Nine indicted in Houston-area bank robbery spree

November 18, 2011 8:48:59 PM PST
A group of suspected bank robbers are now under indictment after an off-duty Harris County Sheriff's Deputy was shot while trying to stop one of the attacks.

Investigators say they'd been watching the suspects for a long time, piecing together a case. The deputy survived the shooting and he was there as the indictments were handed down. But one suspect remains on the loose.

Patrick Simmons, one of the accused bank robbers named in that indictment, is a fugitive. The federal charges against Simmons and eight other suspected bank robbers was four years in the making.

It's been almost four months since Harris County Sergeant Michael Ellison was shot twice while trying to stop a group of serial robbers at a grocery store bank in Fort Bend County.

Sgt. Ellison said, "I'm proud to say that I'm a law enforcement officer. I am proud to say also that the suspects have been apprehended."

Sgt. Ellison was shot in the arm and groin while trying to stop the robbery.

"So who shot first?" we asked him.

"He did," he responded.

"And what did you do?"

"To the point, I had my weapon out and I engaged him."

"You shot back?"

"Yes I did, because I was already prepared just in case."

This is the first time Sgt. Ellison has talked publicly about the details of that day. It happened August 4 inside a Randalls grocery store in Sugar Land. Sgt. Ellison stopped in on his way to work when he saw an SUV parked in front.

"But everything, it looked right for a robbery, so my suspicious were there," he said.

With back door open, the SUV running and the driver wearing a thick seater in the middle of a sweltering summer, Sgt. Ellison went cautiously inside toward the bank and head on into an armed man.

"It was so intense that I saw the bullet, the muzzle flash from the barrell of the weapon, and I saw the actual bullet come out that barrel," Sgt. Ellison said.

Six of the men allegedly involved in Ellison's shooting were arrested back in September during a police takedown on the Gulf Freeway near Broadway. They'd been under surveillance for a while and were being looked for at least eight bank robberies inside grocery stores in the Houston area. A seventh suspect, Patrick Simmons, 27, is still at large.

"These individuals were heavily armed when they went into the grocery stores," said FBI Assistant Special Agent Michael Bonner. "So we believe that he is dangerous and we'd like to get him off the street."

Authorities say Simmons and the eight others, who were charged in an 18 count federal indictment, first organized back in 2007. The indictment says the suspects used semi-automatic pistols, shotguns and Uzi style firearms during the robberies. They would case banks inside grocery stores before striking.

Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia warned, "You want to rob a bank, we're going to work here to put you in federal prison. Let's see if that doesn't curtail other would-be bank robbers."

Ellison says he's relieved that the suspects have been caught

"Not necessarily for myself but for the public," he explained. "I think it's very important to put these young men in custody before the commit other crimes."

The Harris County Sheriff's Office is offering a $35,000 reward for information leading to Simmons' arrest.

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