When a Lodi police traffic employee tracked down two suspected bank robbers last month, she had no idea the suspects would soon be linked to a total of four other bank robberies in Stockton.
Since then, Stockton police say, the city seems to have seen fewer robberies. And Lodi has had no further robberies.
However, the attorney representing the suspects said the Stockton allegations are weak.
Willie James Rogers, 23, and Michael Brochard Bowen, 22, are both accused of robbing Guaranty Bank on North Church Street around 11 a.m. Aug. 22. They were arrested within 40 minutes after one of them ran past Traffic Services Officer Aleisa Nunes and greeted her, then jumped in a car and fled.
"You don't know what it leads to; I just knew I had the suspects that (dispatchers) were airing on the radio," said Nunes, who is not a sworn officer and generally spends her shifts writing parking tickets and dealing with non-injury traffic accidents.
In fact, until a Sept. 6 preliminary hearing on the Lodi bank robbery charges, Nunes had never been in criminal court, though she's been called countless times to testify in traffic court.
"I've never gone to jury duty - I've always been excused before I show up - so I never set foot in criminal court," she said Tuesday.
But she did testify against Rogers and Bowen, recounting how one man ran past her as she wrote a parking ticket and jumped in a car, and then she heard a pop. Prosecutors believe that was a red dye pack exploding, based on the evidence left in the car and the dye all over the suspects' clothing.
Soon after the robbery was reported, Lodi police officers began heading to main roads leading to freeways trying to head off the suspects, Nunes, however, said she had heard the suspects' car and thought it was having mechanical problems and wouldn't travel far. So she began searching the nearby neighborhood, and found the car on Daisy Avenue. By the time officers arrived, Nunes had begun talking to witnesses at Sacramento Street businesses and learned that the suspects were still in the area.
"The (deputy) district attorney said to me, 'You do realize that if it wasn't for you we wouldn't have caught them, don't you?' I said eventually we would have found them," Nunes said.
Prosecutors filed robbery charges the next day against both Rogers and Bowen, of Stockton.
Five days later, Stockton investigators had linked the men to additional robberies, and those charges were also filed. Each is charged with robbing two other Stockton banks, Deputy District Attorney Mark Ott said.
Rogers is charged with the July 7 robbery of Bank of the West, in which a man entered the bank around 10:15 a.m. and gave the teller a note demanding money, Stockton police spokesman Pete Smith said. Then on Aug. 15 a suspect, identified in court papers as Rogers, also used a demand note, that time at Washington Mutual around 3:50 p.m.
About 25 minutes later, around 4:15 p.m., a suspect entered Bank of the West and demanded money, Smith said, and Bowen is charged with that robbery. He is also charged with the Aug. 2 robbery of Bank of America, when a man demanded money around 9 a.m.
A preliminary hearing on those charges is scheduled for Oct. 3. Bowen's court appointed-attorney, Doug Goss, said Tuesday that the Stockton allegations are weaker than the Lodi case and that he has seen no bank surveillance videos connecting Bowen to the robberies.
Bowen remains in the San Joaquin County Jail in lieu of $175,000 bail. Rogers, who was on parole for a cocaine sales conviction, is being held without bail at Deuel Vocational Institute in Tracy.
Each faces a penalty of up to five years for robbery, plus an additional year for each subsequent robbery charge, for a total of seven years in prison, Ott said. That does not count any parole or probation violations, and the convictions could count as strikes under California's three-strikes law.
Crimes continue to happen, but a string of bank robberies seems to have slowed or stopped, Smith said.
"You've got a small percentage of the population responsible for a high percentage of the crimes, so when you get some of them off the streets, it helps," he said.
Nunes, who received a written letter of commendation from the Lodi Police Department, didn't know bank robberies seemed to have slowed, but was glad to hear the news.
She joined the department in February 2002 as a dispatcher and jailer, then switched to her the traffic division the following year.
After her testimony at the preliminary hearing, Deputy District Attorney Ron Richards said she should become a police officer, but Nunes said she's happy with her current job.
First published: Wednesday, September 27, 2006