Off-duty Barrington cop helps nab alleged bank robbers
Barrington Police Sgt. Josh Birrell was gassing up one of the old police cruisers behind the Barrington Public Safety Building on Friday afternoon when the radio crackled with news of an armed bank robbery.
The 18-year veteran of the Barrington Police Department had just finished a detail at a construction job on New Meadow Road at about 5 p.m. and was planning to park the cruiser and head home, when the dispatcher said the Bank of America on County Road had just been robbed.
Sgt. Birrell quickly put the gas nozzle back on the pump and drove down Federal Road to the intersection with County. No one had seen what kind of car the alleged robbers were driving; tellers had told the dispatcher a black man wearing a white coat and hat waved a gun in the air when demanding cash.
“I was looking for anybody that matches that description,” said Sgt. Birrell during an interview on Monday. “There was a lot of heavy traffic there (at the intersection). I just took a shot.”
About 10 seconds after pulling up to the intersection, the longtime officer noticed a tan Hyundai carrying two black men heading north on County. One of the men was wearing a white jacket and hat.
Sgt. Birrell began following the car, which was traveling close to 60 mph. He then activated his lights and ordered it over to the side of the road.
The Hyundai pulled over. Sgt. Birrell stepped out of his cruiser and began walking toward the car. That’s when he noticed the Hyundai’s brake lights shine red, and the car sped away.
The officer jumped back in his cruiser and chased the alleged bank robbers into East Providence, where more police joined the pursuit.
Eventually, the men — Pierre Samuel Rheau, 33, and David Lasseque, 32, both of Providence — crashed their car head-on into an East Providence cruiser.
Both men tried to flee the scene on foot, but officers quickly apprehended them. Barrington police charged Mr. Rheau with robbery-first degree and conspiracy, and Mr. Lasseque with conspiracy and reckless driving/drag racing/eluding police.
Barrington Police Chief John LaCross praised the work of both police departments involved in the case and the initiative taken by Sgt. Birrell.
“The key was his initiative and dedication to duty to get out on a traffic post. He’s off duty. If he didn’t do that, these guys would have been gone,” Chief LaCross said. “Here’s an 18-year veteran of the force, and he goes out there and sees what he might be a possible suspect. He puts his life in jeopardy.”
Sgt. Birrell said he was just doing his job.
“We’re such a small department... I think everyone else here would have done the same thing,” he said. “You don’t get many big (incidents) like that. You just jump in and try to help.”
Chief LaCross said FBI officials working the case believe the two suspects may be connected to six other bank robberies across New England.
“This is probably one of the best arrests I’ve seen in 12 years (with Barrington police),” he said. “He (Sgt. Birrell) pursued them right to the crash. ... This puts two dangerous people behind bars. ... You always hope you can make a great arrest in your tenure. No civilians got hurt, and this is a tribute to Sgt. Birrell and to East Providence police, our brothers and sisters right next door. This was an outstanding collaborative effort.”
Sgt. Birrell brushed off the praise.
“I think it was a matter of being in the right place at the right time,” he said.
According to police, Mr. Rheau entered the Bank of America at about 5 p.m. wearing a white jacket that had stripes on the sleeves and a white baseball cap. He was wearing latex gloves and brandished a black handgun. Police said Mr. Rheau filled a bag with cash before fleeing the bank, where it appears Mr. Lasseque was waiting for him in a 2013 tan Hyundai. The two apparently traveled north on Route 114 in heavy late-afternoon traffic before catching the eye of off-duty police officer Sgt. Josh Birrell. The firearm was later discovered to be a .177 caliber bb gun.