Shots rang out in a Laguna Beach neighborhood around 11 a.m. Oct. 19 as police opened gunfire on a bank robbery suspect who allegedly fired first and took employees hostage for a brief time at Citizens Bank on Glenneyre Street.
Following the firefight, officers took Michael Edward Sousa of Acton into custody unharmed. He is being held in lieu of $2 million bail at the Orange County Jail.
One bystander was injured by Sousa’s gunfire, officials said.
Sousa, 52, has been charged with firing on a police officer and armed robbery along with other crimes including kidnapping for robbery, assault with a firearm and car theft. He has two prior convictions for bank robberies, in 1989 and 1992, according to the Orange County District Attorney’s office. If convicted, he faces the possibility of life in prison under the three-strikes law.
Sousa entered the bank, 800 Glenneyre St., around 11 a.m. wearing a plastic Halloween mask. Once outside, a device designed to mark robbery suspects burst, covering Sousa and the stacks of cash he carried in pink dye.
According to a release from the Orange County District Attorney’s office, Sousa fired first at the officers. He missed the officers, but a person in a car was injured in the arm. Police responded with their own salvo, leaving bullet holes in nearby parked cars.
Sandy Walker was inside the bank when Sousa entered. She said Sousa pulled a gun on the bank’s security guard when he entered the building. Walker said Sousa then fired three shots into the ceiling and then said he didn’t want to hurt anyone.
At first Walker thought it was a Halloween prank, but that changed when the gun went off.
“That’s when I knew this wasn’t a joke; this is real,” Walker said.
Walker, who works across the street from bank, said Sousa then herded the bank employees into an area in back. Walker saw an opportunity to escape and ran toward the street.
A co-worker of Walker’s watched from across the street and said the man came through the parking lot and took off his mask, revealing his face. The dye then exploded as he crossed the parking lot toward a cafe.
Confronted by police, Sousa fired two shots and police returned fire, the district attorney’s office said.
Teo Moore, a trainer in the Laguna Health Club next door, was outside and said he heard the police shout repeatedly for the man to put down his weapon as they ran toward him. The next thing he heard was gunfire.
“They gave him significant opportunity to surrender,” Moore said.
Residents in the neighborhood area behind the bank were alarmed when they heard the blasts.
Mike, a resident who declined to give his last name, said he heard rounds flying through the trees outside his house.
“I actually ducked and got on the ground because there were bullets flying,” he said.
Resident Dan Drewnowski said he heard loud yelling before the shots.
“It was life-and-death yelling, not where someone was playing,” Drewnowski said.
Because Laguna police fired their weapons, an investigation will be conducted by the District Attorney’s office.
The District Attorney’s office said Sousa stole the gun and car from his brother.