Employees, customers of downtown Wells Fargo branch offered counseling

Bank robberies are on the decline both locally and nationally, but they are still traumatic experiences for employees and customers, such as when a Wells Fargo Bank branch in downtown Portland was robbed this week.

Tuesday's attempted bank heist at Wells Fargo's 1900 S.W. College Ave. branch involved an armed suspect who fled with some money, fired off two rounds from a handgun and initiated a four-hour standoff with police that ended in his surrender and arrest.

The man, 29-year-old Michael James Clopton, pleaded not guilty Wednesday to felony charges of armed bank robbery and use of a firearm in committing a felony. He faces a maximum of 35 years in prison.

Wells Fargo spokesman Tom Unger said it's lucky no one was hurt when the masked gunman entered the branch around 2 p.m. Tuesday. He said the man waved a 9 mm handgun and shouted orders at the six customers and three employees in the branch.

It was not the first time the branch had been robbed, Unger said, but it was one of the scariest. 'The variety of robberies ranges from simple note passing and a quiet word to a takeover robbery like this one, where he's waving a gun and threatening people, escalating to shooting.'

The bank offers counseling for employees and customers who witness bank robberies, he said.

After having an employee unlock a door, Tuesday's lone gunman moved behind the tellers' counter, took some cash and then fired two rounds in the direction of two customers who were walking in the door. No one was injured.

A woman at the bank's drive-through window called 911, and police arrived as the man was fleeing toward the nearby Portland Center Apartments, a 25-story complex at 222 S.W. Harrison St.

The suspect locked himself in an eighth-floor apartment for four hours while police blocked off streets below. Special Emergency Reaction Team officers and hostage negotiators worked to bring the suspect out of the building, which overlooks Portland State University and nearby businesses and homes.

The suspect surrendered and was arrested around 6:30 p.m.

FBI spokeswoman Beth Anne Steele said two other people Ñ one who was in the apartment with Clopton and another at the bank Ñ were questioned and released pending further investigation.

Steele said the number of bank robberies has fluctuated in recent years, but the number this year is far lower than in 2001.

So far this year there have been 13 bank robberies; last year during January and February there were 33. For all of 2001 there were 151 bank robberies, in 2000 there were 148, in 1999 there were 207, and in 1998 there were 228.

'There is a high capture rate, a high punishment level and low reward in terms of profit,' Steele said. There's also the fact that the crime will be caught on security cameras, and the robber likely will serve time in a federal prison instead of local jail if convicted because robbing banks is a federal offense.

For those reasons, authorities said, most bank robbers nowadays are desperate for cash, motivated by a drug or alcohol addiction.

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