A man who “threatened staff with violence and death” during a spate of San Francisco bank robberies, then given bail, which he skipped, and then, given bail again, went on to commit another robbery on Market Street, was sentenced to 60 months’ imprisonment this morning.
Willie Thomas, 34, hit eight banks in neighborhoods across the city in a three week spree in early 2022. His is a case in which arguably undue leniency on the part of state and federal courts – even in a high profile case of huge public concern – played a significant role
Today, the lenient approach concluded and U.S. District Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley threw the book at Thomas.
“It is extremely serious,” she told him. “Put yourself in the place of a teller getting this note, threatening to kill.”
“I have to have a sentence that reflects this incredibly dangerous conduct.”
Thomas hit Wells Fargo at 3801 3rd St (1/25/22), Chase at 2900 Mission and Wells Fargo at 655 8th St (1/27/22), Bank of the West at 2675 San Bruno Ave (2/2/22), Chase at 1811 19th Ave and Wells Fargo at 2300 16th Ave (2/5/22), US Bank at 4610 Mission St (2/9/23) and US Bank at 4947 3rd St (2/17/23).
In all $25,000 was stolen in Thomas’ robbery spree. “The tellers interacting with the defendant were terrified” the court was told.
Thomas was arrested to great fanfare by SFPD on February 17 2022. Less well publicized was his prompt release on bail, whereupon he cut off his ankle monitor and went on the lam until his rearrest weeks later in the Tenderloin in possession of heroin and cocaine.
Federal prosecutors then took over. At an April 22, 2022 hearing they noted Thomas’ “extensive criminal record” and said there was “a serious and highly probable risk that […] release would result in [him] once again robbing banks to fuel his […] drug use.”
Nevertheless at that hearing U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Hixson ordered the defendant “to be evaluated for residential drug treatment at New Bridge [Foundation]” and one month later, on May 26, he ordered his release into release into residential drug treatment.
By July 2022 things had started to go wrong and, at a bail review hearing on July 20, prosecutors reported “concerns about the defendant’s behavior” while at New Bridge. The court “admonished defendant about his behavior and the consequences of it.”
In late August the court was told that Thomas had become “a danger to the community” and ought to be detained. Instead Judge Hixson “strongly admonished defendant about his conduct” and set a status hearing for September 15.
Mr Thomas failed to heed the judge’s words of fatherly advice, however, opting instead to commit a further robbery on Market St in San Francisco for which he was arrested by SFPD on September 9.
“That Judge Hixson let you out at all was a little bit of suprising actually, given what you were accused of,” said Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley today, “because there was an acknowledgement that your substance abuse led to these terribly dangerous crimes.”
“However while you were on release you failed to take advantage of these opportunities.”
The judge also revealed that the Market Street robbery was of “an older woman”.
Earlier the court heard from the defense and the defendant about the impact of his drug addiction.
“This case represents an issue that Mr Thomas – in the crux of a strong addiction – engaged in conduct that he now realises was reprehensible,” said deputy federal defender Candis Mitchell.
“I understand what I did was wrong,” said Thomas, “but I had an addiction to heroin which was very bad…I wasn’t thinking clearly…I am just sorry.”
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