Bank robbery suspect dies after shooting involving Sarasota Police officer

Traffic stop leads to chase that ends with car in pond near intersection of U.S. 41 and University Parkway

William M. Pickett. Photo from the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) is investigating a Feb. 26 shooting that involved a Sarasota Police Department officer who had conducted a traffic stop of a bank robbery suspect sought by the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office, the Police Department has reported.

On Feb. 27, the Police Department announced that the suspect had died. The individual was identified as William Michael Pickett, 54.

A day earlier, a 12th Judicial Circuit Court judge had issued an arrest warrant for Pickett, following the Sheriff’s Office’s investigation into the Feb. 24 bank robbery, the warrant shows. The charges were Robbery with a Firearm and Grand Theft of $10,000 or Less than $20,000.

Picket’s vehicle ended up in a pond near the intersection of University Parkway and U.S. 41, witnesses reported. Divers were able to tow it to the shore, as shown in eyewitness cellphone video that The Sarasota News Leader watched on the Nextdoor app.

On Saturday, Feb. 24, officers with the Sheriff’s Office responded to the Fifth Third Bank located at 6265 Tuttle Ave., just south of University Parkway in Sarasota, in regard to a report of a robbery, an advisory noted that day. At approximately 10:52 a.m., the alert said, a white male entered the bank and demanded money from a teller. The man then left the business and ran northbound toward University Parkway. “No one was injured and an undisclosed amount of money was taken,” the advisory added.

The arrest warrant for Pickett explained that a white male suspect who had entered the bank “brandished a firearm, and demanded $5,000.00.” Bank employees “handed over approximately $17,489,” the warrant noted.

The suspect told a teller that he needed to make a withdrawal, the report said. After the teller handed the suspect a withdrawal slip, the suspect told the teller, “ ‘You’re not hearing me’ and then tapped a handgun on the counter,” the report added.

Investigators were able to review the security video of the incident, the warrant continued.

Then, on Feb. 25, the warrant said, a Sarasota Police Department officer went to the address of 5055 N. Tamiami Trail “to meet with a female who advised her ex-boyfriend gave her money from a bank robbery.” The officer asked the woman to contact the Sheriff’s Office’s Criminal Investigations Section for a follow-up interview, the warrant added.

When the woman then met with Sheriff’s Office investigators, the report continued, she told them that, about two weeks earlier, Pickett had mentioned plans to commit a bank robbery. On the night of Feb. 24, the woman reported, she met him at the Super 8 Motel in Sarasota, where Pickett confessed to robbing the Fifth Third Bank.

The red balloon marks the location of the Fifth Third Bank that was robbed on Feb. 23. Image from Google Maps

While she was in the motel room, the woman told the investigators, she “observed a plastic bag with a copious amount of cash inside.” After she talked with Pickett there, she said, she left the motel.

Then, on the morning of Feb. 25, the warrant continued, the woman told investigators that Pickett “came to her residence and attempted to hide cash throughout her apartment. After he left her apartment,” the woman reported, she “located cash hidden in a cereal box, box of tissues and a bleach wipes container.”

Further, the woman told the investigators that Pickett had no job and therefore no means of income “that would support him having money in his possession,” the arrest warrant noted.

The arrest warrant did indicate that Pickett was homeless at the time of the bank robbery. His prior address was listed as 5356 Castleman Drive in Sarasota.

When the investigators showed the woman a photo made from the bank security video, the warrant said, “[S]he immediately identified Pickett as the defendant.”

Additionally, the warrant noted, a license plate reader camera at the intersection of 61st Street and Lockwood Ridge Road in Sarasota showed Pickett’s 2007 bronze Cadillac there “approximately 16 minutes after the robbery.” That intersection, the warrant pointed out, is only 0.8 miles from the bank.

‘Helicopters everywhere’

The officer-involved shooting incident began about 7:50 a.m. on Monday, near the intersection of U.S. 41 and University Parkway in Sarasota, Cynthia McLaughlin, the Police Department’s public information officer, reported in an email advisory to members of the news media.

“One of our officers initiated a traffic stop on a subject’s vehicle with a Sarasota County warrant,” she continued. “In the process of trying to get the subject into custody, an officer-involved shooting occurred.

“This active scene did impact traffic near the airport for several hours, so we appreciate the public’s patience,” she added.

“Several agencies assisted the Sarasota Police Department,” McLaughlin continued, naming the Sheriff’s Office, the Sarasota County Fire Department, New College Police, the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport Police, and FDLE.

McLaughlin has made it clear that no further comments can be provided by Police Department personnel while the FDLE investigation is underway. Further, the FDLE does not comment on its investigations.

Divers tow the vehicle to shore. Still from a witness’ video posted on Nextdoor.

A Feb. 26 thread on the Nextdoor app, begun by a woman who lives in the Bayou Oaks community in the northern part of the city of Sarasota, said that she heard a round of gunshots about the same time that McLaughlin had indicated in her advisories. When the woman looked out her back window, she added, she saw “a car submerged in a little lake behind my house. Police are yelling ‘come out with your hands up,’ ” the woman continued.

“Hundreds of police have secured the area and blocked entering or leaving [University Parkway],” she further pointed out. “Helicopters everywhere.”

An Indian Beach-Sapphire Shores resident responded to the post, writing that she also heard the sounds, adding that she was not sure whether they were firecrackers or gunshots.

This graphic shows the location of Bayou Shores in Sarasota. Image from Google Maps

Then the original poster wrote, “I’m pretty sure the shooter is in the submerged vehicle. I got snipers setting up on the side of my house. This is nuts!”

This is another still from a video posted on Nextdoor, showing a sniper behind the poster’s home.

Later, another woman posted a comment about law enforcement divers going into the body of water where the vehicle was submerged.

The original poster replied that a law enforcement team entered the water in a boat and “[s]mashed open” the driver’s side door of the vehicle.

That poster added cellphone videos to the thread, showing divers towing the vehicle toward shore and then showing officers next to the vehicle on land.

A man who lives in the DeSoto Lakes community pointed out that law enforcement personnel routed all westbound University Parkway traffic through the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport while the incident was underway; he was in one of those vehicles. “Felt sorry for the actual travelers trying to catch their flight!” he added.

Prior criminal record for Pickett

In a review of 12th Judicial Circuit Court records, the News Leader found numerous cases involving the late suspect, Pickett, going back to February 2003. They included a range of charges, from illegal possession of narcotics and narcotics equipment, to larceny, to illegal possession of alcoholic beverages in public places, to traffic and parking violations.

Among the more recent incidents, Pickett was charged with domestic violence in July 2021; the records in that case were sealed, which is the standard court practice in such situations.

However, during the same month, Pickett was charged with violating an injunction that had been issued to keep him from contacting the victim in the earlier incident, court records indicate.

The Probable Cause Affidavit regarding that incident said Pickett went to the pool area at 4000 N. Tuttle Ave. — the location of the Winds of St. Armands North — where he approached the victim. When the victim reminded Pickett that Pickett was not allowed to be around the victim, and asked Pickett to leave, Pickett refused “and continued to engage into verbal arguments with the victim as well as three other people who were in the area at the time of the incident,” the affidavit noted.

A deputy spoke with the other witnesses and confirmed the victim’s story, the affidavit added.

Pickett was charged with contempt of court for violating the injunction, the affidavit said. In March 2022, he pleaded “No contest” to that charge and was placed on probation, court records show.