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Cops: Ex-con, 69, robs bank day after release

New York City police say an officer shot a man, who had just robbed a Chase bank, outside Madison Square Garden.
New York City police say an officer shot a man, who had just robbed a Chase bank, outside Madison Square Garden.Mark Lennihan / AP
/ Source: staff and news service reports

Police shot a 69-year-old man who allegedly tried to rob a bank in a busy section of Manhattan with a steak knife one day after his release from an approximately 21-year stretch in prison.

An officer shot ex-convict John Daniel Stolarz in the leg as he tried to flee the scene of the Thursday afternoon incident, authorities and witnesses said.

Paramedics transported Stolarz to Bellevue Hospital and he was alert and able to speak with doctors, WNBC-TV reported.

On its face, the incident is reminiscent of the 1994 film, "The Shawshank Redemption," in which elderly inmate Brooks Hatlen, who has spent most of his adult life in prison, contemplates committing a crime of desperation upon his parole so authorities will send him back to the only life he knows.

The shooting sent pedestrians ducking for cover outside the Chase bank branch located right next to entrances to Madison Square Garden and Pennsylvania Station.

Police spokesman Paul Browne said authorities had just released Stolarz from the Federal Correctional Institution in Fairton, N.J., on Wednesday after he had served an approximately 21-year sentence for armed bank robberies in Utah, Louisiana, Washington and Nevada.

The man was carrying identification indicating he had been a federal inmate, Browne said. As a condition of his parole, Stolarz was to have checked into a halfway house, the New York Post reported.

Uniformed police officers shot him in the leg after he refused several orders to drop the knife, police said. Law enforcement sources told WNBC that the man bought the knife at a K-Mart store with the intention to carry out the robbery.

The shooting happened in front of an Amtrak loading dock, down the block from a heavily trafficked stretch of street.

Freelance journalist Ethan Harp thought he was hearing nothing more than the usual Manhattan construction noise when he heard a boom as he crossed West 31st Street. It was only once he heard a second boom that he ducked behind a truck.

When he emerged, he saw a man wearing a hooded jacket lying on the ground with three or four officers standing over him.

"He appeared to be awake and alert," Harp said of the injured man, while "the officer seemed very calm."

Browne said the man had entered the bank and demanded $50 and $100 bills from a customer service representative. After she told him she didn't have any money, he repeated the demand while brandishing the steak knife, Browne said.

The bank doesn't handle cash exchanges and only staffs customer service personnel and several managers, the Post report noted.

When a bank manager approached, the man walked out. The manager followed him and alerted two officers in a parked patrol car, who followed the man into Penn Station.

The knife wasn't visible as the man walked past several shops and up an escalator to a less crowded area, Browne said. When the officers confronted him outside, he pulled out the weapon, he said.

Browne said the man refused several orders to drop the knife and continued to walk away. The officers confronted him again and, when he again ignored orders to disarm, one of them fired twice, striking him in the right thigh.

After the shooting, police tape enclosed the bank and authorities closed off much of the block where the shooting took place.