By Joe Johnson
A Barrow County man reportedly was arrested early Tuesday for burglarizing a store in the Georgia Square mall while the mall was closed for business.
According to an Athens-Clarke County police report, a security guard notified police at 2:49 a.m. that a white male was pushing a cart filled with items through the mall
As an officer arrived on scene, he was notified that the guard reported that a red SUV had sped away from the back of the mall, the report noted.
When one officer spotted the SUV and turned their patrol car around, the driver tried to hide the vehicle, and a second officer located it parked next to the entrance of the former JCPenney store at the mall, according to the report.
As the officer approached, the SUV drove away and the officer conducted a traffic stop of the vehicle on a mall access road.
The driver, identified as 33-year-old Matthew Wilkins Barnette of Winder, reportedly was sweating profusely and speaking rapidly.
Upon noticing the SUV contained numerous clothing items that were on hangers and tags still on them, the officer received Barnette’s permission to search, according to the report, which indicated that cash and property valued at over $3,000 that belonged to the mall’s 525 Fashion Outlet was recovered from the vehicle.
The stolen items included an air compressor, a computer, jewelry, eight purses, leather conditioner, 30 items of clothing, and $660 that was taken from the store’s cash register and safe, according to the report.
After he changed stories a couple of times, Barnette reportedly admitted to burglarizing the fashion outlet store, but said the items in his vehicle were going to be discarded, which an employee told police was untrue.
Police were unsure how Barnette got into the mall, but they said he burglarized the outlet store by sliding under its security gate.
Also recovered from the SUV were two Xanax bars, a gray, rock-like substance that was suspected by police to be fentanyl, and multiple syringes.
Barnette was arrested on two counts of second-degree burglary, criminal trespass, possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance, and obstruction of a law enforcement officer.
He was being held without bond as of late afternoon Tuesday at the Clarke County Jail.