Crime & Courts

Bank robbery, kidnapping suspect arrested

CHARLOTTE -- Police arrested accused bank robber Taj Pittman in Atlanta on Tuesday –- ending what police say was a monthslong crime spree that included two bank robberies, a kidnapping and a shooting across three states, including South Carolina.

Before his arrest, he was last seen in Union County, N.C., on Tuesday, the day after police said he kidnapped his ex-girlfriend and shot her new boyfriend in S.C. He fled to Georgia on Tuesday as he continued to evade local and federal authorities, they said.

The 33-year-old was initially arrested in November and confessed he stole more than $16,000 in a dramatic Kannapolis bank robbery, according to a federal court document.

During the Nov. 7 robbery of a Wachovia branch, employees and customers were ordered to the floor as the armed and masked robber jumped behind the teller counter and stuffed cash into plastic bags he brought with him, the document said.

But the FBI – present at the Nov. 21 confession – didn't obtain a federal arrest warrant for another two weeks, allowing Pittman time to post bail and walk out of the Cabarrus (N.C.) County Jail where he was being held on state charges of robbery and communicating threats.

Adding a federal bank robbery charge would have likely kept Pittman in jail and under a higher bond. The FBI won't say why it took two weeks to obtain a bank robbery warrant.

Such arrest warrants can be obtained within hours.

Before catching Pittman Tuesday evening, police found his ex-girlfriend, rattled but unharmed, at a Wal-Mart in Union County. Her boyfriend was recovering from the gunshot wound.

In all, Pittman is accused of robbing two banks, the one in Kannapolis and the SunTrust branch in Concord.

Cabarrus County Jail officials said Tuesday they didn't hear from the FBI or receive paperwork in early December that might have kept them from releasing the now-captured man.

A local task force of FBI agents and police officers investigate bank robberies in the region. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department has six permanent detectives on the task force.

In some bank robbery cases, federal authorities rely on state charges as a way to hold suspects in a local jail until they can get a federal magistrate to issue federal charges and warrants.

In Pittman's case, those warrants were obtained Dec. 3 – a day too late.

After realizing Pittman had posted bond the day before, the FBI went looking for him at Charlotte's McAlpine Apartments at Independence Boulevard at Krefeld Drive.

Authorities said Pittman was there, but escaped.

An agent fired his weapon. No one was hurt.

The FBI won't give details of the run-in. But the shooting and search that evening in nearby woods shut down lanes of outbound Independence and snarled rush-hour traffic.

Over the ensuing weeks, the FBI and police continued to investigate. Around Christmas, a Rock Hill FBI agent traveled to Cheraw, S.C, to interview Pittman's ex-girlfriend, who is also the mother of his child.

On Monday, police say Pittman knocked on the door of the ex-girlfriend, Jessica Malachi. Her mother, Myrtle Short, answered the door.

With 9 mm pistol pointed, Pittman pushed his way into the back bedroom where Malachi and her new boyfriend, 20-year-old Charlie Brown, were hanging out, said Cheraw police Chief Jay Brooks.

Brooks said Pittman brought duct tape with him and used it to bind the arms and legs of Myrtle Short. He hit the boyfriend in the face with the butt of the gun and then shot him, Brooks said. The bullet grazed his neck and hit his shoulder blade, pushing down into his back. He was listed in stable condition at Chesterfield General Hospital in Cheraw.

Brooks said that Pittman then slapped Malachi and demanded to know the location of their baby son.

“I think he had some grand illusions about starting a new life or riding off into the sunset with her and the baby,” Brooks said.

But the child was with a relative that night. Brooks said Pittman then forced Malachi into a minivan parked in the driveway and they drove about two blocks to his parked white Ford Escort.

He ended up dropping her off the next day at a Wal-Mart in Union County, Brooks said.

“He kept wanting her to get the baby. But he figured out by this afternoon that he was going to get caught if he kept (Malachi) with him.”

On Tuesday, the child was at an undisclosed location.

Late Tuesday, Atlanta police arrested Pittman. No details were available.

-- The Charlotte Observer