Chester fugitive arrested, accused of stealing beer from Rock Hill store

A convicted felon who spent six years in federal prison when he was found guilty of robbing two Rock Hill postal workers has the attention of police, deputies and U.S. Marshals after authorities say he stole beer from a convenience store.

Imari Rashad Nelson of Chester had not been on probation an entire year after his release from prison when police say he and three other men pulled up to the Sam Mart on Saluda Road in a blue Ford Crown Victoria on Wednesday evening.

After calling police to alert them to the 6:50 p.m. theft, a store employee told officers one of the men got out of the car as the others pulled off and parked at the apartments across the street, according to a Rock Hill Police report. The man, later identified as the 31-year-old Nelson, walked into the store and grabbed two 24 packs of beer worth $37.

He headed for the door, the employee told police. She asked Nelson: “What are you doing, are you going to pay for those?” She also gave him a warning: “If not, I’m calling the police.”

Nelson ran out the door, the report states.

Another employee told officers she followed Nelson to get the tag number of the car. Nelson turned and told her to return to the store or they would rob it later, she told police.

He jumped into the back seat of the Crown Victoria, the report states. The car with four people inside drove off on S.C. 72 toward Chester County. Rock Hill Police contacted Chester County Sheriff’s Office.

Deputies stopped the car at the J.A. Cochran Bypass and detained the four suspects, according to a Chester County Sheriff’s report. Authorities found the stolen cases of beer in the back seat along with three open cans. All four were charged with open container.

A Rock Hill Police officer went to Chester and determined that Nelson matched the description of the suspect on Sam Mart’s surveillance video. Police charged Nelson with shoplifting and disorderly conduct offering violence. Deputies noted they had outstanding warrants for Nelson that charge him with shoplifting. Authorities also learned that Nelson was wanted by the U.S. Marshals Service after federal warrants were issued for his arrest last week.

Those warrants say Nelson violated terms of his probation when he was arrested last month in Myrtle Beach after police found him with 114 grams of marijuana in a hotel elevator, according to a Myrtle Beach Police report. He also stashed a tablet of MDMA, commonly known as ecstasy, in a box of cigarettes. He was arrested and charged with possession of a controlled substance and possession with intent to distribute other controlled substances before his release five days later on a $3,500 bond.

Nelson’s other probation violations, according to court documents, include a February conviction for disorderly conduct in Chester County and Nelson’s alleged failure to pay $350 in restitution.

He was being held Friday evening at the Chester County Detention Center awaiting pickup by U.S. Marshals and Rock Hill Police.

After his latest charges, authorities are not yet sure which agency will take custody of Nelson first. The U.S. Probation Office in Columbia declined to comment.

In 2007, Nelson, also known as “E,” was found guilty on a four-count indictment accusing him of working with three others to rob the post office on South Wilson Street in downtown Rock Hill a year earlier. According to the indictments, Nelson and the three other suspects – one of them a former employee at the post office – robbed two postal workers of nearly $17,000. Nelson, court documents show, carried a .22 caliber pistol that the suspects later got rid of before going to a house in Chester and divvying up an undisclosed amount of money.

He was sentenced to seven years and three months in federal prison followed by five years’ probation. Court records show he was released from prison last August.

If suspects arrested on federal warrants still have charges pending in state courts, Circuit Court judges might first sentence the defendants before they appear in federal court, said Beth Drake, spokeswoman with the U.S. Attorney’s Office. But, federal authorities can also “rip” suspects from state custody so their cases can be closed in federal court, she said, and then return them to police so they can face the rest of their charges in a state court.

Defendants accused of violating their federal probation typically appear before the judge who sentenced them initially during a “mini trial” in which federal prosecutors will have to prove that the accused is guilty of a probation violation, Drake said. Judges then wield a “host of sentencing options,” which can include modifying or changing a defendant’s probation or revoking it completely.

It was unclear Friday when Nelson would be taken into federal custody, or if the U.S. Marshals would claim him before or after going to court on his charges in Chester County.

The Herald’s Rachel Southmayd contributed