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The cop who became the robber

He was a revered South Carolina police chief. Then he robbed a bank.

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  • 9 min to read
He was a revered South Carolina police chief. Then he robbed a bank.

The softball-size tumor removed from Richard Inman’s brain didn’t kill him. But at times, in his darkest days, he wished it did.

Because if he died on the operating table, the former police chief would have left in his wake a respected career. A marriage still intact. A family that adored him.

Instead, the surgery became his “curse.”

His thinking became clouded. He moved slowly, was easily confused and shouted out, nonsensical and jarring. He was forced to resign from his post after he shared a racist cartoon on his Facebook page.

Inman felt he was in a constant battle with himself, one that nobody could see or understand. It was like his own brain was attacking him, he would explain.

On a June morning in 2017, seven years after the operation that changed everything, Inman casually strolled into a Simpsonville bank.

He did not wear a mask.

He did not obscure who he was.

The man with two-decades of law enforcement experience looked at the teller on the opposite side of the counter. He slid her a note.

“This is a robbery. I have a gun. No dye-packs! $2,000 cash. No alarms. Don’t cry out, stay calm.”

She handed him cash, and he stuffed it into an envelope.

“Have a nice day,” Inman told the manager.

The cop had become the robber.

Simpsonville PD

Richard Inman as he robs the Bank of America in Simpsonville in June 2017. File/Simpsonville Police Department/Provided

***

The heist and another crime that followed have derailed Inman’s life and nearly left him dead after a chase with police this year.

At 50, Inman is gaunt, bearded and pale, sporting a jailhouse pallor from several months behind bars. He bears little resemblance to the husky, clean-shaven lawman who once patrolled the streets of the Upstate, commanding respect from colleagues and residents.

From 1994 to 2011, Inman worked as a patrol officer, climbed the ranks to lieutenant and then made the jump to police chief of Williamston — a town of about 4,000 roughly 20 miles southeast of Greenville — when he was hired there in 2009.

Inman was proud to take the helm of the department, but he maintained a special fondness for shoe-leather investigative work in the field. The photo of a smiling, blond woman whose murder he’d helped solve was taped to his desk — a constant reminder that the work he and his officers did was about people.

"When he first came on board with the town of Williamston, he was a wonderful officer. He got things done,” said Phyllis Lollis, who was city administrator at the time. “He changed things around here."

Inman had only been in town for a month or two when something went wrong. One evening after work in August 2009, he awoke in his bed and realized he had no idea how he got there.

His wife stood over him, blood on her T-shirt. He was still in his uniform. His bottom lip was sliced open after he bit through it during a seizure. His wife accompanied him to the hospital.

There, it all seemed to happen so quickly. Inman sat with his wife when the doctor delivered the news: a tumor clung to the right side of his frontal lobe, which controls judgment and impulse control. It would need to come out, and soon.

Additional MRI scans and testing would show that the tumor growing inside Inman’s head was a meningioma, among the most commonly diagnosed brain tumors. 

Though these tumors tend to be nonmalignant, they can grow to the point where it can weigh down on brain tissue and cause serious problems. The tumor, Inman learned, had been with him for 10 years. 

As Inman sat in the hospital with his wife as the doctor explained he was expected to come out OK on the other end of the brain surgery, a wave of relief washed over the couple.

“Not so much, now,” Inman told The Post and Courier in an interview in late July.

***

Inman remained in the hospital for 10 days after the brain surgery.

Family, friends and colleagues came and went, visiting the recovering lawman. Among them was Keith Morton, who was police chief when Inman worked for the town of Fountain Inn. The two became friends during their overlapping tenures at the department, sharing a mutual affinity for "Seinfeld" and an occasional golf game.

"He was very sick," Morton said. "I wasn't convinced when I left the room that day that he would ever go back to being a policeman."

Morton and Inman.JPG

Former Fountain Inn Police Chief Keith Morton (left) and Richard Inman. The two became friends when they worked together at the Fountain Inn Police Department, where Inman worked for about a decade. Carol Inman/Provided

Just weeks later, Inman insisted on returning to lead his department. He felt a sense of duty to return and help solve a particularly gruesome case — the slaying of a teenage girl.

