MARKSVILLE, La. — The night began with a dispute at a local bar.
Christopher Few and his sometimes girlfriend, Megan Dixon, were playing pool at T.J.’s Lounge. They drank Budweisers chased with shots of tequila. She told others that they were no longer a couple.
After she danced with one of the bartenders, Few became visibly upset, went outside and kicked the door loudly enough for those inside to hear it. Dixon left the bar, and the two quarrelled loudly in the dirt parking lot. Soon, Few and Dixon raced off in different vehicles, and someone called 911.
Two city marshals — who usually serve arrest warrants — pursued Few’s SUV, cornering it two miles away at the closed entrance to a state park. For reasons that are not clear, the marshals opened fire. At least 18 shots later, Few was critically injured, and his 6-year-old son, Jeremy Mardis, was dead, shot five times in the head and chest.
Jeremy, who was autistic, was the youngest person in the country to be fatally shot by law enforcement officers this year.
This small town in the center of Louisiana is in shock, wondering how the night could have ended so tragically. Most people are blaming the two city marshals, who were arrested Friday night and charged with one count each of second-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder.
“It’s like they were after Bonnie and Clyde,” Larry Breaux, a retired construction worker who lives in an adjoining town, said at a diner Saturday in Marksville, which is several hours south of where fugitives Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were fatally shot by members of a posse in 1934. “Why did they come out shooting?”
Why the two city marshals — Derrick Stafford, 32, and Norris Greenhouse Jr., 23 – were chasing Few is unclear. He was not armed and was not the subject of an arrest warrant.
Stafford is a Marksville police officer who was moonlighting as a marshal. Greenhouse is a reserve Marksville officer and a deputy marshal in the nearby city of Alexandria.
Mike Edmonson, who heads the Louisiana State Police, ordered the marshals’ arrest after reviewing forensic evidence, a 911 recording, accounts from some of those involved and images from a body camera worn by one of two city police officers who joined the pursuit behind Stafford and Greenhouse.
The footage “was one of the most disturbing videos I’ve ever seen under these circumstances,” Edmonson said Saturday. “It troubled me as a police officer and as a father. There’s no reason that boy deserved to die like that.”
Robert A. Johnson (D), who represents Marksville in the Louisiana House of Representatives, said he will introduce legislation to tighten controls on the use of weapons by local marshals.
The primary role of the marshals is to serve arrest warrants. A city judge has given them an expanded role in policing Marksville because of a financial dispute with the mayor. With their stepped-up role, the marshals are also collecting fines and fees for the city judge’s budget that otherwise were going to the city’s general budget.
Marksville is a poor town in a rural area where farmers plant sugar cane, corn and soybeans and raise crawfish. It is best known as the home town of Edwin Edwards, the swashbuckling Cajun who was elected governor of Louisiana a record four times and then spent nearly 10 years in federal prison on corruption charges.
Until recently, the main topic of conversation here has been a tightly fought governor’s race and the fortunes of the Louisiana State University football team.
Now, nearly everyone is talking about the shooting of young Jeremy, said Jan Evans, a waitress at Nanny’s restaurant in Marksville.
“Most people think the officers overreacted,” Evans said.
The officers have been customers at Nanny’s. “They were always polite,” Evans said. “They tipped well.”
Local court records show that Stafford has been sued in civil court on allegations that he used a Taser on a handcuffed woman and broke the arm of a 15-year-girl while breaking up a fight on a school bus. Both men have been accused of inappropriately using pepper spray while breaking up a fight in 2013.
Court dockets also show that Stafford was indicted in 2011 on two counts of aggravated rape, although it is unclear how those charges were resolved.
Stafford and Greenhouse also were named in a federal lawsuit filed in July by a local gun activist who claims his rights were violated when he was arrested for carrying a firearm at a community event.
Few is white, as was his son. The two marshals are African American. Local officials say privately they fear that someone will try to turn the shooting into a racial issue.
Few moved to Marksville with Jeremy about a year ago from Mississippi. Born to a 16-year-old mother, Jeremy was mostly raised by Miranda Sigler, 37, who ran a child-care business at her home.
“I fell in love with Jeremy on the first day,” Sigler said through tears Saturday.
It was Sigler who noticed, around Jeremy’s first birthday, that he was not hitting all of his developmental milestones.
“He was always a very quiet child, but once he warmed up to you, he was so affectionate,” Sigler said. “He loved giving hugs and kisses.”
His young mother, now 22, had several run-ins with the law, including arrests for alleged disorderly conduct, possession of drug paraphernalia and forgery. After moving to Marksville, Jeremy was enrolled at Lafargue Elementary School.
“It was a tragedy, and we have had a rough couple of days around here dealing with it,” said Blaine Dauzat, the superintendent of Avoyelles Parish School District.
Jeremy’s family plans to bury him Monday at a cemetery near Hattiesburg, Miss. Family friends are pooling money to help cover expenses.
“I heard something terrible had happened, and I was hoping it wasn’t anything concerning Jeremy,” Sigler said. “I was prepared for the worst. But I wasn’t prepared for something this tragic.”
Several stuffed animals and balloons mark the spot where the shooting took place.
Lowery reported from Washington.