The women’s shoe store Naturalizer, located at the Ultra Outlets in Medford, was robbed on Tuesday night, according to the Steele County Sheriff’s Office. Law enforcement is working to see if a second robbery about an hour later in Faribault is connected. (Allison Miller/People’s Press)

Law enforcement in Rice and Steele counties are working to see if a suspect in two Tuesday night robberies is the same man.

About 7:15 p.m., the Naturalizer store at the Ultra Outlets in Medford was robbed, according to the Steele County Sheriff’s Office.

Sheriff Lon Thiele said an employee of the women’s shoe store reported that a black male wearing a heavy, black coat and a scarf over his face had entered the store and made a comment about a gun, but did not display one.

The only item reported taken by the suspect is the employee’s personal cell phone.

About an hour later, Faribault officers were dispatched to a reported robbery in progress at JoAnn Fabrics at 200 Western Ave. just off Highway 60 and the interstate.

The suspect was gone by the time officers arrived.

Two employees on duty at the time the suspect reportedly entered the store told investigators that the man entered the store a few minutes prior to the officers’ arrival and said he was waiting for a ride. The suspect approached one employee, asking to buy some merchandise. When the employee moved toward the cash register, the suspect approached her from behind, poked her in the back with an object and told her to open the register.

The employee said she could not, and the suspect instructed her to scan merchandise and open the register. The suspect hit the employee in the back two to three times and fled the store. The clerk described the weapon as a baton. The employee suffered bruising from the assault, but did not require medical attention. No money or merchandise was taken.

At the same time, a second employee heard their coworker screaming, and ran to the back of the store and called police.

The suspect is described as a black male, approximately 6 feet tall, and wearing a black puffy coat, black beanie hat, black sweatpants, black shoes, gloves and a gray scarf over his face. No vehicle description was received.

“Our detectives are working diligently to identify this person,” said Faribault Police Chief Andy Bohlen. “We are grateful for the quick action of the employee to call police. Our thoughts are with the employees as they recover from this traumatic encounter.”

Detectives are working to obtain surveillance footage from the JoAnn’s robbery and will release any security images that may help identify the suspected robber. Anyone with information in that case is asked to contact Faribault Police Sgt. Matt Long at 507-334-0952.

The Medford incident also remains under investigation. Anyone who has any information regarding that robbery is encouraged to contact the Steele County Sheriff’s Office or the tip line at 866-878-7964 if they would like to remain anonymous.

Reach Reporter Annie Granlund at 507-444-2378 or follow her on Twitter @OPPAnnie. ©Copyright 2019 APG Media of Southern Minnesota.

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