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Bank robbery plans may not be enough to trigger charges

When does an offense become a chargeable crime?

It's a question that the St. Croix County District Attorney's office has to struggle with every day.

The answer to that question can leave potential crime victims scratching their heads.

Case in point: S & C Bank employees were quick to spot a suspicious looking character outside their New Richmond facility on a warm and breezy March 30 day. Turns out the man was on the verge of robbing the lending institution, but he eventually decided against it.

Employees noticed the young man with the hood of his sweatshirt over his head and pulled down close to his eyes. One employee tripped the silent alarm just to be safe.

What happened next was a strange string of events that apparently left New Richmond police frustrated, bank employees confused and the district attorney shrugging his shoulders.

According to the police incident report, the 23-year-old suspect noticed that his presence was causing a stir inside the bank and he stopped his plans to rob it.

The New Richmond man had apparently crafted a plan to rob the bank, change his clothes and head to work to avoid capture.

In his statement to police, after initially denying that he was there to rob the bank, the man said he was having severe financial problems and needed cash quick to pay his bills.

He also stated that he was looking for a reason to stop his robbery attempt, even going so far as to call a friend on his cell phone while milling around outside the bank.

As he approached the front door of S & C Bank, the suspect noticed a bank teller inside who was "panicked" or "upset" and it forced him to abandoned his plan.

He then allegedly dropped a duffel bag he was carrying into a trash bin in the bank's front entryway and promptly left the building.

Knowing that bank employees were onto him, the suspect said he later returned to the bank to create a small smokescreen. He asked to talk to an employee about opening an account, even though he was denied because he still owed the bank money from a previous transaction.

By the time the man left the bank, police were on the scene. They questioned the man, eventually arrested him on a previous probation violation and took him to the St. Croix County jail.

Through the interview process, the suspect admitted to his interrogators that he had thought about robbing the bank.

The man had two pairs of clothing on, according to the police report, apparently to help him change quickly and get away from the scene.

Police later recovered the duffel bag, which had a hold-up note inside. They also tracked down a backpack in the alley behind the Agate Inn, which included a change of clothing and a cap.

The case eventually went to the District Attorney's office where attorneys decided they would not issue any charges. On Tuesday, District Attorney Eric Johnson said he would review the reports again and determine if charges can be filed in the case.

The News contacted the suspect, who is being held at the St. Croix County jail on charges unrelated to the March 30 incident. He refused to talk about the matter.

New Richmond Police Chief Mark Samelstad had little to say about the case.

"I'm disappointed with how this case was handled," he offered.

S & C Bank president Ed Schroeder said he wouldn't comment on the business's reaction to the lack of charges.

"The District Attorney chose not to bring charges due to insufficient evidence," he said. "I'm sure he has his reasons."

District Attorney Eric Johnson said the case was one of those where filing charges is difficult.

If a suspect plans a criminal act but eventually fails to follow through, Johnson said a crime is not committed.

"It all depends on when they back out," he said. "If they back out before they've taken any action, it wouldn't constitute a crime.

"If he would have backed out after he handed them the note, then that would be an act."

When asked about the suspect's verbal confession, Johnson said the only thing the man admitted to was thinking about a criminal act, not committing a crime.

Suggestions that the suspect could have been charged with conspiring to rob a bank, Johnson said conspiracy charges require two or more people planning a crime together.

Conspiracy is an unlawful agreement between two or more people, Johnson explained, and only one person was apparently involved in the New Richmond incident.