Monday, December 27, 2010
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Former Roanoke police Officer Bruce Abramski Jr.: Seeing both sides of the law

Former Roanoke police Officer Bruce Abramski Jr. said facing accusations, going to jail and moving through the court system has changed his life.

Bruce Abramski Jr. says that his daughter Autumn, almost 2, is the best part of his life, which has been disrupted by federal firearms charges and an investigation of him in connection with a bank robbery in November 2009.

JEANNA DUERSCHERL The Roanoke Times

Bruce Abramski Jr. says that his daughter Autumn, almost 2, is the best part of his life, which has been disrupted by federal firearms charges and an investigation of him in connection with a bank robbery in November 2009.

Bruce Abramski Jr. says the charges against him stem from false accusations and a series of unfortunate coincidences.

JEANNA DUERSCHERL The Roanoke Times

Bruce Abramski Jr. says the charges against him stem from false accusations and a series of unfortunate coincidences.

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Timeline

The charges against Bruce Abramski Jr.

  • July: Abramski is accused of  stealing $4,000 at gunpoint from the Franklin Community Bank on Nov. 12, 2009. A month earlier, he told his former Roanoke police partner that he was wanted for the robbery and planned to kill city and Franklin County officers, prosecutors said. He is jailed without bond.

  • October: Franklin County Commonwealth’s Attorney  Cliff Hapgood  drops the charges against Abramski, saying he has not received key information from federal investigators. Abramski is freed. Hapgood says the charges can be reinstated later.

  • December: Abramski is indicted on two federal charges tied to his purchase of a pistol for his uncle. Prosecutors say he lied when he filled out paperwork at a Collinsville gun shop saying the gun was for himself. His attorney has said Abramski took the gun to Pennsylvania and transferred it to his uncle at a licensed gun seller, as required by state law there. Abramski is jailed without bail.

CALLAWAY -- Everything changed the moment the cuffs clicked around his wrists, Bruce Abramski Jr. said.

"My word meant nothing," the former Roanoke police officer recalled in an interview last week at his parents' Franklin County home, where he is under house arrest awaiting trial on federal firearms charges. "My life has been turned into a coin toss."

Since the summer, Abramski, 26, has been accused of bank robbery, seen those charges dropped, then been charged with two counts of lying on paperwork connected to his purchase of a pistol for his uncle. He has been accused of plotting a massacre of law enforcement officers. He has spent about four of the past six months in jail.

The ordeal has given the former lawman a very different understanding of the workings of law enforcement and the courts, and of the value of family and friends.

"The best thing is this, this little one here," Abramski said, reaching down to hold the hand of his nearly 2-year-old daughter, Autumn Rose. "She's a blessing."

He spends his time playing with Autumn, visiting friends who come by and writing in a journal he started keeping after his arrest. His writings describe what had happened to him, but he said it's too convoluted for public reading.

Whether told by prosecutors or by Abramski himself, the story of his experiences during the past half-year is a tangled mix of accusations and strife, of the slow healing of a split with his wife and the destruction of a friendship with a fellow police officer.

It started, more or less, with a Nov. 12, 2009, holdup at the Franklin Community Bank in Rocky Mount. A masked, hooded gunman took about $4,000. Soon, Abramski's co-workers on the police force were telling him that FBI agents were asking questions about him. As the months went by, he was sure he was being followed.

Abramski's relatives have said it seems preposterous that he would be suspected of robbing a bank where he did his own business. Abramski's wife, Mary Abramski, had worked full time at the bank until Autumn's birth, then returned to work part time until leaving a few months before the robbery.

The tellers who were held up "were women who had worked with my wife for four or five years. They had been to our home," Abramski said.

Abramski recognized that he might draw notice as investigators looking into the robbery examined bank employees and their families. He was fired from the Roanoke Police Department in December 2007 after being suspected of taking money -- something he denied, but said he couldn't fight because he was still in his probationary first year on the force.

And investigators would see that his and his wife's finances were dire, their house was headed into foreclosure, his car into repossession.

Abramski hired an attorney, Bill Cleaveland of Roanoke, and hoped to meet with the robbery investigators to clear things up.

A confusing sequence of events in late June changed everything.

On June 20, Mary Abramski took their daughter and left, tired of what he termed his inappropriate, but not physical, relationship with another woman. With his house sliding into foreclosure, Abramski soon left as well. He moved in with his parents in Callaway.

On the night of June 22, Abramski and his father, retired New York police Lt. Bruce Abramski Sr., said they heard the alarm on one of their cars in the driveway of the secluded home. The two men ran outside, fearing a stalker who they said for years had harassed Monsita Abramski, Bruce Sr.'s wife and Bruce Jr.'s mother.

Bruce Jr., with flashlight and pistol, went into the woods; he said he was chasing someone he heard running. He fired several shots. Sheriff's deputies were called and searched with dogs, but found no trace of an intruder.

