Polk County Sheriff's Office deputies are investigating a deputy-involved shooting of a serial bank robbery suspect that occurred at 10:40 p.m. on Monday, January 24, 2005.
At 3:00 p.m. on Monday, January 24, 2005, a serial bank robbery suspect, positively identified as 39-year-old Wesley Caruthers, robbed the Mid-Florida Credit Union at 105 East Van Fleet Drive in Bartow. He used a taxi cab for transportation to and from the bank, instructing the driver where to wait for him in the parking lot and where to enter and exit the parking lot. Inside the bank, he passed a note to the teller that said: "Give me everything in your drawer, I have a gun, I don't want to hurt anyone, but I will kill you now." Once he left the scene, he picked up a Lakeland woman named Sandra Givens in the cab and checked into room 142 at the Crossroads Motel located at 3223 US Hwy 98 North in Lakeland.
Patrol deputies county-wide searched area motels for him, and around 8:00 p.m., Northwest District Patrol deputies discovered he was staying at the Crossroads Motel. They immediately made contact with the suspect and asked him to come out of the room. Caruthers refused to cooperate with the deputies' requests, and the PCSO Crisis Negotiation Team and Emergency Response Team (ERT) responded to the scene.
At 9:00 p.m. it became clear to the deputies surrounding the room that Caruthers, who had been sporadically communicating with crisis negotiators, had a female hostage in the room with him. It was also clear to the deputies that the woman wanted to come out of the room. They made several pleas to Caruthers to let the hostage go, to no avail. Deputies did not know if Caruthers was armed, but the hostage was being held against her will and deputies wanted to bring about a peaceful resolution to the situation.
Around 10:40 p.m., the woman attempted to escape from the room by opening the motel room door and entering the hallway. Caruthers grabbed the woman, using her as a shield, pushed her out in front of him, and then shoved her out of the way and fled down the hall. Caruthers ignored several verbal commands of ERT members to stop. ERT members, responding to the perceived threat by the suspect, deployed less-than-lethal and lethal rounds at the suspect while he was eluding capture. Caruthers was shot two times by Deputy Sheriff Shawnee McCawley, a 4-year veteran of the Sheriff's Office and member of the ERT. D/S McCawley is 30 years old and is assigned to Northwest District Patrol. He has been placed on routine paid Administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation. The State Attorney's Office is conducting an independent investigation of the incident.
Once deputies identified Caruthers earlier that day and began looking for him, the media was alerted that he was being sought in that day's robbery, as well as 4 other robberies that occurred in and around Polk County since January 4th. He is a suspect in the January 4th robbery of the Colonial Bank in Plant City; the January 7th robbery of the BB&T Bank in Kissimmee; the January 12th robbery of the Washington Mutual in Altamonte Springs; the January 20th robbery of the Suntrust Bank in Mulberry; and the January 24th aforementioned robbery in Bartow.
Caruthers has an extensive criminal history, not limited to Polk County. He has been in and out of the Polk County jail 8 times since 1991, on charges such as Grand Theft Auto, Burglary, Aggravated Battery, Attempted Armed Robbery with a Deadly Weapon, Resisting Arrest, Fleeing to Elude, and Violation of Probation. Caruthers also has an active federal warrant for violating his probation. In 1997 he was indicted by the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Florida and sent to federal prison on charges stemming from 18 bank robberies he committed in 1996 and 1997 in the states of Florida, Mississippi, Texas, and Louisiana. He received a 10-year sentence, and was let out on supervised release after serving 7 of those years, in May 2004. In December 2004, he failed a urinalysis test as part of his probation requirements, and a federal warrant was issued for his arrest on January 4, 2005, when he failed to appear in court for the probation violation.
Caruthers is in stable but critical condition at Lakeland Regional Medical Center. He will be booked into the Polk County Jail upon his release from the hospital.
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