By Neal Putnam
A Ramona man who suffers from brain damage from a car accident years ago has been ordered held without bail while he awaits trial for attempting to rob the Wells Fargo bank inside the Stater Bros. supermarket.
A preliminary hearing has been set for May 17 for Stephen Michael Coulter, 52, but the hearing may be delayed in U.S. District Court in San Diego. He has pleaded not guilty.
The incident took place on May 3 at 2:12 p.m. Coulter is alleged to have given a teller a note that said “bank robbery.” An FBI agent wrote that Coulter said “something to the effect of placing $2,000 on the counter.”
The teller did put some money on the counter, but sent a co-worker a distress code, and the bank’s panic button was pressed, according to court records. Coulter then told the teller he didn’t have a weapon.
Then Coulter said to another teller: “You think I’m doing something wrong.” The other teller said yes.
“I think I better leave now,” said Coulter, who left the money on the counter and walked out of the store at 1674 Main St.
Coulter’s psychologist had given him a ride to the bank, but had no idea Coulter planned to rob it. The driver was stopped by sheriff’s deputies, and an FBI agent wrote that the psychologist was cleared of any wrongdoing as he didn’t know what Coulter had done in the bank.
Coulter agreed to be interviewed by FBI agents without a lawyer present.
“He had been thinking about robbing a bank or killing someone for years,” said an FBI agent in a declaration.
His attorney, Steven Brody, told the judge “he suffers from serious delusions as a result of his brain injury.” Brody added that Coulter has not committed any violent act.
His sister, Shawna Milner, of Huntington Beach, told U.S. District Court Judge Magistrate David Bartick that Coulter was 15 years old and was a back seat passenger in a Volkswagen when it was struck by a charter bus.
That accident changed his life, she said. Coulter was later declared a ward of the state and his sister is his conservator, according to court records.
Coulter was committed to the Hidden Valley Ranch Rehabilitation Services in Ramona and had been there 16 years before his arrest. The psychologist who gave him a ride is not affiliated with the rehabilitation facility. Coulter was with him as part of a “day trip,” according to records.
If convicted, Coulter could face a maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison, but that is unlikely since it doesn’t fit federal guideline sentences. He remains in the Metropolitan Correctional Center.