The homeless man accused of trying to set a store manager on fire after he tried to stop him for stealing groceries faced a judge in a Riverside County courtroom Tuesday afternoon.
Raul Bautista, 31, entered a plea of not guilty to one count of attempted murder and one count of robbery.
According to the Riverside County Sheriff's Department, the incident happened on Thursday around 11:30 a.m. at the Food 4 Less grocery store on Alessandro Boulevard in Moreno Valley.
Deputies said Bautista attempted to leave the store with a grocery cart full of items without paying for them. When the store manager confronted him, deputies say Bautista doused the victim with lighter fluid, then pulled out a lighter and tried to set him on fire.
When deputies arrived, they saw a man matching the suspect's description fleeing the scene. A sheriff's K-9 and bloodhound was used to track the suspect. Deputies said Bautista was arrested a short time later without incident.
Kroger spokesperson Sunny Parr said in a statement, "At Food 4 Less, the safety of our associates and customers is our top priority. Our associates are in customer service and personal safety, and they strive to provide fresh, full and friendly stores to our communities. The shopping center has seen an unhoused transient population that comes and goes. We are not aware of any serious incidents that have occurred recently."
Some shoppers outside the store on Tuesday said the number of incidents regarding transients is on the rise.
"Lately it's been getting worse," said Damon Tony, of Moreno Valley. "This whole area has kind of been getting that way, right here to Alessandro and Perris, especially that center where the Arco is... it's real bad, the homeless are now really aggressive."
Bautista remains behind bars with bail set at $1 million. His next scheduled court appearance is Sept. 2.