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Phone on hip sets off scare at bank

Any cell phone can be annoying, but it takes a special one, like Anthony Penta's, to almost get you killed.

On Monday, the 45-year-old from Spring Hill went into the SunTrust Bank on Barclay Avenue to open a savings account and safe-deposit box.

He spent a little more than an hour filling out paperwork and joking around with employees, he said.

At 12:22 p.m. he stepped into the parking lot only to be greeted by an assembly of sheriff's deputies aiming at him.

"It was kind of a shock looking down the barrels of all these guns," Penta said. "It could have been a freak accident. Maybe I didn't raise my hands high enough or made a move that wasn't right because I was nervous. I could have been shot."

Little did he know that 20 minutes earlier the bank tellers called the Sheriff's Office to report a man with a gun on his hip. The tellers said he was acting suspiciously, even aggressively.

Penta said he did no such thing.

The Sheriff's Office set up a perimeter and waited for him to come out. When he finally did, Penta was taken to the ground in what authorities call a "felony stop" and searched.

The device on his right hip, it turned out, was actually a Treo 700w cell phone, with a large screen and a small keyboard built in.

Penta said the deputies apologized to him and sent him on his way, but he cannot understand why the bank tellers thought his phone was a handgun.

"I have nothing against the sheriff's department. I felt like they did their job, but the bank put me in danger," Penta said.

"Our employees had reason to be suspicious, and they contacted the police," said Susie Findell, a SunTrust spokeswoman.

Deputy Donna Black, the Sheriff's Office spokeswoman, said officers were just taking the appropriate precautions.

"If he had reached for what was described as a gun," she said, "there could have been deadly consequences."

Jonathan Abel can be reached at jabel@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6114.

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