A gun battle outside a Phoenix bank over the weekend ended with the death of a suspected serial bank robber accused of killing a police officer and wounding another in a previous heist in Mississippi, officials said Sunday.
According to federal court records, the man also had threatened to kill President Obama in 2010 and was ordered by a judge to receive mental health treatment.
The death of Mario Edward Garnett, 40, after a firefight with Phoenix police Saturday brought a bloody end to an investigation that had spanned the Southeast and brought a $200,000 reward for his capture.
A masked Garnett had emerged from the Compass Bank in Phoenix with a gun and a bag on Saturday morning when he was confronted by a Phoenix police officer who had responded to a report of a bank robbery, according to a department spokesman.
Garnett shot at the officer, police said. Garnett was then shot by a Phoenix police detective who had also responded to the report of a robbery, the department said in a release.
Garnett died at the scene. The officer he shot at was not hurt.
The drama deepened Sunday when federal law enforcement officials revealed that Garnett had been suspected in a pair of attempted bank robberies in the Southeast a week earlier, one of which resulted in a deadly ambush of two Tupelo, Miss., police officers.
Garnett was released from prison July 19 for the threat against Obama, according to U.S. prison records.
In the threat to Obama posted on the White House website in 2010, Garnett wrote that he would "come up there and blow your brains out on national TV" if Obama attacked Iran, according to a federal indictment. He also threatened to harm Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "GOD has given Me a mandate. Glory belongs to GOD for all to come," wrote Garnett, who was living in Oklahoma City at the time.
When the U.S. Secret Service searched his computer, they found "multiple" files "containing equipment purchase list [sic] for ammunition, pistols, rifles and other explosive devices." They also found a U.S. atlas with multiple locations marked, though they weren't specified in the indictment.
Garnett cooperated with investigators and expressed remorse for the threat, ultimately pleading guilty to threatening Obama and receiving a sentence of eight months in prison.
But his supervised release from prison on July 26, 2011, proved to be problematic.
According to court records, during a mental health counseling session on Sept. 21, 2011, he said that his probation officer and mental health counselor should be "put to death." His probation officer said that during sessions he "rants and makes threats."
On Sept. 23, 2011, a federal judge ordered him placed on 120 days of house arrest with GPS monitoring. Within less than a week, he had declined to meet with his probation officer and called counseling a "charade," leading to his sentencing in October 2011 to two years in prison.
He remained incarcerated until his release in July.
On Dec. 23, after getting a report of a robbery at BancorpSouth in Tupelo, police officers Kevin “Gale” Stauffer and Joseph Edward Maher approached a broken-down SUV they thought belonged to the suspect, officials said.
They were wrong. Garnett was in a sedan stopped behind the SUV, officials said, and he had a gun.
Garnett got out of his car and ambushed the officers, killing Stauffer and critically wounding Maher, according to Daniel McMullen, special agent in charge of the FBI's Mississippi bureau.
The Tupelo heist wasn't even Garnett's first of the day, authorities said. Six hours earlier, officials said, Garnett had also attempted to rob a Bank of America in northeast Atlanta, which is more than a four-hour drive from Tupelo.
McMullen told reporters Sunday that officials connected Garnett's robberies because of similar clothing he wore and statements he made during the incidents - in addition to using the same stopper to prop open doors in each robbery.
McMullen did not name Garnett, whose identity was released by the Phoenix Police Department.
"While nothing we can do can lessen the pain and loss suffered by the family and friends of Officer Gale Stauffer, nor can it alleviate the painful recovery and rehabilitation of Officer Maher, all of us hope that the conclusion of this investigation will bring them some measure of comfort and peace," McMullen said.
At a televised Sunday news conference, Stauffer's wife, Beth, called the news of Garnett's death "another very emotional day" as the family could now "truly begin the healing process."
"Numerous people didn’t get to celebrate Christmas with their families because they were trying to bring peace to our family," Beth Stauffer said. "We have been so overwhelmed with the outpouring of love and support from the city of Tupelo and surrounding areas. We know that we have not been going through this alone. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for shining your light in this time of darkness."
She added, "Gale would be so proud."
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