3 bank robbery suspects appear in court

May 20, 2009 2:59:03 PM PDT
Three South Side men appeared in federal court on Wednesday. They were charged with bank robbery and using firearms in the commission of a violent act. The Calumet City bank reopened one day after a robbery that triggered a police chase and a shootout.

PHOTO GALLERY: Surveillance images from Calumet City bank robbery

The suspects could go to prison for over 32 years if they're found guilty of robbing the bank on Tuesday in Calumet City. In court on Wednesday, they were somber as a federal judge explained the charges against them.

Leandre Earl, 30, in hospital garb and sporting a gunshot wound through his left arm, as well as Anthony Pickens,19, and Harvell Harris appeared in federal court less than 24 hours after police say they held up a Citibank branch in Calumet City. After escaping with over $23,000 dollars, the criminal complaint in their case says the trio took police on a high speed chase from the south suburbs towards Chicago.

"It was a great effort by the Calumet City Police Department. They were aided by somebody in the bank early on, which allowed them to get to the scene rather quickly," said Robert Grant, FBI special agent In charge.

The complaint says the older Earl claims he was the driver and crashed the car on the Bishop Ford Expressway after Harris, who allegedly came up with the robbery plan, pointed a .45 used in the heist towards him. Harris apparently said he wasn't going to jail. Earl says Harris fired at police, injuring a Calumet City officer in the thigh.

"Throughout my career I've always been amazed that people actually try to rob a bank. With the technology it is the most surveilled location where money is found and the least amount of proceeds," said Ross Rice, FBI spokesperson.

As the FBI unveiled a Web site profiling unsolved Chicago area bank robberies,www.bandittrackerChicago.com, the agency said the activity is on the rise.

The Calumet City police officer is 44-year-old Robert Heinic, a 14-year member of the force. He is a member of a canine unit and was at a routine training event with his dog when he heard the call on the radio and gave chase. He was shot through the calf.

One of the suspects, Leandre Earl, served four years in prison for bank robbery and was paroled in 2003.

It started at a bank located in the 1700-block of River Oaks Drive in Calumet City.

It was a chase and shootout that messed up the evening commute Tuesday. Because it was a bank robbery, this is a federal case.

"His gun and told everybody in the bank raise your hands," said customer Amir El-Sharif.

The robbery and dangerous chase began around 2:15 p.m. when three men armed with guns entered a Citibank branch in Calumet City. During the robbery, someone called 911, and the suspects took off. Their attempted getaway started on the Bishop Ford Freeway at 130th Street.

"Officers began responding all along the expressway to all the entrance routes along both sides of the expressway, hoping to get a description," said Edward Gilmore, Calumet City police chief.

The suspects' car eventually blew a tire and crashed. That's when a shootout started with suspects opening fire on police as they tried to make a run for it. The shootout wounded one Calumet City police officer and one of the suspects.

Dozens of Chicago police, state police officers from the south suburbs and FBI agents then converged on a nearby forest preserve and neighborhood. They captured one suspect right away. It took them a few hours to capture the other two.

During the search, Carver Military Academy, located at 133rd and Doty, was placed on lockdown.

"I was scared for a moment, but the sergeants and everything, they told us to calm down," said Carver student Ema Tello.

One of the suspects was reportedly wounded in the arm during the shooting with police, but the extent of those injuries is unknown. Another suspect was recovered by canine units from the swamp area. His clothes were soaked from apparently trying to swim his way to freedom.

"Everybody was really scared," said El-Sharif, who entered the bank a few minutes before the gunmen.

The Bishop Ford was closed from about 130th to 135th streets while officials searched for the suspects. It was reopened Tuesday evening.

Police say they recovered cash and a gun in the suspects' car.

Calumet's police chief thanked drivers for their patience while being stuck on the Bishop Ford. He said he is also relieved the shootout was not any worse.

"That shows you the mindset of these criminals and they were armed and dangerous and set to do whatever they needed to do to get away. I don't know who opened fire first. I'm presuming they opened fire first, and we returned fire. But I can't tell you that definitively," said Gilmore.

Students from Carver Military Academy were allowed to go home on Tuesday evening.

All three defendants remain in federal custody pending their next scheduled court appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Arlander Keys at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, May 26, according to the U.S. Attorney's office.

The STNG Wire contributed to this report.


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