Vet clinic employees held at gunpoint
PHOENIX — A 19-year-old man entered a 24-hour emergency veterinary clinic armed with a gun and looking for drugs and money, but hours after releasing four employees held at gunpoint, he left with nothing but handcuffs and felony charges, according to police.
Phoenix's Emergency Animal Clinic expected to receive animal visitors in the early morning hours of Nov. 19 — not a gunman with a bandana covering his face, brandishing a gun. Despite their surprise, the team was prepared.
Anthony Gary Basile barged into the clinic just after 2 a.m., demanding drugs and money, says Joel Tranter, sergeant with the Phoenix Police Department. But one employee was able to escape the building and notify police through a previously determined clinic safety plan.Within minutes of police arriving in the parking lot, Basile released four remaining clinic staff members, but remained alone in the building. No pet owners were present during the break-in, Tranter says.
To ensure employees' safety and positive recovery from the incident, the clinic advisory board declined a request to speak immediately with DVM Newsmagazine. The employees and their progress are the clinic's top priority, says Jeanne Peters, the clinic's chief executive officer.
Police established a perimeter around the building and learned the hospital layout with the help of staff members, a police robot that was sent inside and the canine police unit officer, who regularly takes the force's dog to the clinic.
"The suspect released a number of kenneled animals, we believe, as a diversion. He released dogs, a rabbit, a mouse, cats," all inside the clinic, Tranter says. "The animals were walking around, one was dragging an IV and limping. They were all there because they were sick or injured."
After entering the hospital, police began a painstakingly slow four-hour search that eventually yielded the suspect, found in an attic crawl space. Police say they found multiple drugs on Basile, all taken from the clinic. He faces multiple counts of kidnapping, drug possession and animal cruelty, Tranter says.
"These are all serious felony offenses. If found guilty, he could spend an extended amount of time in prison," says Tranter.
All of the animals released during the incident were evaluated by staff and determined to have no serious injuries.
Pharmacies, not veterinary clinics, are typically the target of drug-fueled robberies in the Phoenix area. But because veterinary hospitals carry drugs on-site, they are becoming more of a target, Tranter says. "Any time you are dealing with people who are drug addicts and abusers and they know where drugs can be located, that place is a potential target," he says. "The message is to not exclude yourself from being a potential robbery victim."
With security measures already in place to notify police in case of a robbery or other dangerous situation, the clinic staff was prepared to deal with the situation and may have ensured their own safety.
"These kinds of businesses do need to review their security measures. You need some type of alarm to notify police. And especially if you have people working after hours, discuss an emergency plan," Tranter says.
But the most important thing is not to try to be a hero, he says. Just give a robber what he or she asks for. "There are often two things they want: drugs and money. And they'll take them in either order," Tranter says. "Be passive, and be cooperative. Usually, their plan is to get money, get drugs and get out."
Tips for DVMS
Ensure the highest level of protection for you, your staff and your practice's reputation by following these steps recommended by the Los Angeles Police Department:
Have at least two employees open and close the business together, and be alert and careful when taking out garbage or walking to your car at night.
Install an alarm and a surveillance camera that faces the front counter. Replace the videotape regularly.