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Soldier on leave foils bank robbery in Florida

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (June 06, 2011) -- When Staff Sgt. Eddie Peoples went to the bank in Sarasota, Fla., May 31, he expected to walk out with a cashier's check -- instead he was caught up in a bank robbery that ended with the robber in cuffs and Peoples the hero.

Peoples is normally assigned to the 386th Movement Control Team out of Vicenza, Italy. He and his family live in country there, but he'd brought them home to visit his family in Florida.

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It was while on leave and conducting business in a Bank of America branch in Sarasota with his sons Ikaika and Kioni in tow, that Peoples ran into bank robber Matthew Rogers.

"A gunman came into the bank, (and) demanded money -- brandishing a large caliber handgun -- I thought, at first -- (and) basically putting a lot of people in jeopardy," Peoples said of the situation.

A surveillance video available online shows Peoples' initial reaction to the gunman. While his two boys hid under chairs in the bank's lobby, Peoples dragged two larger chairs in front of them, putting some protection between his children and the gunman.

Moments later, 34-year-old Rogers left the bank for his vehicle. Peoples followed him out the door.

"Outside, I knew that it would just be me and him," Peoples said, saying that inside the bank, any confrontation with Rogers might end in his children or other bystanders getting hurt. "That was my main concern ... my children and the innocent bystanders."

Outside, Rogers ran to his vehicle, and Peoples got into his own vehicle. Some quick jockeying in the parking lot allowed Peoples to block Rogers' escape.

"Basically I just backed out, made a big huge u-turn, and put my vehicle directly behind him," Peoples said. "We basically had a tug-of-war, it seemed like forever, but I know it was probably for only about 30 seconds."

Frustrated, Rogers got out of his own vehicle and Peoples was able to temporarily pin Rogers between the two vehicles for just a moment.

"He shouted at me and he raised his weapon and came around the vehicle in order to keep me there," Peoples said. "I fully expected to take at least two shots through the window."

Peoples said it's not the first time he's been in life-threatening situations. He's deployed several times, he said. In Balad, Iraq, for instance, he said the situation was "a nightmare."

"We had people breaching the perimeter. We had people throwing bombs over the gates," he said. "I got my Combat Action Badge there. While on tower guard they actually shot ten mortar rounds over into our compound. I got credit for repelling that attack. I have had pop shots at my head. I've had people come up and actually try to set mortar rounds up like right in front of my tower before."

Fortunately for Peoples, Rogers didn't shoot at him. But he did try to unsuccessfully get inside his rental vehicle through the rear door.

"I knew at that point I was in a bad situation and I had to get out and face this guy," Peoples said. He put his vehicle in park and opened his driver's-side door.

"I was greeted with a handgun in my face," he said. "But since I was so close to him, it was easy to take the gun away. I basically did a wrist lock, pulled it back, intending to use that weapon as a blunt weapon to hit him with."

It was then Peoples realized the "gun" was too light to be real, and too light to even be used as a blunt weapon. So instead, Peoples grabbed the criminal and slammed him to the ground. Taking the weapon from Rogers and putting him on the ground are some things Peoples said he learned in the Army.

"Quite extensive training," Peoples said of his experience over ten years in service. "I've gone through Combatives. I've gone through weapon handling. I've gone through the proper way to discharge a weapon, the proper way to take a weapon. I'm pretty well-versed in taking care of people like this. Especially in taking people down to the ground and neutralize any kind of threat -- I owe that to the Army."

Peoples said after putting Rogers to the ground, he identified himself as a Soldier. After hearing that, he said, Rogers gave up the fight.

"He didn't want any more after that," Peoples said. "He basically cowered on the ground and the police showed up."

When the police showed up, Peoples was told to drop the gun he'd taken from Rogers and he did so.

"I followed their instructions to the letter -- I put the weapon down, placing it away from myself and the bank robber. I placed the money down. I laid on the ground."

Peoples could easily have been mistaken by the police as a participant in the robbery -- on the wrong side. But those in the bank who'd seen what happened made sure the police didn't mistake Peoples for a bad guy.

"Civilians started piping in -- they were yelling at the deputy," he said. "They were like, 'that's the good guy that's the good guy.' It was a little pandemonium there for a little."

When all was done, and Rogers was cuffed, Peoples was allowed to stand -- as the police knew who he was.

"They helped me up and the deputy who actually had the gun on me gave me a hug -- he said 'thanks brother' -- like he was in my unit -- the camaraderie was there," Peoples said.

Peoples said he had been concerned that Rogers, after leaving the bank, would continue to be a threat to civilians outside, on the road -- especially if there was a chase with police. He knew there was a risk to himself for getting involved, but that was something he said as a Soldier he was prepared to accept.

"I knew the risk the moment this bank robber stepped out the door -- and I accepted that risk." As a Soldier, Peoples said, "we accept these risks all the time."

For his heroism, Peoples said the Sarasota police department held a ceremony in his honor.

"I was really surprised," he said.

Peoples and his family live in Italy and he is assigned to the 386th Movement Control Team, 14th Transportation Battalion, 16th Sustainment Brigade, 21st Theater Sustainment Command, Vicenza, Italy.

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