At dawn on Dec. 23, Scott Reed sat at the same desk where he has spent the early morning hours for the past four decades, scribbling briefs in his law office on the second floor of the Bank of America building in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Out his windows, he could see the gems of a career well spent—from the shores of Lake Coeur d’Alene, which he has gone to court dozens of times to protect, to the pines of Tubbs Hill, a 120-acre public park he fought a half-century-long battle to preserve.
Around 7 a.m., Reed used his walking stick to get up and head slowly to the door. At 81, his back is hunched, and if anyone had been around to watch him shuffle down the hall to the restroom that morning, they might have noted a passing resemblance to Yoda, albeit with Einstein’s hair.
Moments later, Reed opened the restroom door to return to his office, only to encounter the surprise of his life: five police officers surrounding the door, two with guns drawn and aimed in his direction. The officers ordered him to drop his walking stick and lie face-down on the floor. They put his hands behind his back and handcuffed his wrists. Stooped, arthritic, and seemingly harmless, my 81-year-old father had accomplished what would be tough for men decades younger: He was now the Coeur d’Alene Police Department’s prime suspect for attempted bank robbery.
The police asked him how long he had been in the building. He was tempted to say, “40 years,” but thought better of it and told them he had come to work, as he always does, between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. They asked what he was doing there. He nodded toward his office, but a Christmas wreath covered the nameplate on his door. Eventually, he persuaded the police to go inside. One officer surveyed the messy office and declared that the place looked like it had been ransacked.
The officers asked my father to provide identification to prove he belonged there. He said he would like to but couldn’t reach his wallet because his hands were cuffed. An officer reached into my father’s pocket, pulled out a billfold, and found a driver’s license that matched a face with the name on the door. After some discussion, the officers removed the handcuffs and concluded that Scott Reed was not their man.
Few crime stories have had a happier ending. An alarm had gone off, but the bank was never robbed. Our children did not have to go without Christmas to bail their grandfather out of jail. And my father had the most exhilarating experience he can remember. “I am at an age where nothing very exciting ever happens,” he wrote the police chief in a letter praising the officers’ handling of the matter. “In retrospect, it was rather complimentary that someone in my condition walking only with a cane was thought physically capable of robbing a bank.”
As my father pointed out, the officers were right to realize that guns can turn up anywhere in that part of the world. Over New Years’, Coeur d’Alene made national news when the barista at a roadside espresso stand thwarted an armed robbery by pulling out the pistol her husband had given her for Christmas. In a true Twin Peaks moment, the teenage robber was arrested by a deputy sheriff who had just picked up his morning coffee at the same place moments earlier.
It’s also possible that the police knew of the FBI warrant on the so-called “Geezer Bandit,” a man in his 70s who is still at large after robbing five banks in San Diego this past fall. The San Diego Union-Tribune could find only 12 instances nationwide of bank robbers over the age of 65 in the past five years.
But the main reason my father wasn’t upset is that police across the Pacific Northwest have good reason to be on edge. Since Halloween, six officers in Seattle and Tacoma have been shot to death and two others wounded. While the overall murder rate in the United States dropped sharply in 2009, the number of police officers gunned down in the line of duty jumped 25 percent nationwide.
On Halloween night, a Seattle policeman was killed in a drive-by shooting, the first intentional homicide of an officer in 15 years. The most gruesome attack took place the Sunday morning after Thanksgiving, when Maurice Clemmons—a violent repeat offender who had been granted early release from an Arkansas prison in 2000 by then-Gov. Mike Huckabee—shot and killed four officers at a coffee shop in a Tacoma suburb. Clemmons had been sentenced to 108 years but persuaded Huckabee and the Arkansas Parole Board to let him go on the grounds that he had been young and misguided.
As the worst police shooting in Washington state history, the incident had a searing impact on law enforcement throughout the region. Some 20,000 law enforcement officers from Washington, Oregon, Idaho, British Columbia, and around the country came to the memorial service, including a funeral procession 2,000 police vehicles long. Two weeks later, on the Tuesday before Christmas, two more officers from the Seattle-Tacoma area were shot while responding to a domestic-violence call. One of the officers died soon thereafter. In the wake of those traumatic and random Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmastime shootings, police officers could be forgiven for seeing danger behind every door, even if it took the form of an octogenarian with a walking stick.
The oldest known bank robber in American history, Red Rountree, pulled his last heist at 91 and died in prison a year later. His obituary in the Times said he didn’t take up the profession until his 80s. So far, my father seems content to stick with the practice of law. When you’re 81, getting cuffed feels like an achievement, and when your senator was Larry Craig, a men’s room arrest for bank robbery isn’t so bad.