Ex-Ranger Gets Twice as Much Time as His Cohorts

Prosecutors call the Tacoma heist one of the most dangerous robberies in state history.

Just days after one of his fellow ex–Army Rangers was given 24 years in prison for a military-style bank heist in Tacoma, ex-Ranger Chad Palmer this week was sentenced to 11 years for the same crime. The son of a Christian missionary and bearer of an AK-47, the 22-year-old got a break after he cooperated with prosecutors and laid out details of the robbery that he and other Rangers rehearsed on a hill overlooking their Fort Lewis barracks.Though prosecutors and his attorney didn't want to talk about Palmer's insider role, sketchy court records mention he apparently met with a Department of Corrections intelligence officer at the SeaTac Federal Detention Center, where he was incarcerated prior to sentencing. On Tuesday in Tacoma, the U.S. and Palmer's attorneys convinced U.S. District Court Judge Franklin Burgess to seal the transcript of Palmer's conversations with the intelligence officer, in part because Palmer had received threats at SeaTac, they said. Court briefs justifying the lighter sentence were also sealed from public view. In another sentencing brief, prosecutors would say only that Palmer's "remarkable behavior" and "exemplary performance at the FDC" justified a sentence that was less than half that given robbery ringleader Luke Sommer, 24, last week.The slight, ebony-haired Palmer pressed a fist to his eyes as he fought back tears, apologizing in a breaking voice to the family members and bank tellers assembled in court. "I can promise everyone here, never again will I commit any kind of crime," he said.Palmer's parents couldn't attend, but in a letter to the court his mother said she was mystified by her son's crime. During his parents' years as missionaries in Indonesia, Palmer was home-schooled and also attended Christian boarding school. But what apparently changed him, Kyla Palmer indicated, was his Ranger training, in which the elite force is rigorously taught the fine arts of killing and survival. She recalled that Palmer was teased after he missed deployment to Iraq because he had to attend his grandmother's funeral."That he got involved in a crime involving bank robbery when he seemingly had no money worries," his mother wrote, "is inexplicable, mutually exclusive with his background, and heart-wrenching for me as a mother groping for the answer to 'why.'"Altogether seven young men—four of them Army Rangers—were indicted for a robbery that prosecutors in court papers called "one of the most dangerous ever committed" in the state. Two of the robbers abetted the Rangers' plans, another drove the getaway car, and four undertook the holdup. As first reported on our Web site last week ("A 'Slaughter' Averted," The Daily Weekly, Dec. 12), ringleader Luke Sommer now admits the robbery was a crazy notion, and claims he has the mental illness to prove it.His attorney, Steve Krupa, says Sommer "theorizes that he was suffering from a delusional thought process as a result of his bipolar mental illness and combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder." He's now taking medication, accepts responsibility for his actions, and "sincerely regrets the dishonor he has brought on himself, his family, [and] his regiment," adds Krupa.Prosecutors say Sommer's team brought along "staggering" firepower that included an IED (improvised explosive device) like those used in Iraq, girding for a potential "bloodbath on the streets of Tacoma." Sommer was "ready to slaughter" civilians and cops, prosecutors maintain, and frightened bank tellers and customers who were "huddled together in a pile under the teller counter, [and] could see the red dot of [Sommer's] laser cross each other's bodies and heads."Despite their military precision, masked faces, and speedy getaway, the gang—suited in body armor and brandishing AK-47s—had piled almost clown-like into a silver Audi for their escape. That drew the attention of a passerby who got the car's license number, which led to the robbers' arrests. The investigation was quickly wrapped up by the FBI, and more than $30,000 of the cash was recovered.Sommer served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and once said he intended to get caught so he could go to trial and expose war crimes and other military secrets ("Soldiers of Fortune," SW, Nov. 29, 2006). But prosecutors say his real motive was to bankroll his own planned organized crime family in Canada. (Captured text messages indicate he wanted to take over the crack-cocaine business in British Columbia, where he was raised.)The ex-Ranger still sees himself as an outlaw hero, prosecutors maintain. "[Sommer's] impact on the world can be summed up as follows: He robbed a bank and terrified many innocent and helpless people," says assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Dion. "In the process, he wrecked his future and the lives of the people he called his friends and comrades." Without change, adds Dion, "his future is as bleak as his present."randerson@seattleweekly.com

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