The hook-shaped incision where a surgeon had cut into Inman's head had barely healed when he returned. At first, a colleague took him to and from work because Inman said he couldn't see straight and everything he observed appeared doubled.

It quickly became clear to Inman and everyone around him that something had changed after the surgery.

In the roughly year and a half Inman remained chief after the surgery, he struggled to carry out even some of the most basic responsibilities associated with his job, Lollis said.

"Everything during that period is just kind of a fog to me," Inman said. "I remember finishing up that homicide. ... After that, I don't remember too many specific cases in Williamston."

Inman moved slowly and seemed to lack a filter, offering out-of-context quips or making crude remarks. The chief, former colleagues recalled, became increasingly withdrawn and wore a vacant stare. 

"He just seemed like he couldn't quite put it all together," Lollis said. "He was more withdrawn, quiet. ... We attributed it to him healing."

Things came to a head in the summer of 2011, when Inman shared on Facebook a racist cartoon targeting Hispanics.

The local television station WSPA reported at the time that Inman failed to recognize why the post was offensive. It was intended as a joke, he said, and was not indicative of a bias in how he approached his police work.

The chief's colleagues roundly criticized the post. The mayor asked for Inman's resignation, and he obliged.

It was the last job he would ever have in law enforcement.

"I had the surgery, and it’s just like the wheels came off," Inman said. "It’s just — every decision I made was bad. And it had an impact on me, you know, on my family life, on my career."

The day he was ousted in August 2011, Inman described calling his wife to deliver the news.

"What did you expect?" she told him, according to Inman.

She left him just a few days later.

***

Perhaps nobody was more shaken by Inman's fall from grace than his mother.

Carol Inman and her late husband raised Richard and his sister in northwest Georgia.

Richard, she said, was inquisitive and empathetic. In his childhood, he devoured books, joined the Boy Scouts and was a formidable athlete, playing football and soccer. He would go on to study history at Presbyterian College. Richard was someone, a counselor told his family, that would "always need adventure in his life," Carol said. After taking an aptitude test, a counselor advised Richard he'd be well-suited for a career in law enforcement.

"He's an interesting person in a strange situation. I never thought I'd be visiting a jail or visiting a recovery center," she told The Post and Courier last month. "But I've done it all. It's what you do when you're a mother."

Mother and Richard.JPG

Carol Inman with her son, Richard. Provided

Inman has struggled with alcoholism through most of his adult life. 

He abstained from alcohol use through most of his marriage. But when his career and relationship imploded in 2011, he relapsed.

For the next three years, he fell in and out of sobriety and struggled to keep a steady job. He also bounced around, living briefly in Texas. In 2015, the same year his father died, he moved back in with his mother in Calhoun, Ga. And he sought out rehabilitative treatment for alcohol abuse and depression.

By 2017, Inman had a well-paying delivery job at a hardware store and a place of his own.

***

On June 22, 2017, Inman set out on the four-hour drive from Calhoun to visit his grown sons in Greenville for the weekend. But he never made it there. He checked in at a Motel 6 in nearby Simpsonville and headed to a Greenville strip club, the Trophy Room. The club doesn't charge a cover for cops and first responders, even those who are no longer active. 

Through all of Thursday night and into Friday, Inman drank. 

His $763 paycheck was direct deposited as he sat at the bar late Thursday. By Friday's end, it was almost gone.

Inman and sons1.JPG

Richard with his two sons when they were children in the early 2000s. Carol Inman/Provided

Saturday morning, Inman went to the Simpsonville Bank of America to withdraw the money still in his account, which was less than $40. As the staff helped him with the withdrawal, he took notice of how few patrons were in the bank.

He left to buy cigarettes at a nearby Publix, where he asked for a piece of paper. He scribbled the robbery note on the hood of his car.

Tucked into door compartments were two BB guns he'd shoplifted from a Walmart that same weekend, though he decided against using them.

