What ifs haunt bank hostage

Minister wishes he tried to help

staff writerFebruary 27, 2011 

Lee Everett has difficulty sleeping these days as his mind races with unsettling scenarios of how the Cary bank standoff several weeks ago could have ended differently.

The Harris Teeter produce manager and Mebane minister was one of seven people in the Wachovia bank Feb. 10, when Devon Mitchell, 19, walked in with a red cap over his hand, jumped over the teller counter and told a woman standing there to call police.

On Saturday, Everett talked publicly about the harrowing day. Though he still reels with anger over the treatment he received from law enforcement after Mitchell released him from the bank, he regrets, in hindsight, not reaching out to the troubled teen.

On Feb. 10, Everett was in a glassed-in Wachovia cubicle talking with a bank employee about an account. Everett had his back to the two tellers on duty, but he turned to look after the man across from him said: "That guy just jumped over the counter."

Neither one was immediately fearful, even after the lanky teenager grabbed one of the tellers.

"He said it might have been one of their boyfriends," Everett recalled Saturday.

But it wasn't long before the two realized that Mitchell's action was not a gesture of young romance, but more likely a robbery.

Everett, a prayerful man who lives in Durham, works in Cary and preaches in Mebane, urged the bank employee across from him to summon the police, and he did. Everett began to pray.

Forty-five minutes passed.

The bank phone rang loudly at least three different times, maybe four. Everett said someone must have answered it, but he never saw the suspected robber talking on the phone nor heard any negotiations with police.

Everett was asking God for help, he said, to send Michael, the warrior archangel. "I'm there praying," Everett recalled, "and I must have been praying loud because one of the girls came and said, 'You all can go now.'"

Everett left for the bank door with the teller, but the man across from him would not leave. He told Everett he hired the two tellers recently and would not abandon them.

'The most empty look'

Everett had several occasions to study the suspected robber during that intense time in the bank. His observations haunt him today.

"He had the most empty look you've ever seen on a person's face," Everett said. "It was just one of those looks."

It appeared to Everett, the son of a hunter and a 55-year-old man who knows about guns, that the stony-faced teen had a balled up fist inside the red knit cap. "It just didn't look like a gun," Everett said.

The teller directing him out of the bank told him she didn't know whether the suspected robber had a gun or a knife, he recalled.

As Everett moved close to the door, the suspected robber had a teller in his grasp. But there was no screaming. No yelling. "That boy said to me, 'See you later, man,'" Everett recalled Saturday. "I thought, 'No you won't.'"

Paths crossed before

Everett is wracked with remorse that he didn't make an appeal to the teen. He feels pangs for not including Mitchell in the prayers he said for the tellers. He didn't know then, but he knows now that Mitchell was a regular at the Harris Teeter where he works. Hours before the bank standoff, Everett said, a Harris Teeter clerk bought Mitchell a sandwich that he ate while flipping through the store's newsstand magazines.

"He was a kid, too," Everett said. "All somebody had to say was, 'Baby, God loves you. Baby, you're going to be OK.'"

Everett, though, was concerned for his own safety. He tried to persuade the teller who ushered him to the front door to leave with him.

"Baby," he said, "come with me."

She wouldn't. The suspected robber had told her to lock the door, and she didn't want to upset him.

The police pounce

What awaited Everett on the other side of the glass doors is at the center of a complaint he filed almost a week ago with the Cary Police Department.

Though he had his hands up, clutching bank account documents in one, law enforcement officers yelled at him to turn around and back toward them.

"I'm a hostage. I'm a hostage," he said.

But as he stepped off the sidewalk, he said, officers grabbed his arms, yanked the left one behind his back and toward his head.

Everett said he was thrown to the ground and felt a knee in his neck, back and buttocks. His wrists were cuffed so tightly they bruised. He was then pulled up, led across a parking lot and slammed against a police car, he said, echoing the complaint he filed. His complaint is being investigated by the State Bureau of Investigation and Wake County District Attorney's Office.

Everett, the only black man in the bank except for the suspected robber, said he thought he was roughed up because he was black.

His voice got loud and his neck stiffened as he recounted Saturday how the officers would not let him explain that he did not think Mitchell was armed.

"Shut up," he recalls them saying. "Shut up." He can't bring himself to utter the obscenities that accompanied their commands.

What might have been

Now he and his wife, Rosemary, wonder whether Everett would be alive today if he had persuaded the teller, a young white woman, to leave the bank with him. Law enforcement officers, they contend, might have mistaken him for the suspected robber with a hostage, though he didn't match the description of the suspect. They wonder whether officers would have fired at Everett as they did at Mitchell.

"I keep thinking I could have been a widow," Rosemary Everett said Saturday.

The Everetts said they want Cary to review their law enforcement strategies for hostage situations. They also plan to seek compensation for physical injury, emotional suffering and work hours they've both missed because of the incident.

What haunts them both is that when they turned on the TV after Everett's long afternoon at the bank and then a nearby hospital where his arm was treated, they saw the live footage of Mitchell shot by law enforcement officers outside the bank.

"I have to ask God for forgiveness, because my fear stopped me from helping him," Everett said. "We were the only two blacks in there. If I had spoken to him and communicated with them better about what I thought, maybe this would have ended different."

anne.blythe@newsobserver.com or 919-836-4948

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