After a brazen escape and three days on the run, Joseph “Jose” Banks was quiet and respectful in court today as he made his initial appearance following his capture overnight on the North Side.
Banks, who was shackled at his wrists and ankles, answered questions from U.S. Magistrate Judge Sidney Schenkier politely – a sharp contrast to his defiant behavior during his trial last week on bank robbery charges in the same Dirksen U.S. Courthouse.
A lawyer did not fight Banks’ detention, knowing that would be futile for a convicted bank robber who had just made a daring escape early Tuesday from a federal jail in the South Loop, scaling down from some 15 stories with a rope fashioned from bedsheets.
Attorney Beau Brindley, who formerly represented Banks on the bank robbery charges and stood with him in court today, called his client a “mild-mannered” individual whose statements at trial were misconstrued as threats toward the court system.
“This is not a violent person,” Brindley told reporters after Banks’ court appearance. “He’s a talented artist and clothing designer.”
Brindley said the news media had misreported Banks’ comment when he told U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer after his conviction: “You’ll hear from me.”
Brindley said that was a reference to post-trial motions Banks intended to file.
“That statement was taken totally out of context,” Brindley said.
Banks faces one count of escaping federal custody that carries a sentence of up to 5 years in prison on conviction. He also faces sentencing in March for his conviction last week on two bank robberies and two attempted holdups.
Banks was taken into custody by FBI agents and Chicago police around 11:30 p.m. Thursday in the 2300 block of North Bosworth Avenue, according to the FBI.
A neighbor, the Rev. Baggett Collier, said she heard a loud bang and looked out her window.
"We heard a big boom first," she said. "We thought a transformer burst or there was a traffic accident. Later, my daughter called and said police were out there. I went out and I saw him. He was cuffed. His head was down. I didn't hear him say anything. They got him into the wagon peacefully. The police were pretty calm bringing him out.
"He was just normal," Collier added. "There were so many police there."
She said agents also took into custody a man who was living in the townhouse where Banks was found. He also was in handcuffs and placed in another squadrol. "A really good guy, well-disciplined, somebody a mother would be proud of."
The man and his two teen-aged sons live in the townhouse with a woman and her two younger sons, Collier said. "Very humble people, they take very good care of their children."
Collier said she saw the woman last evening at a neighborhood store. "She seemed nervous and upset," she said. "Looking back, it's like she wanted to tell me something but was afraid to say anything. She had gotten what she wanted and just stood there. I said, 'How you doing?' She said, 'OK.' But you know when something doesn't seem right. I believe she might have been afraid."
Collier said she was shocked by the arrest. "I had talked to my daughter yesterday. I told her, 'I don't want you walking in the neighborhood because those robbers are out there.' "
Hezekiah Harper-Bey, 19, was watching television in his bedroom when he noticed a man outside wearing a white T-shirt and blue shorts. He heard a “loud boom” and looked outside to see the FBI with their guns pointed at the man, who turned out to be Banks.
“Then I saw him run past a little field and into a house,” he said. Harper-Bey said he walked outside and saw Banks in handcuffs.
“He had a white T-shirt with blue shorts. I saw him but I didn’t pay him no mind,” he said. “I just started to watch TV. That's when I heard the loud boom and that’s when I looked, then I put two and two together. I’m like, that was the bank robber. I never knew I could get the $60,000 (reward). I watched the news so I seen his face, so I knew it was him when I saw him.”
Banks was using a cell phone about 20 minutes before the arrest, Harper-Bey said. “I thought he was a regular person who lived around here,” he said. “Then I saw the FBI with their guns pointed out and they said he ran into a house. Then I went downstairs before he got into the wagon. That's when I saw him.
"It was like 30, 20 of them (FBI agents). There was a lot of them," Harper-Bey said. "He was in handcuffs, tied to the back. There were like three cops with him.
"Before he came out, they (FBI agents) came out with a shoebox and I’m thinking it’s the money. Two seconds later, he came out," Harper-Bey said. "He didn’t put up a fight."
He said he had not noticed Banks in the neighborhood before. Harper-Bey said he believes Banks had stayed inside the townhouse for days and no one in the neighborhood suspected he was there.
Another witness, Colm Marron, said he stepped out of a bar on Fullerton Avenue and saw about a half-dozen unmarked police cars gathering in the Walgreens parking lot around the corner from the building.
“They flew out, just down there,” he said, motioning from inside the bar toward Bosworth Avenue. Seconds later he heard a “huge bang.”
“I was surprised how loud the bang was. It wasn’t like any thunder I’ve ever heard,” he said. “There wasn’t any echo to it, just that loud, off the bat.”
A few minutes later, a handful of marked Chicago police cars arrived, he said.
Banks and his cellmate, Kenneth Conley, both convicted bank robbers awaiting sentencing, were last accounted for at 10 p.m. Monday during a routine bed check at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, authorities said.
About 7 a.m. Tuesday, jail employees arriving for work saw ropes made from bedsheets dangling from a hole in the wall near the 15th floor. The two had put clothing and sheets under blankets in their beds to throw off guards making nighttime checks, authorities said.
Cameras mounted to the side of the 28-story federal jail captured Banks and Conley sliding down the building shortly after 2:30 a.m. Tuesday, according to an employee who wished to remain anonymous.
The men left view briefly, but it was believed they landed on the roof of a garage below. Moments later, footage from a different camera showed them hopping a black fence marking the perimeter of the property, the employee said.
The FBI said a surveillance camera a few blocks from the jail showed the men, wearing light-colored clothing, hailing a taxi at Congress Parkway and Michigan Avenue. They also appeared to be wearing backpacks, according to the FBI.
The manhunt for the inmates included several high-profile raids Tuesday in the southwest suburbs of Tinley Park and New Lenox, where Conley's family and associates lived. Conley is still unaccounted for as of Friday morning.
A $50,000 reward for information leading to the capture of the two fugitives was announced by the FBI.