller was an employee of the restaurant. He no longer works there.

RELATED: See photos from the scene of the crime.

After reviewing surveillance video, police determined that Heller was a co-conspirator.

"It's not uncommon to find those in robberies. It's a common thing," said Matt McCoy, CPD criminal investigator. "With that time of day, with that location and what not, and with the video, it was easy to determine that."

Heller has a criminal background dating back to 1990. He most recently served a sentence in the S.C. Department of Corrections for second-degree burglary. After being released from prison Dec. 30, 2011, he started probation. Heller finished his probation sentence Feb. 20, 2015.

While in prison, he worked as a wardkeeper, food service aide, furniture assembler and general worker, according to DOC spokeswoman Stephanie Givens.

Investigators are looking for a second man seen in a surveillance photo with the blue baseball cap and black T-shirt.

The robber got away with cash. Nobody was injured.

If you recognize the man in the blue baseball cap and black tee-shirt in the attached surveillance photo, contact Crimestoppers in any of the following ways: CALL toll-free, 888-CRIME-SC. TEXT to CRIMES (274637), and mark the beginning of the message with "TIPSC," followed by the tip information. LOG, and click on the red "Submit a tip" tab.

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