After a bank teller offered emotional testimony, a former Santa Barbara County sheriff’s detective was sentenced Tuesday to five and a half years in prison for committing an armed bank robbery last fall.
Bruce Franklin Valentine, 70, of Paso Robles, had previously pleaded guilty to robbing the Rabobank in Cambria. Since the Nov. 7 robbery, bank teller Karen Stathem said she has suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Aside from the occasional doctor’s appointment, I no longer go anywhere,” said Stathem, 57. “I have not left my house in four months.”
Stathem was the lone teller working a teller’s booth at the bank when she saw a man enter wearing a hoodie and “a hideous mask.” He was armed with a pistol.
“Bruce Valentine stood in front of me with a gun pointed at my face several times,” she said.
Valentine never spoke during the robbery. Instead, he handed her a sign, demanding, “No marked bills No dye packs Large bills only” and “Put all your money in the bag.”
Valentine left the bank with just over $3,000 but was later seen driving a rental car that matched the description of the getaway vehicle. DNA evidence later supported the circumstantial evidence investigators had gathered, pointing toward Valentine as the culprit.
Valentine is a military veteran who worked as a deputy and a detective with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department for seven years in the 1960s and 1970s. While Valentine had gambled more than $340,000 the year leading up to his arrest, he denied having a gambling problem when he spoke to probation officials.
He was concerned about his future, though.
“This is very difficult to deal with,” the grandfather told a probation officer. “I am an ex-cop going to state prison.”
Because he was once in law enforcement, defense attorney Ken Cirisan said, Valentine will likely serve his time in isolation, protected from other inmates.
“He is going to do hard time due to his status,” Cirisan said.
According to a pre-sentence report filed by the probation department, Valentine said he was sorry for what he did.
“I enjoy my freedom, and this has been a rude awakening. It is mind blowing a stupid mistake.”
Given his marginal criminal past — Valentine had one prior misdemeanor theft conviction — Cirisan said he didn’t expect his client to commit future offenses.
“This man was desperate and took a desperate step,” he said.
At the time of the robbery, Valentine was supporting a disabled daughter and two grandchildren.
Deputy District Attorney Eric Dobroth said Valentine’s law enforcement career was an aggravating factor in the case since he knew how the crime might impact victims.
“He certainly should have known better,” Dobroth said.
Stathem said her father was also a military veteran, who had dreams of joining law enforcement.
“He never had that chance,” said Stathem, whose father wound up missing in action. Yet, while he was alive, she said, he taught his daughters how to live “with honesty and with purpose.”
Four months after the robbery, she said, she’s still haunted by the events of the day. As Valentine demanded money, she said, some employees fled the building, while the bank manager dove under a desk. As Valentine grew more agitated, she began to fear that those still in the bank would be killed.
Today her PTSD is exacerbated by nightmares and anxiety.
“My life is forever changed,” said Stathem, whose inability to return to work has caused her to lose her medical benefits. “I have no future.”
Addressing Valentine, she said, “You took an oath to serve and protect.” Then, just before crumbling her written statement, a shaking Stathem looked at Valentine and offered a final word.
“I’m not afraid of you,” she said. “I’d claw your eyes out in a minute.”