CULVER CITY — The scene played out like the opening of a TV drama. After hours of surveillance, undercover officers in an unmarked car saw the suspect enter his seedy hotel room. Once the suspect was inside, the nearby SWAT team took up positions surrounding any potential exits, officers hit the room with spot lights and Santa Monica Police Detective Chad Goodwin made a call into the room. He told the suspect he was surrounded and to come out peacefully. On the other end of the line was David Guyer, an ex-marine and former celebrity bodyguard who had evaded arrest for two years following at least seven local armed bank robberies. Guyer complied and Santa Monica officers were able to take one of the county’s most wanted fugitives into custody.
While the ending reads like a scene from CSI, the case actually highlights how long, drawn-out, frustrating and overwhelming police work can be.
Guyer came to the attention of police in 2012, although at that time, they didn’t know his name. In December of 2012, Santa Monica officers were investigating a bank robbery and were able to recover a hat worn by the robber that was sent for DNA analysis.
The Santa Monica police department currently contracts with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department for evidence processing and in contrast to the television portrayal, extracting DNA is a time-consuming process that may not be the big break officers need. In the Guyer case, it took several months before Goodwin got the results: an unknown male with no matches in the criminal database.
Guyer did in fact have a criminal history but his prior arrests occurred before police departments began gathering and storing DNA evidence. Therefore, all Goodwin had were some fuzzy surveillance pictures, a DNA profile and no leads.
As a detective in Santa Monica’s Robbery/Homicide division, Goodwin (and) his fellow team members are each handling dozens of cases simultaneously. He said detectives are constantly reprioritizing their caseloads to account for the most pressing cases, cases with good leads and their desire to find closure for victims. He said there comes a point where some cases go cold despite the best efforts of officers but that no one gives up. Goodwin said multiple officers, detectives, crime techs and staff contributed to Guyer case but despite their best efforts, the bank robbery case sat dormant for several months until a second bank robbery occurred. Detectives gathered DNA, waited for the results: unknown male matching the 2012 case.
Officers reactivated the case, reinterviewed witnesses, looked for more evidence and while they were unable to identify a suspect, they did find a pattern of bank occurring every couple of months across multiple jurisdictions. In each case, they had some grainy images, but not much else.
“It’s unusual for a bank robbery (series) to go on for two years,” said Goodwin. He said the robber’s success indicated a level of planning and intelligence beyond most criminals. Guyer did have some unusual history. He was briefly in the Marines, had at one point been a contributing member of society with a wife and kids and had worked as a security guard for the band U2. However, something went wrong with his life leading him down the path of crime.
Officers caught a break when Guyer deviated from his established system in November of 2013.
Guyer walked into the W.I. Simonson Mercedes-Benz dealership and asked to test-drive a car. During the test drive, Guyer stopped the car, told the salesperson he had a gun and ordered the person out of the car. Guyer then drove away. The car was recovered six days later in Hermosa Beach and as part of the investigation, officers swabbed for DNA. They again waited for the results, but this time, it wasn’t for an unknown male because Guyer had presented an out of state identification at the dealership. While the ID was several years old, it contained his real name.
The DNA came back as a match to the previously cold bank robberies and suddenly several random cases were linked together.
“You investigate cases as much as you can but sometimes it’s not possible but then months down the road, a guy is arrested and he has some property that connects him to a case and then we have to basically work backwards to connect everything,” said Goodwin. “Once we figured out this guy was responsible for this, we went back and looked at other cases without DNA but with video evidence and we found some matches.”
By the beginning of this year, Guyer was wanted in connection with seven bank robberies, five in Santa Monica, one in West LA and one in Hermosa Beach. Officers also knew his family, his status as a homeless veteran and his background. However, they still lacked a solid lead on his whereabouts.
“We didn’t know if he knew we were looking for him,” said Goodwin. “He had no taxes, no phone, no credit. The guy didn’t exist for at least two years.”
Goodwin said the public’s perception of police work is often misinformed and cases are rarely, if ever, solved via facial recognition technology, city-wide traffic cameras or other high tech gadgets. To catch Guyer, detectives put his photo out in the media and physically walked his known hangouts along Venice Beach showing the photo to everyone they could. Tips were initially tough to come by until people were told there was a reward.
“A lot of people recognized him, and said he was just there last week and ‘Hey that guy owes me money.’ We got close so many times, everyone wanted to help us but they were literally a day late and $20 short,” said Goodwin.
The trail went cold again until a December robbery at Wilshire and Centinela. “We got a call from the FBI that said they thought this was our guy and that got my hopes up again,” he said. “The weather was getting bad and as he was homeless, we thought he would look for a cheap motel, so we went to the cheapest motels on the Westside showing his photo around.”
The legwork paid off. Someone who recognized Guyer’s photo during one of the pedestrian sweeps called to say he was staying at a hotel in Culver City. Undercover officers were sent to the parking lot to watch the room and when Guyer rode up on his bicycle, the plan went into action.
“It’s really the best feeling, the culmination of all that work and frustration,” said Gooodwin of the arrest.
Goodwin said Guyer surrendered and has been cooperative since his arrest. Guyer appears to have been using the robberies as his means of income, using the cash to live off the grid and witnesses to his robberies described him as polite – even apologetic during the incidents. Regardless, Goodwin said Guyer used the threat of violence during his crimes.
“Anyone that will go into a public place with a gun and rob people… you’re never sure about,” he said.