Hoax spurs bank hoopla

Anthony Murray (left) and Cassius Clay Davis

Grace Beahm // The Post and Courier

A Charleston Police Department bomb squad officer peers into the Wachovia Bank on Meeting and Market Streets on Wednesday.

Craig and Gayle Voelker of Illinois were enjoying their first visit to Charleston on Wednesday when they walked out of the Daughters of the Confederacy Museum and into what looked like a scene from "Dog Day Afternoon."

"We walked out, and the first thing we see is cops with machine guns," Gayle Voelker said. City police officers were kneeling behind their police cars with rifles and semiautomatic weapons aimed at the entrance to the Wachovia Bank at the corner of Meeting and Market streets, she said. Her husband began shooting video.

Rumors spread quickly in the throngs of tourists who were watching all the commotion. It was a bank robbery. There were guns and hostages. Someone tried to rob the bank with a bomb strapped to his body.

None of it was true, police later said. No robbery. No hostages. No weapons. No bomb.

Though no one was injured, the bizarre incident tied up dozens of police and firefighters and snarled traffic in the heart of Charleston's tourist district for more than three hours.

At 2:43 p.m., police received a call from a clerk at the Wachovia office at 177 Meeting St., police spokesman Charles Francis said.

A man had gone to a teller and said he was being held against his will and forced to withdraw money from his account, Francis said. "He pointed to a guy standing behind him and said that he had a gun and was forcing him to do it against his will," Francis said.

Police surrounded the bank and set up a perimeter. They called for the two men to come out of the bank, Francis said.

One came out, and then the other. Both were told to walk out backwards, with hands above their heads, until they reached police officers who were across the street.

The two men were rushed away to police headquarters to be interviewed, Francis said.

One of the men had left a black bag in the bank. Because no one knew what was in the bag, the police bomb squad was called in as a precaution.

Traffic was shut down on Meeting Street for several hours as the bomb squad used a robot to go in and X-ray the bag, Francis said. The X-ray determined there were no explosives in the bag, so the streets were reopened to traffic at 5:43 p.m., Francis said.

At police headquarters, as the men were being questioned, investigators learned that the one who claimed to have been the victim actually owed money to the other man, Francis said.

"They came to the bank to withdraw money so one guy could pay the other," he said. "But the guy didn't have any money in his account, so he made up this story."

Tony Murray, 44, of Charleston, is charged with filing a false police report in reference to a felony, Francis said. He was being held at the Cannon Detention Center pending a bond hearing.

The other man, 46-year-old Cassius Clay Davis of Charleston, was not charged in connection with the incident at the bank, Francis said. But Davis had an outstanding warrant with city police for distribution of cocaine base, Francis said.

Davis was arrested on that charge and also taken to jail.