Suspect arrested in phoned-in bank robbery
Caller said he planted bombs at five schools
The request was clear: $10,000, or bombs would detonate at five Spokane elementary schools.
Police say that phone call to a north Spokane bank turned out to be nothing more than a poorly executed crime by a convicted bank robber who led detectives to his doorstep.
“It’s like out of a bad movie,” said Officer Jennifer DeRuwe, Spokane Police Department spokeswoman. “The sad thing is we do have to treat it as real, because the reality is this stuff happens.”
Now police are recommending six felony charges against Donnell L. Winston, 37, for the Oct. 14 phone call to Inland Northwest Bank, 518 W. Francis Ave.
The threat from a blocked telephone number put all schools in Spokane County on high alert, but police had little trouble identifying Winston as a suspect: Investigators saw him pick up a package left at the cash drop spot by an undercover police detective.
Police had been surveying the area around East 13th Avenue and South Arthur Street after the caller told the bank manager to leave the cash there. That turned out to be the intersection near Winston’s house, at 1007 E. 13th Ave., where police spotted him talking on his cell phone on the porch.
“You’re just shaking your head going, ‘Is this real?’ ” DeRuwe said. “I don’t know … if he thought if he didn’t go in the bank it wouldn’t count?”
Winston was convicted of a 2004 robbery at a downtown Spokane bank. He was sentenced to seven years in prison but was out on probation last week, when police say he called Inland Northwest Bank and said he’d “planted five bombs at five different schools,” according to court documents. The caller demanded the bank manager bring $10,000 to the area of 13th and Arthur by 1 p.m. “or he was going to start blowing up schools,” police wrote.
When the manager said he couldn’t get the money that fast, the caller “told him he had until 12:30 p.m.,” then moved the deadline to noon when the manager stalled again, police say.
Winston is in custody on a state Department of Corrections warrant, DeRuwe said. He was not available for comment, and it’s unclear if he has a lawyer.
Police submitted a charging request to prosecutors for one count of attempted first-degree robbery and five counts of bomb threats.
His girlfriend, Cheryl A. Siekerman, 33, was seen retrieving the package with him, police said, but was let go after an interview. She may still be charged, DeRuwe said.
Siekerman told police she didn’t know anything about the threats and said she and Winston had been home all day painting their porch. Winston allowed police to look at his cell phone’s call history, which showed only one phone call to a friend that day.
But police say Winston called 911 to report a bag being thrown out a car window just moments before his arrest, and no record of that call was present, either.
A judge approved a search warrant Wednesday to search cell phones belonging to Siekerman and Winston for deleted calls and other information.