The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

February 2, 2011

Suspect held in bank heist


JOHNSTOWN — A Tennessee native made quick work of his release from Cambria County Prison, repaying the judge who freed him Tuesday by stealing an SUV and robbing a bank Wednesday, police believe.

Then, officers made equally quick work of him.

Richard Brandon Johnson, 29, of Millcreek Hollow Road, was arrested about two hours after the morning robbery at First Commonwealth Bank in Benscreek.

Johnson had been in the county jail since New Year’s on charges including aggravated assault.

No weapon was used in the bank robbery, an officer for the Upper Yoder Police Department said.

But the teller handed over the cash “because of the threat,” he said.

Marked units from Upper Yoder, West Hills, Conemaugh Township and the state police converged on the bank just after 9 a.m.

Officers had Johnson in mind as the holdup man right from the get-go because of bank video.

Upper Yoder police Chief Walter Howell said outside the bank, just an hour after the robbery, that authorities had a suspect.

“We need to get him before he does another job,” Howell said, but wouldn’t elaborate.

Johnson was charged with robbery, theft and receiving stolen property. The suspect, bearing tattoos up and down his arms and one on his neck, was arraigned by District Judge John Barron of Upper Yoder Township. He was sent to Cambria County Prison in lieu of $500,000 bond.

Township police said the robber entered the bank Wednesday morning, approached the teller and said: “This is a robbery, give me all of the money in your drawer and no dye packs.”

Police said he then made off with $1,100.

The robber apparently made no attempt to hide his face.

When police reviewed surveillance video, they immediately spotted Johnson. He was carrying a large amount of money when he was arrested without incident at Walmart by Richland Township police.

“An alert citizen saw him up at Walmart,” Howell said. “He kept an eye on him until Richland police could take him into custody.”

Authorities are uncertain why Johnson chose to rob the Benscreek bank. He made no comment to police and said only “Hi, mom” to reporters as he was being taken to the magistrate for arraignment.

Upper Yoder police said that, shortly after Johnson was released from prison Tuesday, he stole a 1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee from Walmart in Ebensburg.

Cambria Township police are expected to file vehicle-theft charges against Johnson.

After Wednesday’s bank heist, the stolen Jeep was found in the parking lot of the Goucher Street Giant Eagle in Upper Yoder Township. Police found a sweatshirt inside the vehicle, and they said the garment matched the one Johnson wore for the bank job.

The suspect, whose family lives in Memphis, came to this area in October with a female companion, Howell said.  

Court records show Johnson was released Tuesday from Cambria County Prison by Judge Tim Creany on reduced $10,000 recognizance bond on aggravated assault and other charges. That means he was free to go and wouldn’t be subject to the $10,000 bond unless he broke the rules.

Johnson was held for court on $25,000 bond by District Judge John Barron during a preliminary hearing Jan. 21.

Johnson faces counts of aggravated and simple assault, harassment and disorderly conduct. His live-in girlfriend called authorities Dec. 31 to say she and Johnson got into a fight because she went to a friend’s house while he was sleeping.

Johnson ran into the woods before police arrived.

About 9 a.m. New Year’s Day, Johnson returned home and, according to court papers, punched and kicked the woman in the face, arms and back, leaving large bruises and swelling.

He also reportedly hit her in the temple, knocking her out for a time.

Johnson again ran into the woods but was arrested later in the day.