A bank robbery turned into a standoff Monday afternoon in Clairemont.
San Diego police said the suspect, 35-year-old Michael Eschwege, wanted to commit “suicide by cop.”
Eschwege entered the Chase Bank in the 5800 block of Balboa Avenue around 1:10 p.m. and handed the teller note demanding cash, according to police.
Instead of fleeing the scene, the suspect took the money and sat down in the lobby.
At that point, no one realized he was still inside the bank. One unsuspecting customer took a seat across from him in the lobby.
She said she then overheard the suspect say he had a gun.
“I heard a little bit of that, and then I got up and went to a different direction because I wanted to get out,” said the woman, who did not want to be identified. “I thought, maybe this is not the day to be here.”
When officers arrived, they found the suspect in the lobby.
“The suspect actually stood up very quickly and reached for his waistband and said, ‘I have a gun, I have a gun,’” said San Diego Police Capt. Jerry Hara.
That’s when the SWAT team was called to the scene. Police officers and FBI agents with their weapons drawn surrounded the building.
For 30 tense minutes, crisis negotiators tried to convince the suspect to surrender.
Police said between 15 and 17 people were inside the bank during the ordeal. The tellers were protected behind bulletproof glass.
The suspect eventually gave himself up just before 2 p.m. His weapon turned out to be an airsoft gun, Hara said. Airsoft guns are designed to shoot soft plastic pellets.
Police said everyone made it out safely.
The officers involved in the standoff are being praised for showing restraint.
“Officers absolutely do not want to use deadly force unless it’s absolutely necessary,” Hara said. “In their minds, the threat did not raise to that level of force.”