Big mistake: Bank robbery turns out to be false alarm

Chris Moore / The Item
Officers had their guns drawn at the Wachovia Bank at 1119 Broad Street during what was thought to be a robbery attempt. In actuality, a courier, Charles Montgomery, was trying to make a deposit for his company.

Item City Editor

It looked like a classic bank robbery: police diverting traffic from the front of the Wachovia bank at 1119 Broad St. ... officers with guns drawn surrounding the bank ... a large crowd of onlookers gathering to see what was happening.

What everyone thought was the bank being robbed about 2 p.m. Wednesday actually turned out to be a courier innocently trying make a large deposit for his company.

Charles Montgomery, the courier in question, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

"This individual came into the bank and put down his bag," said Sumter Police Chief Patty Patterson. "He was acting suspicious and asked for a piece of paper. A teller thought she was being robbed and hit the panic button."

Actually, the teller taking the deposit completed the transaction unaware that another teller thought there was a robbery in progress, Patterson said.

The call was dispatched to officers as a woman wearing blue scrubs inside robbing the bank.

Chris Moore / The Item
Carol Whitfield talks with Detective Chevis Ridgeway as they hold her for questioning. Whitfield was released after they discovered she was not involved in the so-called bank robbery at Wachovia on Broad Street that turned out to be a false alarm.
Moments later, the bank parking lot was swarmed as both marked and unmarked police cars descended upon the area.

And that's when Carol Whitfield's day took a turn for the worse.

Whitfield, wearing blue scrubs, was leaving the bank just as police officers arrived.

Officers grabbed Whitfield, put handcuffs on her and put her into the back seat of a police cruiser.

"They asked me if I had robbed the bank or knew anybody who robbed the bank," she said. "I've never been in the back of police car before. I just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Another customer, Lawrence McCoy, had only slightly better luck.

"When I walked out the door (of the bank) police grabbed me and pulled me around beside the bank," McCoy said. "I was hungry and me and my wife had just pulled in to get some money to go get something to eat. I still had my receipt in my hand as I came out."

Chris Moore / The Item
Capt. Jeffery Jackson leads Montgomery to a nearby patrol car after exiting Wachovia. The innocent courier was trying to make a deposit when he was mistaken as a robber by a teller.
McCoy's wife, Linda, was waiting in the couple's white Ford Mustang when she saw police cars with blue lights flashing fill the parking lot around her.

"I figured the bank was being robbed," she said. "I thought, 'Do I really want to be where I am?' I was still wearing my seatbelt and was wondering if the bank robber came out if I should lay down or get out of the car."

About that time, she saw police grab her husband as he exited the bank.

"I knew he was safe then," she said.

Moments later, a police officer appeared at her car window and asked her to come with him.

"I was never frightened for me," she said.

For the next hour police interviewed witnesses as Montgomery sat handcuffed in the back of a police cruiser. About 3:30 p.m., the police car pulled away with him inside.

Wachovia corporate spokeswoman Christine Shaw made a statement on behalf of the bank.
"We regret the circumstances of the situation," she said. "We train our employees for a variety of circumstances and believe our employees were reacting in an abundance of caution. We apologize for any inconvenience to anyone for this situation."

Patterson isn't making any apologies by the response from law enforcement.

"We responded as we should have responded," she said. "Once we were able to get him in custody and put the pieces of the puzzle together, this is what we got."

Lawrence McCoy said he was comforted by the fast response by police.

"I give them lots of credit," he said. "They were on the scene in a hurry. That fellow wasn't getting out of the bank."

There were no injuries and no charges will be filed.

Contact City Editor Ken Bell at kbell@theitem.com or (803) 774-1225.

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Comment by Engineco913 on February 14, 2008 at 5:10pm
Makes me want to go cash my paycheck... lol
Comment by Mary Holland on February 14, 2008 at 10:20am
Haha, not to mention 2 Ambulances and the onshift Supervisor being on scene! Gotta love it!

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