Updated 2/7/2013: Charges against Damon Banks and Lee McQuilkin were dismissed on Feb. 7, 2013. Read more here.
LANCASTER – A 27-year-old man previously profiled on the Lancaster Station’s Most Wanted list, for allegedly robbing three fast food restaurants at gunpoint, appeared in an Antelope Valley courtroom Thursday morning.
Damon Deshaun Banks pleaded not guilty to five counts of armed robbery and was ordered back to custody on $300,000 bail.
Banks and 27-year-old Lee Vance McQuilkin are accused of robbing Little Caesars, Wienerschnitzel and Subway, between 7 and 9 p.m., on Sunday, June 10. In each case, two men walked into the restaurant, held the employees at gunpoint, demanded money from the register and then escaped on foot, sheriff’s officials said.
Family members Thursday insisted Banks had nothing to do with the robberies because he was not in Lancaster when the crimes occurred.
“He has no gang ties, he finished college and he’s not from the ‘hood’, he’s from Lakewood, California…” said Banks’ mother Cecilia Duckworth. “You have a 27-year-old man with a job who has never had any kind of criminal doings, and all of a sudden he’s gonna go out and rob these places? For what, $50? It doesn’t even make sense!”
Duckworth said her son’s ties to the Antelope Valley include a grandmother who moved to Lancaster about three years ago.
“We had been getting calls that his grandmother, his father’s mother, was very ill,” Duckworth said, adding that Banks’ father died in 1992.
Banks went to Lancaster on June 9 to attend a Pacquiao vs. Bradley fight party and to see his grandmother, Duckworth said. But the party ended too late for him to see his grandmother that night, she added.
“He said ‘instead of waking up granny, I just got me a room at Motel 8,’” Duckworth said.
She said Banks’ grandmother worried when he didn’t show up on June 9.
“She was concerned when Damon didn’t come over Saturday because there had been a bad accident on the 14 Freeway, but I told her he called, so I know he’s okay,” Duckworth said.
She said Banks ate at Subway Sunday morning (June 10) and headed to grandma’s afterward. Duckworth said she was concerned about her son’s drive home, so she checked on him several times to make sure he was okay.
“I said ‘I know you’re tired because you stayed up late at the fight party, but be careful on that 14 Freeway,’” Duckworth said. “Around five o’clock I called him, and he said ‘I’m alright, I’m getting ready to get on the 105.’”
Banks was back in Lakewood before sundown on June 10, said his fiancée Alera Sugges.
“It was still daylight outside so it couldn’t be any later than like six o’ clock,” Sugges said.
On June 22, Banks was charged with five counts of armed robbery in connection with the June 10 robberies; and a $300,000 felony warrant for his arrest was issued on June 25, according to court records.
Banks and McQuilkin were classified as “armed and dangerous” and placed on a Most Wanted list, which was circulated to the local media on June 25. The men were identified as suspects in the robberies through a combination of “surveillance video and good old police work,” according to Lancaster Station spokesman Michael Rust.
“We actually thought it was a joke at first,” Sugges said. “Then someone sent us the link to the article and we saw his picture.”
“That is the picture for his driver’s license, that’s not a mug shot,” said Duckworth, referring to the photo of Banks’ that ran in the media. She said she cried when she got the news, but her son assured her that it was a misunderstanding and he would turn himself in and clear his name.
Banks and his fiancée drove to the Lancaster Station on July 3 to speak with detectives.
“We thought he would go in, give them his information, and let them know that he’s gainfully employed and he has no reason to rob anyone,” Sugges said. “We thought they would let him go when they realized they made a mistake and identified the wrong person.”
Banks was jailed instead. At Thursday’s court hearing, bail was set at $300,000.
“We don’t have $30,000 sitting in the bank,” said Duckworth. “But in the last seven hours, we have rallied to raise more than $9,000 because there are so many people who believe in his innocence.”
Duckworth said she fears her son may not get a fair trial, so she has took on the burden of proving her son’s innocence. In doing so, she said she has read several news reports on recent robberies in the Antelope Valley that were committed by two Black males.
“[During] every single one of those other robberies Damon was at work,” she said, adding that her son works a graveyard shift in Cerritos. “I got a copy of the times he clocked in and I got a copy of the times he clocked out.”
Duckworth said she also combed through her son’s social media accounts for anything linking Banks to McQuilkin, his alleged accomplice.
“I looked at every single friend that he had, over 400 friends,” she said. “I looked at every single friend’s friend and that individual is not in any of the pictures I looked at because he didn’t know that individual. What strangers would rob places together?”
Both Sugges and Duckworth said they have not been contacted by law enforcement or anyone else concerning the case.
“I would like to cooperate with the district attorney in order for them to confirm his whereabouts,” said Sugges. “I’m willing to submit to a polygraph and whatever they need to ensure that they do a complete investigation.”
“I’m a registered nurse with a Masters’ Degree, my children were brought up in an affluent area and they are educated,” said Duckworth. “That should have nothing to do with it, but at least it puts a hole in the stereotype.”
Banks’ preliminary hearing is set for July 17.
*A County court records search for a criminal history on Damon Banks revealed three convictions for traffic offenses – driving with a BAC of .08 percent or higher in 2010, driving with unlawfully tinted windows in 2007, and making an unsafe turn in 2006. There were no other convictions in Banks’ history, according to the court records.