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December 31, 2013

911 caller describes fatal bank robbery in Phoenix

PHOENIX — A 911 caller told a dispatcher that a masked man had run into a Phoenix bank and then calmly described how police fatally shot the suspect as he exited the building minutes later with a bag of cash, emergency tapes released Monday showed.

The 911 call and surveillance footage taken during the weekend robbery were released as investigators tried to piece together how the man connected to two bank robberies in the Southeast last week ended up 1,500 miles away in Phoenix.

Mario Edward Garnett, 40, died in a police shootout Saturday morning while trying to flee the Compass Bank branch in west Phoenix.

Authorities have connected Garnett to a Dec. 23 bank robbery attempt in Atlanta, a bank robbery later that same day in Tupelo, Miss., and the shooting death of Tupelo Officer Gale Stauffer and the wounding of Officer Joseph Maher.

The robberies came about five months after Garnett was released from federal prison. He was incarcerated for nearly two years after pleading guilty to threatening to kill President Barack Obama in 2010.

Three minutes into the Phoenix 911 call, the caller said the masked man exited the bank and started firing at an officer who had just arrived. A detective who came to the officer’s aid killed Garnett.

“They’re shooting, they’re shooting,” he said. Ten seconds later: “One guy down. He’s down.” The caller, who was getting breakfast at a nearby restaurant when he reported the robbery, said the wounded man was on the ground and not moving.

No one else was injured in the robbery or gunbattle.

A 12-second clip of bank surveillance video shows a man walking in wearing a dark ski cap and a bandanna over his face. He stops to place a wedge on the floor to keep the door from closing behind him, then moves briskly into the bank pointing a handgun.

Another clip shows the robber, still holding a gun, pulling a bag from his back pocket. On the last few seconds of the video, the man walks to the exit holding the bag and picks up the doorstop before dashing outside.

Many questions remain about the robberies and Garnett’s trip from Mississippi to Arizona.

The Phoenix Police Department said Garnett had no known family, friends or other connections to Arizona. It was unclear where Garnett had been and what he had been doing while in Arizona. He drove a rental car, but police said it wasn’t rented in Phoenix. They aren’t revealing where it was rented.

The FBI offices in Mississippi and Arizona declined to comment Monday.  

Authorities tied Garnett to the series of robberies through his cellphone. Records showed his phone was in Atlanta, Phoenix and Tupelo at the time of each incident, said the FBI’s special agent in charge in Jackson, Miss.

The agent, Daniel McMullen, has said there were “numerous similarities” between the three bank robberies, including the clothing worn by the suspect and statements he made during the incidents.

On Dec. 23, an armed man wearing a ski mask tried to rob a Bank of America branch in Atlanta, authorities said. After failing to get money from a teller, the man demanded and received an undisclosed amount from an ATM user in the bank’s lobby.

Later that day, someone stole an undisclosed amount of money from the BancorpSouth in Tupelo, Miss., before fleeing, the FBI said. The suspect ambushed two officers responding to a bank alarm, killing one and wounding the other, McMullen said.

Three years ago, Garnett pleaded guilty in Oklahoma to a federal charge of threatening to kill and inflict bodily harm on the president. The Secret Service said in court documents that Garnett posted threatening comments about Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the official White House website in August 2010.

Garnett was imprisoned from November 2011 until July 2013 at the low-security Federal Correctional Institution in Fort Worth, Texas.

The judge in his case recommended that Garnett be put in a facility to let prison authorities evaluate and address his mental health. U.S. Bureau of Prisons spokesman Chris Burke declined to say whether Garnett received mental health treatment at the Texas prison.

———

Sean Murphy reported from Oklahoma City. Michael Kunzelman in New Orleans, Holbrook Mohr in Jackson, Miss., and researcher Rhonda Shafner contributed to this report.

 

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