Cops used GPS buried in stacks of cash to pinpoint bank robber’s location

DENVER | A GPS tracking device hidden with stacks of cash allowed police to track a suspected bank robber before a controversial traffic stop Saturday, according to testimony this morning.

By BRANDON JOHANSSON, Staff Writer

DENVER | A GPS tracking device hidden with stacks of cash allowed police to track a suspected bank robber before a controversial traffic stop Saturday, according to testimony this morning.

Christian Paetsch

At a hearing in federal court for accused bank robber Christian Paetsch, Assistant U.S. Attorney David Conner said Paetsch grabbed the GPS device when he grabbed $25,000 from six cash drawers at the Wells Fargo bank Saturday afternoon.

Police used the tracking device to determine the robber was in one of 20 cars at east Iliff Avenue and South Buckley Road.

Officers stopped all of the cars and cuffed 40 people before they determined Paetsch was the robber, police said.

Paetsch, a former music teacher and violin instructor, is facing up to 32 years in prison if convicted.

The decision to detain several innocent people while investigators searched for a robber has sparked criticism of the police department.

While some have questioned the constitutionality of detaining innocent people during the search, Aurora police Chief Dan Oates this week defended the decision and said the violent nature of the robbery made the detentions necessary.

In Paetsch’s vehicle, Oates said officers found two pistols along with a bee-keeper mask used in the robbery.

Surveillance pictures from the robbery appeared to show the robber holding two pistols, one in each hand. But at today’s hearing, Conner said Paetsch had a pistol in one hand and an air horn in the other.

He blasted the air horn and forced the three tellers and six customers to lie on the ground while he grabbed the cash, Conner said.

Paetsch then fled the area on a bicycle, Conner said, before stopping at a nearby house and getting into a Ford Expedition.

Along with the guns, which were found in a Cherry Creek Schools bag, Conner said Paetsch had disguises and a violin in his car.

At the end of today’s hearing, Judge Karen Mix agreed to let Paetsch, who has been jailed since his arrest Saturday, go free on bond. Mix said Paetsch would be required to undergo a mental health exam and be confined to his home pending trial.

Paetsch’s friends and family, several of whom attended the hearing, declined to comment about the case.

  • Globalcure3

    Handcuffing and violating the rights of 39 Americans in order to find 1 bank robber…nothing like “freedom” in Amerika folks!

    • CmasonB

      Hey Globalcure3 (and anyone else complaining) if you were the victim, you would want police to do everything they could to catch the suspect. You are the same guy that boo hoos that police are lazy or don’t use their resources. Kudos to the Aurora Police for taking this criminal off the streets before he hurt someone.

      • DenverDan

        CmasonB, if you were the victim in this case, you’d be a federally insured Too Big Too Fail corporate bank. They’d get their money back if he was caught or not.

        • Nurseanne

           There were PEOPLE in the bank who had a gun pointed at them and they are the victims in this crime.

      • JT

        CmasonB- I was at the scene in the Brakes Plus parking lot on the southeast corner of Iliff and Buckley.  Dozens of police cars swarmed the area from all directions, circled in on about a dozen cars and drew guns.  The police circled the cars and drew down on them.  This means gun barrels were pointed inward from multiple directions on the dozen or so cars.  If the suspect had been crazy and decided to get out and start opening fire, it would have been easy for innocent people to have been hurt in a shootout.  

        Of course that didn’t happen and for that I’m thankful.  But how often does it happen where police try to take a suspect in and the suspect decides to shoot it out?  If that’d had happened, here there’d be a public outcry. And how many times would it need to happen, before we reevaluate your phrase, “you would want police to do everything they could to catch the suspect.”

        And that doesn’t even get into the fact there were kids being taken out of those dozen or so cars or the question of illegal detention.  

      • Foundit

        No, actually that isn’t the case.  I don’t want the police or government to treat innocent people as criminals in order to stop other criminals. 

        That is what banana republics do.  That is what totalitarian regimes do.  And now, it’s what Aurora does.  This was unconstitutional and illegal.

  • IdahoMan

    Fire/prosecute the chief and his ranking officers.

    Sue the pants out of the department.

  • Frank25

    Somehow the comments don’t seem to be logical.  We are all treated as guilty  because we don’t arrest the bad guys.  So we have to carry ID cards (unless you are illegal alien),  and stand in long lines to get through security checks,  and how long has it been since you had to show a photo ID to cash a check, get a loan, and now even buy a book and show photo ID card  with a valid SS number   to visit Barnes and Nobel  to meet the presidents wife.   Have any of you tried to get senior relative into a nursing home and establish healthcare without such identification.   All of us with such identification are suspect.   So get a life,  or “tell it to the judge”.   Good luck. If I had been in that intersection,  I would not be complaining but would have been in cuffs too.   But I grew up in era when as a teenager, we learned not argue with police.  Be cheerful, do as told,   because police were trained, issued a badge and gun, and had authority to shoot.   Not  raised in this era with ALL THE RIGHTS.

  • nobby

    As an retired bank teller, I went through several robberries, I am grateful to the police for getting him off the streets. If it meant doing what they did then so be it. Having guns pointed at you and other various methods of intimidation really can mess with your poor mind. Its  just boils down to its you or the money?

    • IdahoMan

       “Its just boils down to its you or the money?”

      So it boils down to: Do I put getting my money back over the lives and liberty of others.

