Chino police grateful for arrest of AK-47 Bandit suspect, who allegedly shot officer

CHINO, Calif. (KABC) -- Among law enforcement agencies celebrating the arrest of the alleged AK-47 Bandit, one of the most satisfied was the Chino Police Department, which went through the ordeal of having an officer seriously wounded in a shootout with the suspect five years ago.

Chino Police Chief Karen Comstock said news that the suspect, now identified as Richard Lee Gathercole, 39, of Roundup, Montana, was identified and arrested "was one of the happiest days of my career."

The officer who was shot after that bank robbery on Feb. 29, 2012, has since recovered and is back on the force. But the shooting also left emotional scars.

"He's had a recovery from his injuries and has returned to full duty," Comstock said. "But this has been very emotionally impactful both professionally and personally to him and his family."

Investigators say Gathercole robbed banks, while armed with an assault rifle, in California, Washington, Idaho, Nebraska and Iowa.

He was arrested on June 19 after a Kansas state trooper tried to make a traffic stop. Authorities say he fired at the trooper with an assault rifle. He fled but was later arrested in Nebraska.

Police say he had a bulletproof vest, an AK-47 and a mask in his car. They also searched his home in Montana and say they found more evidence, including improvised explosive devices.

"The AK- 47 Bandit was public enemy No. 1 in terms of bank robbers," said Stephen Woolery, the FBI's special agent in charge of the Los Angeles office.

Authorities said one of the actions that helped link the Kansas suspect to the AK-47 Bandit robberies was when Gathercole called his mother from jail on a recorded line and told her to "get all the guns out" of the house.

While Gathercole is potentially facing charges in multiple states, San Bernardino County District Attorney Mike Ramos hopes to have him extradited to Southern California for attempted murder of a police officer, a charge that alone could net him 40 years to life in prison if convicted.

"He will never ever be able to target another peace officer as long as we keep this person in custody," Ramos said. "That's going to be our goal."
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