The next day, Dustin Moricle, a Roanoke police officer who attended the police academy with the younger Abramski and said he considered him his best friend, heard about the shooting. He also had heard Abramski was being investigated in the bank robbery.

Moricle found a bank security photo online. It was Abramski, he told investigators.

He later testified that he told his police supervisor and Mary Abramski he thought Abramski was the robber.

Three days later, Abramski and Moricle met at the Lowe's in Rocky Mount, where Abramski was a security guard.

Abramski said he had lost his wife, child, home and car, and was under investigation in the bank robbery, Moricle testified in court. He said he felt like killing himself and Franklin County deputies and Roanoke police officers, Moricle said.

Moricle told his friend he had talked to FBI agents about the holdup. He didn't say he had fingered Abramski as the robber.

After what he called an agonizing weekend, Moricle said he told his supervisors and the FBI about the threats against law officers. Warrants were issued for Abramski's arrest on charges of bank robbery and using a firearm to commit a crime.

On July 1, Abramski heard about the warrants from his father, who had learned of them from his daughter, who in turn had heard from Moricle after running into him at the Macado's restaurant near Tanglewood Mall.

Bruce Abramski Jr. went to the Franklin County Sheriff's Office to surrender. A heavily armed tactical team met him, and Abramski found himself jailed without bond.

Abramski insisted he is completely innocent of the bank robbery and said he never made threats against police. He said prosecutors have portrayed him as far more desperate than he really was.

"I lost my car, but I walked or rode my bike to work," he said. "Mary and I had a fight and separated, but we were working on it and got back together.

"I was at my lowest point as far as my relationship and looking to the future, but I wasn't curled in a ball in the corner."

Abramski called it mortifying to sit in court waiting for his hearings, recognizing the officers there for other cases.

"Some would give me a nod. Some would say, 'I'm sorry about what's going on with you.' Some wouldn't say anything. Some would give me the evil eye," Abramski said.

At the Western Virginia Regional Jail -- where he'd applied for a job in 2009 and was so sure he'd get it that he quit work as a drugstore manager -- Abramski was held in isolation because of his police background. The threat allegations meant he was kept in leg irons and handcuffs during the hour each day he was allowed out of his cell.

"It was the worst experience I had, pretty much," Abramski said. "It was sad. There is nothing to be happy about in jail. You miss your family so much, and in isolation, you have nothing to do but think."

What he kept thinking, he said, was, "I was wrongly accused and I could be in jail the rest of my life."

Some fellow prisoners offered encouragement, he said, as did some of the jailers.

Others, though, taunted him. One guard told him that "some girl named Mary -- knowing it was my wife" had agreed to testify against him.

Another time, a guard said Abramski was "going to fry" because investigators had found bank money bags at his home.

The bags turned out to be zippered pouches that Franklin Community Bank gave away as promotional items. His family had used them at a car show where they had worked, Abramski said.

He was similarly surprised at other details of the case to spill from courtrooms and news accounts.

Much was made of Abramski's experience as a martial arts cage fighter. Abramski said he started cage fighting in early 2008, working out with friends who competed in martial arts. He fought several times, but mostly was a corner man to support others.

"I'm not a violent person," Abramski said.

On Oct. 15, Franklin County Commonwealth's Attorney Cliff Hapgood dropped the bank robbery charges, saying federal investigators had not handed over important evidence. Abramski was freed from jail.

Six weeks later, he was taken back into custody after being charged with two federal firearms violations.

He is accused of lying on the paperwork attached to a November 2009 purchase of a handgun that he later transferred to an uncle in Pennsylvania. Abramski indicated on the paperwork that the gun was for his own use.

Buying the gun in Virginia, with a law enforcement discount from a Collinsville gun store where he'd shopped for years, saved his uncle about $150, Abramski said. He took the Glock 19 pistol to Pennsylvania and transferred it to his uncle at a licensed gun seller, as required by law there. In court, a federal agent said Abramski's uncle should have traveled to Virginia to buy the gun himself.

Abramski was again held without bail. In hours of hearings over whether Abramski should remain jailed, prosecutors repeated the alleged threats against police and described the shooting into the woods. Assistant U.S. Attorney Ashley Neese said Abramski remained the target of the continuing bank robbery investigation.

On Dec. 14, U.S. District Court Judge Glen Conrad set bail. Four days later, Abramski was released, wearing an electronic ankle bracelet.

Some people Abramski has met since being jailed have told him they're praying for him and are glad to see him free, he said. Others have asked how he has the nerve to show his face.

Abramski said he feels sadness, but no anger toward Moricle, whose testimony was cited by prosecutors as reason to keep him locked up.

But he said uncertainty of what lies ahead hasn't faded.

"I feel anxious all the time. I never know who's going to come to the door next. Are they going to come back and charge me with something else?

"They succeeded, if they wanted to put fear in me."

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