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Police review bank robberies for connections

Law enforcement officials are reviewing bank robberies around the Wichita area over the past several months to see whether they were committed by any of the three men arrested following Wednesday's robbery of Equity Bank.

One of the suspects, a man who turned 29 on Thursday, was shot and wounded by police as he attempted to flee officers in a courtyard at the Village Park at Woodgate apartment complex in the 5400 block of East 21st Street.

He is in serious condition at Wesley Medical Center, Deputy Police Chief Tom Stolz said.

The other suspects, two 28-year-old men, were arrested inside apartments in Building 12 of the complex, Stolz said.

"We're going to take a hard look at all of our bank robberies in the last six months... and see if they tie together or not," he said.

The suspect wounded by police had been released from federal prison in September after serving time for a bank robbery conviction, Stolz said. The other two suspects have "extensive criminal backgrounds," he said.

Two components played key roles in the rapid discovery and apprehension of the suspects, Stolz said: preparation by police and alert citizens.

"We had very good witnesses on this case," he said, adding that bank employees and neighbors of the bank "saw things that helped us."

Given the number of bank robberies in recent weeks — many of them on or near Webb Road — officers had been placed on a special assignment to monitor banks and watch for cars reported stolen.

"We have a method of operation where they will steal a car and then use that stolen car to rob the bank," Stolz said. "Any stolen car gets extremely high priority on our radar because they could use it to commit a further felony crime."

The officers on special assignment happened to be in northeast Wichita when the bank was robbed.

"We had no knowledge that it was going to be this particular bank, this particular date, this particular time," Stolz said.

It was more a matter of hanging out in an area that had been targeted previously and "hope you get lucky," he said.

How the day unfolded

Police say this is how Wednesday's events unfolded:

The Equity Bank at 555 N. Webb Road was robbed at 10:39 a.m. by three suspects wearing masks and hoods. Two were armed — one with a machine pistol — and the third collected money.

They ran from the bank and got into a stolen Chevy Tahoe, which they drove a short distance northeast to the 9700 block of Von Thaden, where they dumped the Tahoe and took off in a stolen blue Ford Escape.

Officers responding to the reported bank robbery spotted the Escape going west on 21st Street near Rock Road. Once they determined it had been stolen, they attempted to pull over the vehicle.

A short chase ensued before the three suspects bailed from the car at the northwest corner of the apartment complex between Oliver and Woodlawn.

One of them ran north and east from the car, but was cut off by officers who were entering the opposite side of the complex. He ran from them, ignoring commands to stop running and put his hands where officers could see them.

A veteran officer fired "multiple times" when he saw the suspect reach toward his waistband, Stolz said. The suspect was hit in the torso and lower body.

He did not have a weapon, officers learned. Both guns used in the bank robbery were recovered in the stolen Ford Escape.

When looking at why an officer opened fire on the suspect, Stolz said, "the totality of circumstances" must be taken into consideration.

Officers knew there had been several bank robberies in recent weeks involving armed suspects. They were responding to a confirmed bank robbery with weapons involved. They knew the suspects were fleeing a violent crime in a stolen vehicle.

"When you put all that together and when you see a person not listening to your commands, and you see furtive gestures that appear suspicious... it's more than just what happens at that particular minute," Stolz said.

Witnesses saw one of the other suspects run into Building 12, where he was apprehended a short time after he forced his way into an apartment.

At that point, the SWAT team was called in. A search of Buildings 12 and 13 was then conducted, and the third suspect was found in another apartment in Building 12.

Because the suspect was let into the apartment freely, officers took three people at the apartment downtown for questioning to see whether they were accomplices. But all three have been released, and police have no evidence linking them to the crime.

Police have recovered both stolen vehicles used in the crime, and they think they have recovered all of the stolen money.

The FBI is assisting in the bank robbery investigation, and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation is looking into the officer-involved shooting.

Evidence in the case will be presented to the U.S. Attorney's Office, which will determine what charges — if any — will be filed.

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