Robber who used bomb threat is still on the lam
Aspen Times Staff Writer
The man who robbed the Alpine Bank branch at the Aspen Business Center Tuesday was still eluding police yesterday.
The last time anyone reported seeing the man – who walked into the bank at 10:20 a.m., said he had a bomb and demanded cash – was after he ran from the bank with an undisclosed amount of money in the direction of Highway 82.
“Nobody saw the guy after he left the bank,” said Joe DiSalvo, director of investigations for the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office. When asked if he left the scene in a getaway car, DiSalvo said, “It’s possible.”
No one was injured in the robbery. The bank was closed for the day on Tuesday but reopened for business on Wednesday.
DiSalvo and four other deputies are working with the FBI and the Aspen Police Department on the case. The bank robber is wanted for armed robbery, even though no bomb or weapon was seen or found after the robbery.
“That threat is taken seriously,” DiSalvo said. “It is armed robbery.”
The robber was described as about 5-foot-6, 180 pounds with brown eyes, short dark hair, and a prominent bald spot. He was wearing a tan canvas jacket, black pants and white tennis shoes.
About 20 people have called in with tips or leads, and four local investigators are following up, along with an FBI agent in Glenwood Spring.
“We’re still dealing with a lot of fresh information coming in,” DiSalvo said. “We’re far from running out of things to do.”
One thing police have been doing in the wake of Tuesday’s bank robbery is dealing with public reaction to a photo in Wednesday’s Aspen Times. The photo, by staff photographer Paul Conrad, showed an Aspen police officer and a Pitkin County sheriff’s deputy walking through the ABC on Tuesday morning with guns drawn.
One has a pistol, and the other is carrying an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle in the picture.
“We’ve had some calls,” DiSalvo said. Most of the callers were questioning whether officers may have overreacted by brandishing rifles while searching for the bank robber.
But DiSalvo said neither he nor Sheriff Bob Braudis disapproved of their deputies’ choice to search for a potentially armed and dangerous bank robber with their guns drawn, or disapproved of their choice of using the AR-15, which has been standard issue for Pitkin County deputies since about 1990.
“It is an absolutely appropriate response,” DiSalvo said. “We don’t know what we’re walking into. And the threat is that this person has just committed a major crime. If he was just about to be caught, he could have gotten desperate. These wouldn’t be brandished unless an officer thought his life was in danger.”
The AR-15 was developed in the 1960s and was issued to U.S. military personnel in the Vietnam War as the M-16 rifle. Upgraded models are today widely used by the military and law enforcement personnel. The gun is known for its accuracy and reliability. It is sometimes referred to as an “assault rifle” and was the subject of federal legislation that requires some modifications for civilian use.
While a total of 18 law enforcement officers were at or near the ABC in the first hour after the bank robbery, there were several pairs of officers searching on foot with their guns drawn. Of those, at least three – from either the Aspen Police Department or the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office – were carrying AR-15 rifles.
And as they searched the streets and buildings of the business center, they walked past employees and customers in the ABC going about their day.
But, DiSalvo said, if the officers had come across an armed, dangerous and desperate man who was also a threat to the public, a deputy or an officer might have better been able to protect the public by responding with a rifle, which is much more accurate at a distance.
“We’ve always had some kind of long gun for long-range protection,” DiSalvo said, adding that each deputy keeps one in his patrol car and that deputies train at least four times a year with the weapons.
And he made two other points. One, he has faith in his deputies to use their best judgment. Two, he would rather have people ask why a deputy had a rifle instead of why not, especially in the past tense if harm had come to the deputy.
[Brent Gardner-Smith’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org]
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