A man with a gun robbed a Massachusetts 7-Eleven Friday morning, getting away with more than $300 in cash. That armed robbery turned into a major standoff with scores of police officers several miles away.
The man, identified Friday evening as Eric Leach, had stolen a police cruiser, and over the next few hours was able to pry free a semiautomatic rifle from inside. The standoff came to an end when he started to exit the cruiser with the gun in his hands and was shot by police, authorities said.
Leach was able to get into the Rockland police cruiser because it was unlocked, against department policy, while officers tried to chase the man down on foot, Chief John Llewellyn told reporters Friday.
But Llewellyn emphasized that chasing after a man believed to have a gun is very stressful.
"We employ human beings," he said, adding that the door was left unlocked in the heat of the moment
Llewellyn said it's possible the officer -- who's been placed on leave -- could receive disciplinary action, but said counseling was likelier.
"He's pretty distraught, as you can imagine," he said
The encounter between Leach and the Rockland police before Leach stole the cruiser was heated, according to Llewellyn's account.
The suspect, cornered and being held at gunpoint by the officers in a neighborhood near the store, asked them to shoot him and walked toward them. One used his Taser, but it didn’t work because Leach was wearing a sweatshirt, Llewellyn said.
He also tried to get into at least two homes while trying to hide from police, according to Rockland police.
Susan Sayce lives near the 7-Eleven and said she saw the suspect in her yard.
“I heard, ‘Get on the ground! Get on the ground!’ I went to the window and I saw a guy dressed in black sweatshirt, pants scaling our fence over there,” she recounted. “And then he got into the yard and he’s like looking around and then I got my phone, called 911.”
After the Taser didn't work, Leach ran around the house, and officers chased after him, according to Llewellyn, who added it was, "in hindsight, maybe the wrong angle to take."
He said Leach was able to jump into the unlocked police cruiser, which he drove off, but not before trying to hit the officers with the SUV.
“The officers approached from the front of the vehicle, drew their service weapons, pointed it at the suspect in the vehicle. [Leach] backed up for about 12 feet, put it in drive and then sped towards the officers,” Llewellyn said.
The officers never fired their service weapons, he said, adding that it was a good decision, given state law about shooting at moving vehicles.
Rockland police cruisers can't be disabled remotely, according to Llewellyn, who speculated that it's a cost issue.
More on the Police Standoff
At one point during the chase, an Abington police officer who was taking part lost control of his car on East Water Street in Rockland, hitting a utility pole and flipping over.
He went to the hospital, but is okay, Llewellyn said.
Derek Buccheri saw the flipped cruiser and said, “I was just kind of getting my day started and then all of a sudden there was some chaos out here.”
Police are still searching for the handgun used in the robbery.
The chase ended in two standoffs, during which police tried negotiating with Leach, authorities said. But Leach had, over time, pried open a secure gun mount inside the police cruiser and started to get out of the vehicle with a semiautomatic rifle in his hands. That's when he was shot.
The investigation is ongoing.