Returning to the Bank of America, he held the door open for a woman before he stepped inside.

Inman gave the teller the note, demanding $2,000. She handed him the cash — 20 one hundred-dollar bills. 

"It wasn't this big thing where I've done all this research and planned it out," Inman said. "I just walked in there and did that like I was ordering a pizza."

His only thought was that he needed cash.

"It’s almost like I could just block the consequences out of my mind and say, ‘Well, if this doesn’t work, we’ll go from there,' " he recalled. "All I could think about was how mad my mom was going to be if I had to call her and ask for money for gas. How ticked off she’d be that I spent my entire paycheck."

Over the course of the day, in the small, close-knit community of law enforcement officers in the Upstate, stills of Richard's face from the bank surveillance footage spread quickly. Former colleagues sent one another shots of TV news headlines about a man who'd robbed a bank that looked an awful lot like their former colleague. Numerous officers reached out to Simpsonville police to ID Inman.

Some messaged Inman on Facebook.

He even replied. The messages were logged in police reports.

"Did you visit a bank?" someone messaged him.

"Bank of America. It was me," he replied.

"Holy (expletive), Richard."

"It's really hard to explain. ... I just don't have any hope," he wrote.

Inman wedding.JPG

Dick Inman, Richard Inman's father, with him on his wedding day. Richard said his father's death in 2015 was a significant mental and emotional breaking point for him. Carol Inman/Provided

Inman was arrested June 25, during a traffic stop. He'd already gone through one six-pack and had just bought another before he saw the blue lights appear in his rear-view mirror.

Soon after his arrest, a detective phoned his mother.

"It could not even possibly be my son," she said, recalling the conversation. "It was just total chaos in my mind, to be honest. I didn't relate to it at all. I just wanted to go be with him, and I couldn't."

A year after Inman walked into the Simpsonville bank and drove off with $2,000 cash, he reached a deal with prosecutors: he'd plead guilty for a sentence of time-served plus probation. Since he wasn't allowed to leave South Carolina, he stayed in the Greenville area working odd jobs.

For two years he kept busy, though it wouldn't last. 

***

On a March afternoon this year, Lollis, Inman's former colleague, received an unnerving phone call. It was the Williamston mayor she worked under.

Authorities on the other side of the state, in coastal Georgetown, had announced an arrest in a recent bank robbery, the former mayor told her. "Richard robbed another bank."

Their once-police chief was pursued into McClellanville and shot twice by deputies after he got out of his car and started to move toward an officer. He was injured but alive.

It couldn't be, Lollis thought. But when she turned on the news, there was Inman's face. Studying a still of a surveillance photo, his vacant stare and strained facial features made him almost unrecognizable.

"A different person," she said.

Richard Inman after Georgetown (copy)

Richard Inman. File/Al Cannon Detention Center/Provided

For the past five months, Inman has been in the Georgetown County jail awaiting trial on charges for his second alleged bank robbery.

The case against him is still pending. Inman still can't quite articulate what drove him to the banks in Simpsonville and Georgetown.

Most days, Carol Inman talks to her son by phone. She keeps him up to date on life on the outside and how his sons, only one of whom still talks to him, are doing.

"Richard's life is ruined," she said. "It is. But it does not have to ruin ours. ... We want to support and love him and be there anyway we can."

There are days Inman lies on his bunk in his cell, thinking about what he might do, where he might go, if he ever walks free.

He reads mystery novels by James Patterson, delving into fictional cases not unlike the real-life ones he used to solve.

When he's not reading, Inman often writes poetry, describing his life of isolation, of failures and faults, of love and loss.

"For twenty years, I wore the badge and did what was right/

Then in the blink of an eye, my own brain attacked me/

Now I'm fighting for my life with all my might."

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Reach Michael Majchrowicz at 843-937-5591. Follow him on Twitter @mjmajchrowicz.

Michael Majchrowicz is a reporter covering crime and public safety. He previously wrote about courts for the Daily Hampshire Gazette in Northampton, Massachusetts. A Hoosier native, he graduated from Indiana University with a degree in journalism.

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