HOUSTON (CN) – Four suspected members of a Houston armored-car robbery crew who were arrested Wednesday in an FBI sting, during which their ringleader was killed, made their first appearances Thursday in federal court.
Police began investigating the crew in March after Melvin Moore, a Loomis armored car courier, was shot and killed outside a Chase Bank in Houston while putting cash in an ATM, according to a Dec. 7 affidavit from FBI special agent William Applegate.
“Surveillance video revealed that the shots which killed Moore were fired from some distance, after which a black sedan pulled up. A black male exited the rear of the vehicle and attempted to reach the box containing the currency,” the charging document states.
Moore, “in his last act,” pulled out his pistol and fired at the man, who got back in the car without taking the money, the arrest report states.
The FBI says the same crew murdered David Guzman, another Loomis armored car courier, on Aug. 29, as Guzman filled up an ATM outside a Wells Fargo in Houston.
“Surveillance video again revealed that the shots which killed Guzman were fired from some distance,” Applegate’s affidavit states.
A blue Toyota sedan pulled up and a black man got out and grabbed a cash box containing $120,000, the document states.
In September, the Houston Police Department opened an investigation into Redrick Jevon Batiste, found out the address of his Houston home, and connected him to a white Toyota 4-Runner with stolen rear and front license plates that was reported stolen in June 2015 by someone who legally rented it, according to the affidavit.
The crew’s alleged method of killing the two guards is eerily reminiscent of the Washington D.C.-area sniper attacks of 2002, in which John Allen Muhammad and his then 17-year-old accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo, killed 10 people by shooting them with a rifle from a hole cut in the back of a Chevy Caprice.
HPD officers found the stolen SUV at a Houston apartment complex on Sept. 7.
“Officers noted that in the rear hatch door of the vehicle, adjacent to the license plate, an aftermarket port hole had been cut out. This port hole was large enough to accommodate a rifle with a scope,” the affidavit states.
The arrest reports says FBI agents observed Batiste, Marc Anthony Hill and Nelson Alexander Polk casing an Amegy Bank in North Houston, observing the comings and goings of a Loomis armored car, from Nov. 21 to Nov. 30.
On Nov. 29, a Houston federal judge signed an order authorizing law enforcement to intercepts calls made to Batiste’s cellphone.
The alleged robbery ring was set to execute the robbery Wednesday morning.
“At approximately 9:30 a.m., members of Batiste’s robbery crew began to take positions around the bank,” the affidavit states.
FBI agents moved in to arrest the men at 11:00 a.m. Wednesday. Polk and alleged crew member Trayvees Duncan-Bush were caught after a short foot chase, police say.
“When Batiste saw officers approaching, he began shooting at them and officers returned fire. Batiste was struck in the leg and in the chest and died after being removed from the scene,” the affidavit states.
Batiste had a lengthy rap sheet including two misdemeanor assault convictions and arrests on charges of DUI, credit card abuse, marijuana possession and evading arrest, Harris County court records show. He was 37.
Polk, Hill, Duncan-Bush and John Edward Scott, who is not mentioned in the arrest report, all made their initial appearances Thursday morning before U.S. Magistrate Judge Dena Palermo with cuffs on their wrists and ankles.
They stood in a semicircle shoulder-to-shoulder with attorneys as Palermo asked them about their finances and employment. All the defendants but Polk, bald with a muscled torso evident beneath a blue T-shirt, said they didn’t have any money in the bank or own homes or cars.
Polk told the judge he runs a gourmet-popcorn business and owns a $450,000 home, which Palermo said disqualifies him from getting a court-appointed attorney. She appointed attorneys for the other men.
Palermo set Polk’s attorney-determination hearing for Friday at 10 a.m. and an arraignment and bond hearing for his co-defendants for Dec. 14 at 11 a.m. All four defendants will remain jailed until then.
Art Acevedo was sworn in Nov. 30 as Houston’s police chief. He gave the city a dubious designation, telling reporters at the scene Wednesday that Houston is the “capital of the world” for armored-car robberies.
An FBI spokeswoman told the Houston Chronicle that eight armored cars have been robbed in Greater Houston this year and three guards have been killed in the past two years.
Acevedo told the Chronicle there’s a “high probability” Batiste’s crew is responsible for killing all three guards.