LEXINGTON, N.C. -- A former Davidson County sheriff's deputy is looking at up to 17 years in prison if he's convicted of robbing a bank while he was off-duty.
Jeff Athey, 51, learned about his possible fate in a Rowan County courtroom Wednesday morning. He is in jail under a $500,000 bond for a felony charge of robbery with a firearm.
FOX8 has learned new information about Athey's history at the sheriff's office and people who know him say this situation has been hard to wrap their heads around.
Davidson County Sheriff David Grice said Athey started working at the sheriff's office in 2002. He took a job with DynCorp, a company that manages military base operations overseas starting in 2007. In 2013, he came back to the sheriff's office and Grice says during that time no one ever made a complaint against Athey.
Athey was scheduled to work at the sheriff's office Tuesday afternoon.
“His partner had gone over to a deputy and said, 'I don’t know where he is,'" Grice said. "About that time, we got the call.”
Instead, just after 3:30 p.m., police say he robbed the Rockwell branch of F&M Bank on Main Street armed with a semi-automatic handgun.
Police say he demanded cash from a teller, who handed it over. Rowan County sheriff's deputies arrested him in a silver Ford Mustang four minutes later.
Grice says he fired Athey on the spot. It's the first time he's had any reason to discipline the former deputy.
“He was a deputy in good standing in the sheriff’s office," Grice said. "I’ve always found him to be a polite man and with no problem in regard to his work.”
Athey also had a spotless criminal record in North Carolina. A search at the Clerk of Court's office didn't bring up any charges or convictions.
But something compelled him to detour from his home near High Rock Lake and head to Rockwell.
“There are a lot of folks who, you might say, are hurting with him right, because we don’t know what transpired to cause him to use bad judgment and violate the law like he did, because he obviously knew better," Grice said.
FOX8 went to Athey's home to ask how his family is handling what happened, but the people inside wouldn't come to the door. We also chatted with several people around Davidson and Rowan counties who said they know Athey. They wouldn't go on camera, but they all had the same reaction.
“Yup, everyone’s sort of shocked," Grice added.
Grice says his deputies are still coming to terms with why someone sworn to serve would risk it all.
“It shouldn’t reflect badly on all of the people who work out here diligently and put their lives on the line day and night to protect their citizens," he said.
FOX8 also learned Athey was on the other side of a bank robbery in 2004. He was recognized for arresting a suspect in a Cabarrus County bank robbery who escaped in a getaway car. The arrest happened just minutes after the suspect left the bank, similar to the way Athey was arrested on Tuesday.
Athey will be back in court for a probable cause hearing on Feb. 26. The court will hear testimony to decide if it's more likely than not that Athey committed the robbery.