Bank Manager Blames Police Missteps for Deadly Robbery

     STOCKTON, Calif. (CN) – Police officers trying to apprehend a trio of bank robbers opened fire despite the robbers using bank employees as human shields, one of the shields claims in court.
     Kelly Huber sued the city of Stockton and the Stockton Police Department for negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress in San Joaquin County Superior Court on July 27, for the physical and emotional trauma she suffered after being used as a human shield by three bank robbers.
     Bank robberies were nothing new for Huber, who experienced several during the three years she managed the Thornton Bank of the West branch in Stockton.
     According to the seven-page complaint, the Thornton branch had been robbed so frequently that police officers often circled the bank – dubbed the “Rob n Go” by the banking community and law enforcement.
     In January 2014, Gilbert Renteria Jr. and Alex Gregory Martinez robbed the bank at gunpoint, commanded one of the bank employees to give them the keys to her car and fled, after spending a grueling time period trying to locate the car in the parking lot.
     Neither Renteria nor Martinez were apprehended for that robbery, despite “sufficient evidence to do so,” Huber says in the complaint.
     Six months later, Renteria, Martinez and Jaime Ramos came back to the bank after dropping off an unidentified accomplice and began their same routine of robbing the bank at gunpoint, according to the complaint.
     Renteria ushered Huber and several other hostages into the bank vault but reassured them that no one would be hurt as long as everyone followed his orders, the complaint says.
     Once the men had as much money as they could carry, they again demanded to use a bank employee’s car. Huber offered the men her car keys.
     But instead of exiting the building by themselves, the robbers yelled for Huber to show them where her car was parked.
     As Huber exited the building with the men, she saw a police officer pointing a shotgun at her and heard him yell for everyone to get down or “he would blow their heads off” as other officers arrived.
     “At this point, Huber was grabbed closely by the robbers and used as a human shield as they re-entered the bank,” the complaint says.
     Once inside, Huber says the men grabbed two more hostages to use as human shields, exited the building and got inside her car.
     While Huber drove as the robbers ordered, Ramos accidently shot her in the right thigh – breaking two bones in her lower leg, the complaint says.
     Although Ramos apologized for shooting her, Huber says she could no longer press the accelerator because of her shattered leg. So the robbers “opened the driver’s side door and forced plaintiff to roll out of the moving vehicle,” the complaint says.
     Huber says she watched as the robbers sped off in her car with police officers in pursuit.
     “This would not have happened if the police had followed their own armed-robbery protocols by staying out of sight until the robbers separated from the victims,” Huber says in the complaint. “This failure of protocol, more than any other factor, allowed the robbers to use plaintiff and two other citizens to become human shields that robbers used in effort to escape.”
     Huber says she underwent surgery to repair the damage done to her leg and has not yet recovered enough to return to work.
     She later learned that one of the hostages, 42-year-old Misty Holt-Singh, was killed when a police officer shot her 10 times. Holt-Singh’s family filed a claim with the city of Stockton, a preliminary step to a lawsuit, this past February.
     The third hostage jumped from the moving car – with police bullets flying – in order to escape, Huber says in the complaint.
     An investigation by Holt-Singh’s family revealed that 34 Stockton Police Department officers discharged their weapons, firing over 600 rounds during the chase across three counties.
     Renteria and Martinez died in the shootout. Ramos and a fourth accomplice were arrested and indicted by a grand jury in December 2014.
     Huber seeks compensatory, general and punitive damages. She is represented by Michael Dyer and Dustin Dyer of the Dyer Law Firm, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
     Stockton City Attorney John Luebberke told Courthouse News the city had not yet seen Huber’s complaint and declined to comment on it directly. But he called the robbery “unprecedented for an American city” and noted the robbers were heavily armed and had extra ammunition strapped to their bodies.
     “It was apparent to officers and witnesses from the outset that the suspects were intent on violence and came prepared for it,” he said.
     “We reject the notion that allowing these dangerous suspects to walk their hostages past police and out of the area would have been a safe or responsible thing to do,” he added. “We do not believe that any community would accept inaction on the part of a police officer who encounters heavily armed fleeing suspects with a citizen hostage.”
     Luebberke said the police department continues to review the incident.
     “We continue to extend our deepest sympathy to [Holt-Singh’s] husband and children, as well as to Ms. Huber and the ordeal she endured at the hands of these criminals, and we will continue to work to learn all that we can from this tragic event,” he said.
     

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