GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - FBI agents were in front of bank robbers Kris Cheyne and Derryl LaFave before a high-speed chase began along I-96 on October 13, Target 8 investigators learned.
Michigan State Police dispatch tapes obtained by Target 8 through the Freedom of Information Act revealed FBI agents knew ahead of time what kind of getaway car they might be driving. Agents were in front of Cheyne and LaFave on Ravenna Road, just south of the ChoiceOne Bank they robbed.
"We are southbound on Ravenna Road," an FBI agent said. "We have the bank robbers behind us in a blue Bravada. We are traveling south towards Coopersville. We are just passing over Musketawa Trail."
Soon, the bank robbers got onto I-96, and a high-speed chase began that ended at the 8th Avenue exit ramp, where they killed Walker police officer Trevor Slot and were gunned down by pursuing officers.
Questions have been raised about just how much the FBI knew beforehand and where they were the morning of the robbery.
Even before the robbery, they knew what to look for. A dispatcher said, "Their M-O is to stash a blue Olds Bravada, then steal a car to go do these, so, bol (be on the lookout) for that blue Bravada, along with the black Blazer."
When contacted by Target 8 for a comment on Tuesday, FBI officials said the agents were "in the vicinity," were not conducting physical surveillance on the men, and just happened to spot the car leaving Ravenna, but before the bank robbery was reported.
The dispatch tapes show the FBI agents were ahead of Cheyne and LaFave at the same time MSP cruisers from around the area were rushing to the scene.
The dispatches appear to suggest the FBI agents wanted to make the arrest.
"If you just start having your units, we'll keep updated on their location, and if we need a couple of marked units to slide in here and help us with the takedown, please," an FBI agent said.
A short time later, though, after the robbers passed Pontaluna Road, it appears the FBI backed off.
"6-0, this is FBI 8, we're passing through Pontaluna. Pontaluna, still southbound on Ravenna Road. OK, we've got a marked unit from the Ottawa County Sheriff's Department is passing us. OK, state you got em, I'm backing off."
After learning Target 8 obtained the dispatch tapes, FBI resident-agent-in-charge John King said his agents did not witness the robbery, nor did they have any information a robbery was going to happen - or had already happened.
Both Cheyne and LaFave had been under FBI investigation for previous bank robberies.
"We had no arrest warrants for anybody. We had no search warrants for anybody. ... There was no physical surveillance happening on these guys whatsoever," King said.
"My agents observed two individuals that they knew had criminal histories leaving a small town and thought that was suspicious. They then decided - just in case anything has happened - let's keep an eye on these guys."
King said, "This was the perfect storm. These individuals hit a bank prior to anyone having enough information to do anything about it."
The FBI investigation into this case and into Cheyne and LaFave continues, he said, but he couldn't comment further.
"I can understand why people are cynical, without divulging everything we're doing. Unfortunately our piece [of the investigation] hasn't stopped."
Dispatch tapes also revealed some of the warnings issued by police and dispatchers to all officers as they hoped to put down stop sticks during the chase.
"If you've got sticks, be careful," a dispatcher said. "They're firing shots and you may be a target. Take cover."
But heavy gunfire was not the only threat.
The other threat was the Bravada itself, traveling at speeds of up to 120 mph.
"Eastbound, approaching Walker Avenue," an officer said. "He's in the right lane. Approximately 120."
Up ahead, police with stop sticks protected themselves behind median cable barriers.
Police were hoping for protection as the Bravada headed back west.
"If we could get one of our units, maybe position themselves on the highway, by an overpass or something, where they can get some cover and maybe get some strips out."
A short time later, the robbers struck and killed Officer Slot as he prepared to deploy stop sticks on the highway ramp.
A sheriff's deputy car and a Michigan State Police SUV were among the damaged vehicles.
A fire damaged three garages and some homes in a Grand Haven neighborhood early Thursday morning.
The suspects stole cash and fled the scene.