Caught on camera: Off-duty deputy stops UDF robbery - Cincinnati News, FOX19-WXIX TV

Caught on camera: Off-duty deputy stops UDF robbery

Provided surveillance image Provided surveillance image
Hamilton County Deputy Sheriff Terry Harper and Sheriff Jim Neil. (Photo: Provided by the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office) Hamilton County Deputy Sheriff Terry Harper and Sheriff Jim Neil. (Photo: Provided by the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office)
Simeon Thomas (Provided by the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office) Simeon Thomas (Provided by the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office)
CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) -

Terry Harper has been a deputy sheriff with the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office nearly 28 years.

He also was in the U.S. Army a decade.

He never had to fire his gun while on duty.

That all changed back on March 8.

The deputy was off duty but on his way to work in uniform when he stopped for coffee at the UDF on North Bend Road in Cheviot.

He parked his personal vehicle in the lot, walked in and poured a steaming hot cup. 

He was putting a lid on it when he heard a nearby customer say: "I'm on the floor."

At first, Harper thought the man was in pain from a possible medical emergency. He began to move to help him and ask the clerk to call 911.

But a different voice stopped him.

Another man in the store who was up at the front counter said: "Give me all the d--- money."

Harper turned to look.

"I could see the gun was there. He had the gun pointed toward the clerk and he was raking the money into his pocket. so I'm like 'I have to do something.  I'm in uniform. People depend on me. I cannot just stand there and not do anything," Harper said Friday in an exclusive interview with FOX19 NOW.

From that moment on, everything became a split-second decision for the law enforcement veteran.

He ordered the suspect, Simeon Thomas, 20, to put the gun down and get on the floor. 

"He turned toward me and, right off the bat, I see the gun pointed right at me," Harper said.

His hand automatically flew to his holster.

"...I was unholstering and bringing my gun up - my pistol - and I fired and usually when you fire like that, you follow through with a shot like that. That's why it just barely went right over his head," Harper said.

Thomas was so started and scared, he soiled himself, sheriff's officials said.

Still, the gunman tried to elude capture.

He ran around the corner and hid in an area of the store where customers sit on chairs at small tables and eat ice cream cones and sundaes, Harper said.

This is not a situation Harper usually encounters on the job.

He works at the county jail, not out on the street.

He wasn't wearing a bulletproof vest, he is not required to.

He had a lot going on at once.

Harper had to keep a close eye on the entire scene, particularly two different angles.

Thomas was hiding in the ice cream area. He still had his gun.

The other male customer remained down on the floor.

Harper wasn't sure if that man was an innocent bystander - or perhaps an accomplice.

"I told him to stay on the floor and then I kept my gun at a 'low ready,'" Harper said. "I was scanning the room the whole time, keeping my head back."

Meanwhile, the gunman was trapped.

He had to come back around the corner and get past Harper to reach the door.

Harper told the clerk to call 911 and ordered Thomas to come out.

Thomas poked his head around and peered out.

When he saw Harper standing there with with his gun "at the ready" so Harper could quickly pull it up, Thomas stuck his head back in, Harper recalled.

Harper gave Thomas more commands: Put the gun down, come out, lay on the floor, hands in the air.

A few seconds later: "He said 'I'm coming out!'" Harper recalled.

"He put the gun down on the counter. I could see the gun. Now, you still stay 'low ready' because you don't know if he has a second weapon."

Thomas emerged and laid down on the floor.

Harper told him to put his hands on his back.

The deputy knelt down, put his knee on Thomas' back, put his gun back in his holster and handcuffed Thomas.

At that point, Harper happened to look up and out the store window.

A Cheviot police officer pulled up in a cruiser and walked in.

The officer wasn't aware of the robbery in progress.

He went to the store to alert the clerk that another UDF was just robbed at gunpoint nearby, in the 5800 block of Glenway Avenue in Cincinnati.

"When he seen me - if I could have a picture of his facial expression - his eyes were just bugging out of his head when he saw what was going on," Harper recalled.

The customer on the floor turned out to be just caught up in the wrong place at the wrong time.

In fact, that man's 12-year-old son was outside in their car, watching the whole robbery go down, Harper said.

"When I did see him, he was crying, of course," Harper said.

Thomas was charged with robbery in connection with both UDF heists, court records show and sheriff's officials confirm.

But, as he was led out of the Cheviot UDF, he told the deputies he should only be charged with attempted robbery, not robbery, because he never actually made it out of the store with the money, sheriff's officials said.

Thomas pleaded guilty last week and was sentenced to six years in  a state prison.

Harper, 58, said he doesn't have any hard or upset feelings over what happened.

He took the customary five days off work after a shots fired incident. He went out to dinner that night with his wife, who also works for the sheriff's office in the property room.

He said he spent most of his time off at his Green Township home.

He's been back at work ever since without missing a beat.

"Should I be angry? Should I be hyper? There's no training for that," Harper said.

"I feel like, in my mind, I did everything I was supposed to do and I was calm with it....I'm a carefree type of person. I try to stay upbeat. I believe in leaving the stress out of your life. Laugh and joke. You got to do it."

He discussed what happened with his favorite cousin.

His cousin told him "The man upstairs didn't want anyone getting hurt that day. Everything happens for  a reason."

Sheriff Jim Neil praised Harper on Friday for showing tremendous bravery in apprehending an armed suspect in a tense situation that resulted in no injuries.

Law enforcement officers are killed in the line of duty on almost a daily basis in this country, the sheriff noted, and many more face deadly dangers on the job daily.

"We easily could have had a memorial for Terry that day, but it wasn't. It wasn't his time," the sheriff said. "He handled himself extremely well. I would be proud to have him as a partner. He is tested and proven."

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