This is a story where miscommunication, and lack of willingness to share crucial information, resulted in the death of a police officer. The controversy surrounding this incident is primarily directed at the FBI.
FBI agents knew of a bank robbery before it occurred, but they were keeping the details to themselves. The FBI contacted Muskegon County (Michigan) dispatchers to warn them about the possibility of a bank robbery. FBI Resident Agent in Charge, John King, had called the Muskegon Dispatch Center at roughly 10:20 a.m. to alert them to a bank robbery that was about to occur – 16 minutes later – ChoiceOne Bank was robbed.
“Hey, this is John King with the FBI in Grand Rapids,” dispatch tapes recorded. “We are right now tracking a couple individuals up in the Muskegon County area around Ravenna. And so, if there happens to be a bank robbery come out, can you make sure we end up getting a phone call?” The FBI had been tracking the two bank robbers with a GPS tracking device placed on the suspect’s car and on a phone.
Although the FBI had placed a GPS tracker on the suspect’s vehicle, they did not provide a vehicle description when asked by a Muskegon dispatcher.
Dispatch tapes also show that one of the FBI agents appeared to know beforehand that suspects Derryl LaFave and Kristopher Cheyne were going to be in a black Chevrolet Blazer that they used as their first getaway car. The Blazer had been stolen the day before the robbery. The suspects abandoned the Blazer, which had the GPS tracker, not far from the bank before escaping in a blue Oldsmobile Bravada.
“We had our suspects in there before the bank robbery, so I’m sure that’s it,” FBI Task Force member Pat Harig told a dispatcher. At the time, he was discussing the Blazer. Harig told dispatchers the FBI had been tracking the suspects into Ravenna through GPS, and they wanted to keep that a secret. “Without putting this on the air, we have GPS on the vehicle and on a phone,” Harig told a dispatcher. “We do not need that on the air.”
In the weeks after the robbery and deaths, FBI agents said little about their involvement. At first, they told the Muskegon Chronicle they happened to be in the area. The dispatch tapes show the FBI had tracked the suspects into the area before.
“We’ve got a couple individuals we’ve been tracking that we think are responsible for a couple other bank robberies down south and they’ve been putzing around in Ravenna the last couple of days,” King told a dispatcher.
It does not appear that the FBI knew which Ravenna bank the robbers would hit next.
The tapes appear to show that at least two unmarked FBI cars didn’t quite make it to the ChoiceOne bank before the robbery and that the agents did not witness the robbery. One of the unmarked FBI cars ended up ahead of the getaway blue Bravada as it headed south toward Coopersville.
More miscommunication ensued because nobody told Ottawa County deputies the Bravada was headed into their county — behind the FBI agents — until it was already in Ottawa County. It was an Ottawa County dispatcher who had to call to find out: “Hey, it’s Ottawa County. Can you advise an update?” “Yeah, they’re in your county, now headed southbound,” a Muskegon dispatcher responds.
After the robbery, the suspects led officers on a 20-minute high-speed chase. The suspected bank robbers opened fire on the officers from their getaway car. The chase ultimately ended when the suspects ran over Walker Police Officer Trevor Slot as he was trying to lay down stop sticks. Police officers then shot and fatally wounded the suspects in a shootout.
Just before the shooting, as FBI Task Force member Pat Harig was on the phone with dispatch telling them he didn’t want this “over the air,” the dispatcher tells him that “shots” had been fired from the suspect’s vehicle at a Michigan State Police trooper trailing them. The dispatcher then asks Harig, ““Do you know their names and where they’re going?” Harig then gives the dispatchers the suspects names and details of their height and weight as the chase continued.
By the time the FBI was willing to share crucial information, it was too late, Officer Trevor Slot died minutes later.
Sources: LandAirSea, Target News 8 (WoodTV), The Muskegon Chronicle