By Verena Dobnik
NEW YORK — A would-be robber threatened a bank employee with a steak knife in one of the busiest spots in Manhattan on Thursday, but his escape was halted by a police officer's bullet that sent pedestrians ducking for cover, police and witnesses said.
Uniformed police officers followed the 69-year-old man as he fled from the Chase bank branch located right next to entrances to Madison Square Garden and Pennsylvania Station and shot him in the leg after he refused several orders to drop the knife, police said.
The shooting happened in front of an Amtrak loading dock, down the block from a heavily trafficked stretch of street. The man was taken to a hospital, where he was in stable condition, conscious and speaking to doctors, police said.
Investigators believe the man had recently been released from prison after serving time for an armed bank robbery, said New York Police Department spokesman Paul Browne.
Freelance journalist Ethan Harp thought he was hearing nothing more than the usual Manhattan construction noise when he heard a boom as he crossed West 31st Street. It was only once he heard a second boom that he ducked behind a truck.
When he emerged, he saw a man wearing a hooded jacket lying on the ground with three or four officers standing over him.
"He appeared to be awake and alert," Harp said of the injured man, while "the officer seemed very calm."
Browne said the man had entered the bank and demanded $50 and $100 bills from a customer service representative. After she told him she didn't have any money, he repeated the demand while brandishing the steak knife, Browne said.
When a bank manager approached, the man walked out. The manager followed him and alerted two officers in a parked patrol car, who followed the man into Penn Station.
The knife wasn't visible as the man walked past several shops and up an escalator to a less crowded area, Browne said. When the officers confronted him outside, he pulled out the weapon, he said.
Browne said the man refused several orders to drop the knife and continued to walk away. The officers confronted him again and, when he again ignored orders to disarm, one of them fired twice, striking him in the right thigh.
The man was carrying identification indicating he had been a federal inmate, Browne said.
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After the shooting, police tape enclosed the bank and authorities closed off much of the block where the shooting took place.