04/20/2007

Ill. man fatally shot by police following bank robbery

By Ron Ingram
Herald & Review

DECATUR, Ill. — A 48-year-old Decatur man is jailed and his 27-year-old son is dead after they and a third man allegedly robbed the main office of Soy Capital Bank & Trust Co., 1501 E. Eldorado St., about 8:50 a.m. Wednesday.

Jerrell L. Chism was pronounced dead at 9:29 a.m. Wednesday in the St. Mary's Hospital emergency room, where he was taken after being shot in a confrontation with Decatur police officers.

His father, Steven D. Johnson, was in custody Wednesday. Federal bank robbery charges are expected to be filed today against Johnson by criminal complaint in U.S. District Court.

Police were at the bank within one minute of the robbery in response to an alarm, and a witness gave information on which way the suspects left, said Decatur Police Chief James Anderson during a joint news conference Wednesday afternoon with FBI public information officer Jon Parrish. The FBI entered the case because the bank is federally insured.

Decatur officers quickly found and pursued the suspects' vehicle, Parrish said. One man jumped from the moving car and escaped, he said.

When the vehicle was stopped, two men got out and ran, but one was apprehended, Parrish said.

Officers surrounded the area and confronted Chism as he ran through the north alley of the 700 block of East Clay Street.

Apparently an exchange of gunfire took place, although Parrish declined to provide details of the shooting. He said the incident remained under investigation by the Illinois State Police and the FBI.

Parrish said authorities were asking for the public's help in identifying the third suspect. He said as of Wednesday afternoon that the man's name was unknown.

Anyone with information can contact Decatur police at 424-2711 or CrimeStoppers at 423-TIPS.

The third suspect was described as a black male, 5 feet 7 inches to 6 feet tall, medium build, having a mustache and goatee and wearing a black sweatshirt, camouflage pants and do-rag head covering and white athletic shoes.

Parrish said the three men entered the bank wearing masks or face coverings and armed with handguns. He said shots were fired inside the building, but neither bank employees nor customers were injured, and the gunfire was believed directed at the ceiling or walls to gain attention.

The trio took an undetermined amount of cash and fled, Parrish said. Some money was recovered when the suspects' vehicle was stopped, but whether that was all the missing cash was unknown Wednesday afternoon, he said.

Interviewed immediately after the robbery, bank customer James P. Smith said he had pulled up to the bank's drive-through window to cash a check. He said he heard gunshots while the teller was counting out his money.

Smith said he could see into the lobby and saw a man wearing a skull-type cap and dark clothing waving around a black semiautomatic gun, which he described to FBI agents and police.

"The teller motioned for me to go as she ducked down. I tried to put my truck in every gear just to get out of there," said Smith, still a little shaken by the incident.

"You're just not safe anywhere anymore," he added.

Even as police officers responded to the robbery alarm, they were coordinating their efforts, Anderson said. When the chase proceeded toward Johns Hill Magnet School, 1025 E. Johns Ave., Decatur School District officials were notified, he said.

Johns Hill; Phoenix III, 249 S. Webster St.; and Eisenhower High School, 1200 S. 16th St., were placed on lockdown as the search for the third robber continued in the neighborhoods of those schools.

"We had buses en route to Johns Hill at the time," said school district spokeswoman Dawn Hunter. "We had to notify the bus drivers to redirect them elsewhere."

The buses waited in the empty parking lot at the CVS Pharmacy on South 16th Street until the police and extra staff could get in place at the school, Hunter said. Then buses were brought to Johns Hill one at time, and students were unloaded and moved inside as quickly as possible, she said.

Field trips were canceled, and recess was held inside on Wednesday to keep children where they would be safest, Hunter said. Some parents came to the building to pick up their children or simply to comfort them, and a crisis intervention team was available for students, she said.

Eisenhower and Phoenix III returned to a normal schedule before the end of the day, while Johns Hill remained on lockdown until dismissal time. District administrators drafted a letter to send home with students to explain to parents what had happened.

The pursuit left schoolchildren and neighbors rattled.

Among them was Jessie Lucas, who lives across from Johns Hill.

"I was in my living room, and I heard rapid gunfire," Lucas said.

She and other neighbors quickly were concerned for the safety of students, who were just arriving for the school day.

"We started screaming for the kids to 'get down, get down,' and to get into the school," Lucas said.

Police guarded the school doors at Johns Hill as worried parents came to pick up their children.

Anderson said officers returned at the end of the school day to make sure there were no problems as students were dismissed.

Brothers Jaylen Adams, 8, and Jerome Adams, 11, walked to school and heard shots when they were on school grounds.

Jaylen said he took off running inside the school when he heard gunfire.

Danielle Hill, 11, said a suspect was driving erratically near the school and almost hit a crossing guard before he was arrested by police.

Alysia Palmer, 12, and Danielle agreed the ordeal was scary.

Gunfire and violence in the neighborhood is an all-too-common occurrence, said James Phillips, who came to visit his family.

"It's nothing new," Phillips said. "It's just how this street has been."

Officers of the Decatur Police Department Emergency Response Team were on a training exercise when the robbery occurred and arrived in their tactical gear to scour the Johns Hill neighborhood for the missing suspect.

Other officers were called back from vacation or came from off-duty security jobs to aid in the search.

Copyright 2007 Herald & Review

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