      The actions of the APD were Nazi-Germany illegal. I’ve been stolen from before, but I am not willing to condone worse criminality it the process of getting it back.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_O6YQATVXD2POQPCFBKDFG4L2XI Steve

      “Having guns pointed at you and other various methods of intimidation really can mess with your poor mind.” 

      Really?  Tell that to the 40 or so adults that had multiple guns pointed at their heads by cops amped up on adrenaline – especially the folks with kids in the car terrorized and crying scared to death.Why the hell couldn’t APD follow the car discretely and arrest Paetsch at a safer location?  If he had come out of that car early on in the stop guns blazing, there would have almost certainly been innocents caught in the crossfire.  The round those M4 carbines fire will penetrate car doors, windshields and the body armor of fellow officers and it can travel up to 2.2 miles in free air.  This is a round you definitely don’t want to go astray. And rounds always go astray in a shootout.

      The recent shootout at 120th and Federal in Westminster was a legitimate hot pursuit and subsequent felony stop that turned violent when one of the robbers shot at the cops. The ensuing hail of gunfire left the robbers dead. It also left several police rounds in the walls and interiors of surrounding apartments and houses.

      The APD approached those innocent people at Iliff & Buckley with their guns at high ready (pointing at heads and chests), safeties off on the M4 carbines and shotguns.  Some cops had their fingers on their triggers instead of alongside the receiver or frame of their weapons as their training dictates.  An 8 lb trigger pull is no match for adrenaline and muscle tightening born of stress. Here’s an example of what can happen with that kind of negligent finger placement: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pv89_3rrW8Y

      As for the legalities, there are exceptions to 4th amendment protection against warrantless involuntary searches. One of them is probable cause and the other is hot pursuit of a felon. This didn’t meet either threshold. The APD only had probable cause that ONE of twenty vehicles held the LOJACK beacon placed in the stolen money – not ALL of the vehicles. You can’t search every house on the block because you have a pretty solid tip your suspect is in one of them. This also wasn’t a hot pursuit.  In fact, there was no pursuit at all.  It was a dragnet aided by a tracking beacon. Finally, the ensuing car searches were done without consent because permission given under the duress of having a muzzle stuck in your face by a nervous and demanding policeman is no permission at all. That makes the searches illegal – including the search of Paetsch’s car absent some other probable cause such as isolation of the beacon to his car or the money, guns or mask laying out in plain sight.

      The detentions of the individuals, the cuffing and putdowns was likely legal to the extent that the detention was not excessive, and was necessary for police safety and to isolate the armed robber.  Once they had everyone cuffed, they could electronically isolate the car with the beacon and would have the probable cause to search it. But it doesn’t sound like it went down that way.

      Wouldn’t it be ironic if the money, mask and guns were excluded because the search was illegal?

    • http://twitter.com/weyermanfp Pamela J. Weyerman

      Oh but the people in the intersection having guns pointed at them and their children will be ok?  I have been robbed before too with what I thought to be a gun pointed at me and it certainly can cause individuals trauma on many levels.  Look people:  It is possible to understand the trauma the bank tellers went through, understand the horror of the traffic stop for the adults and children, even understand the police have a hard and dangerous job.  
      It is humanly possible to “get all of that” and still be in disagreement with how the police handled the situation.  It is easy to empathize with all the parties involved & all the victims involved. I mean disagreeing with the police department should just be ok for us to do.  Doesn’t mean we are non-sympathetic to the daily grind they endure plus the dangerous situations they are in.  Doesn’t mean we are police haters.  Doesn’t mean we don’t deserve to be protected by them.  We are simply disagreeing with how this particular situation was handled.  More than likely nothing will happen; I suspect in a month this will be forgotten by most.

  • logic

    A GPS signal lead them to that intersection – which would mean the GPS device (and probably the cash) would have had to be in the vehicle still – or at least in that intersection.   They found a gun (or two, but the other “gun” in the picture from the bank was an air horn – did they find an air horn?).  They found a bee-keeper mask in the car – but the picture has a different looking mask than what I would think of as what a bee-keeper mask looks like, so was it the same mask?  What do they mean by “disguises” found in the car – could that simply be a couple pairs of different sunglasses – or is it a fake moustasche? 

    I keep coming back to the the GPS signal that was hidden in the cash – they didn’t find that in the car – so where is that?  That would have to be somewhere at the scene.  unless the bad guy ffound the device and tossed it out the window at that intersection.  Who was watching the GPS signal during the traffic stop – perhaps it drove away in all the aftermath when they found his gun.  If they can’t find the GPS signal and the cash – is it possible that they have the wrong guy?  Everyone is sooo quick to judge – but lets be fair until we know all the facts

  • Britt

    Crazy. I knew this man.

  • Henry

    We all agree the the thief should be apprehended and prosecuted. The police over-reacted and could have followed that GPS signal to a safer area to apprehend the thief. There police, since my childhood have changed. They seem to work by intimidation. If you point a weapon at a police officer, you commit a capitol assault. What gives them the right to point weapons at women and children and handcuff innocent civilians in the middle of an intersection? That is an assault and is exactly what our founding father’s rebelled about. Suppose that bank robber had jumped out of his car shooting? Would the police have fired amoung all of those people? It happened here in Miami Beach and five bystanders were wounded. The man in the car, who evaded arrest on a traffic violation, did not have a weapon. He was killed. The Police Chief, in Aurora, needs to be fired and the rest of the force should be retrained. The police in Aurora assaulted those civilians.

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