Police issue sketch of Palo Alto assault and robbery suspect

PALO ALTO, Calif. (KTVU) --  Police in Palo Alto released a sketch Monday night of a man they say punched a woman and stole her purse early Sunday evening as she was tending to her baby in a stroller.

Police say it was a random attack in a busy area on Middlefield Road north of Loma Verde Avenue.

The attack happened in front of the newspaper racks in front of a Philz Coffee in broad daylight. The mother and her baby are okay, but understandably the neighborhood is shaken up.

Neighbors call the 1300 block of Middlefield Road one of the friendlier, more diverse corners of Palo Alto where people walk, bike, drink coffee and mothers take their children out for a stroll.

On Sunday night, police said at around 6:40 p.m., a mother in her 30s was pushing her baby in a stroller on the sidewalk when her infant started crying. Naturally, she bent over to take care of her kid. Police said a robber saw her as easy prey.

“She felt somebody tugging at her purse that was on her shoulder,” said Lt. Zach Perron of Palo Alto Police. “The person then punched her in the side of the head, ripped the purse off her shoulder and ran away.”

Police said he cold cocked her. Witnesses helped officers create a sketch. The woman suffered an abrasion to her ear. Her baby was unharmed.

Lt. Perron said he's never encountered a crime like this one in his 17-year career.

“This is a total new one for me and it's disgusting,” said Lt. Perron. “I can't think of a more cowardly act. This guy is really the lowest of the low."

While the target is surprising, what's also surprising is where it happened in front of this busy strip mall with plenty of foot traffic. 

Workers at the Philz Coffee said it was customers who sprang into action and helped the mother giving chase to the suspect. He was last seen heading into a nearby residential neighborhood.

“I don't understand how and where this came from,” said Brian Wax of Palo Alto. “his is not your local place where you would take on an activity like this. It just doesn't make sense."

Police believe it is an isolated incident but are stepping up patrols. Meantime, locals to the area can't help but be more vigilant now when they are walking with their kids.

“It's concerning,” said Heidi Vermire of Palo Alto. “It’s like you have to watch your back wherever you are going.”

Palo Alto Police are relying heavily on the sketch since they have any usable surveillance video from the businesses. If you recognize the man in the sketch or know anything about the crime, police want you to call them at (650) 329-2413.

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