Ethics Hero: Kent Anthony Clemens, Bank Robber

With bank robbers, the bank alarms go off, but the ethics alarms don’t. This is the exception.

Proving that it’s never too late to do the right thing (well, almost never), Kent Anthony Clemens successfully robbed a bank in a small North Dakota town and escaped to Topeka, Kansas, where he gave much of the money to his sister. Then he felt bad about it and called 911, telling the police to come and arrest him.

Admittedly, this is a case in which the ethics alarms sounded a bit late, but they sounded nonetheless. The temptation is to minimize the virtue of Clemens’ conduct in turning himself in, because it just speeded up the inevitable, but that may not be the case. The news story notes that Williston, like many towns in North Dakota that have been victimized by vastly increased crime in the wake of the state’s oil boom, is strapped for law enforcement personnel and overwhelmed with unsolved cases. The amount Clemens stole wasn’t much ($700), and it’s not unlikely that he would have gotten away with his heist. But there he was when police arrived in response to his call, sitting on his front porch wearing the same outfit that surveillance cameras showed him in when he knocked over the Gates City Bank.

Clemens told police he made a mistake, a description of misconduct as serious as a bank robbery that I would usually dismiss as a classic rationalization devised to avoid proper accountability. In this case, however, the description may be apt. And what is the fair, appropriate punishment for someone who robs a bank and quickly repents, a just societal enforcement of social norms that balances the seriousness of the crime with the subsequent remedial actions of the criminal and that sends the right message—“Don’t rob banks!”—- while also embracing common sense, proportion and mercy?

I have no idea.

Do you?


Pointer: Fark

Facts: Yahoo! News

Graphic: CNBC

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at

8 thoughts on “Ethics Hero: Kent Anthony Clemens, Bank Robber

  1. Punishment for a crime generally needs to fit into one, or more, of the following categories: rehabilitation, deterrence, necessary separation from society, or retribution. I don’t think the first three apply here, but I think retribution is in order as I am sure the bank employees were scared. If he has a job, I would say a couple months of weekend jail would be appropriate, or a months work release.

  2. Since a weapon was not used in the commission of this crime, I think the punishment can be lighter. I’m not sure what the sentencing guidelines are for unarmed robbery in North Dakota, but I’d expect something like 2 years and with time off for good behavior…perhaps paroled in 9 months.

  3. Off question, but: I get so bored with alleged criminals euphemizing that they “made a mistake”. He is not alleged to have “made a mistake”. He is alleged to have commited a crime, a felony.

  4. I know this man, he had taken some medication prescribed by his doctor when he was miss-diagnosed. This medication made him very confused and disoriented. It was totally “out of character” for him to do this. When he realized what he had done, he did the only thing he could do, turning himself in. He is NOT a violent man, nor is he a criminal!! He is simply a victim of a miss diagnosis!

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