Ronald Gasser, the man who police in Louisiana say admitted to shooting and killing former NFL running back Joe McKnight during an alleged road-rage incident on Thursday, has been released from custody without being charged as investigators ponder their next move.
— NOLA.com (@NOLAnews) December 2, 2016
“In this state, there are some relative statutes that provide defenses to certain crimes…,” Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand said in a news conference Friday afternoon. “For example, officers have those same defenses, so when we shoot and kill someone it’s a homicide, but the question is, is it justified.”
“The easiest thing for me would’ve been, ‘Book ’em, Danno,’ ” Normand said when pressed by reporters about why officers didn’t keep Gasser in custody while they figured out whether the homicide was justified. “Ultimately, if we were to book him we would end up in a preliminary examination and (have to) prove that we had probable cause for an arrest. The fact of the matter is we felt as of last night, out of an abundance of caution, we do not want to get to that threshold at that point in time.”
Normand assured the public Gasser, 54, “is not going anywhere,” noting, “He has been completely cooperative with us in every request that we have made.”
Police say Gasser fired three rounds from the driver’s seat of his car and through an open passenger window at McKnight, 28, on Thursday afternoon during a traffic altercation in Terrytown, La., a New Orleans suburb. One bullet hit McKnight’s hand, another pierced his right shoulder on its way toward his lung and another entered his chest under his right nipple, causing damage to multiple organs, according to the Jefferson Parish coroner.
The coroner’s report contradicts what a witness told the New Orleans Times-Picayune late Thursday that Gasser was standing over McKnight when he fired his gun.
Details about what led to the shooting remain murky, but Normand said it could’ve been a case of a driver cutting someone off.
Police said Gasser stayed on the scene after the shooting and relinquished his gun to authorities.
Normand said police do not believe race played a factor in the shooting, and he denied it played into the parish’s decision to release Gasser without pressing charges at this point. Gasser is white and McKnight was black.
“Everybody wants to make this about race,” Normand said Friday. “This isn’t about race.”
“We have nothing of any witness that reveals anything to us at this point in time to suggest [a hate crime],” he added.
Normand said that if any bias exists in the case it would be in McKnight’s favor because “the gentleman who raised Joe McKnight” used to work as a deputy for the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office.
“So this office and many other members that are sitting over here, they’re close to [McKnight’s] family,” Normand said. “The person that has more of a concern than anyone else is Mr. Gasser because he didn’t know this. He does now.”
Normand reiterated the sheriff’s office has made no determination about the shooting at this point and is still talking to witnesses, some whom authorities have found via Facebook.
“This will be done in the appropriate way,” he said.
At the core of the case may be the state’s “stand your ground” law, which Normand said “looms on the horizon,” before stopping mid-thought. “I’d rather not opine on that at this point in time.”
Normand, who dispelled rumors that Gasser had any connection to law enforcement, said authorities are still investigating whether he had a license to carry a weapon.
A fourth-round draft pick in 2010, McKnight played four seasons in the NFL after a standout career at USC.
Joe McKnight was employed at a local mental health center but was in touch w/the Vikings about an NFL comeback, his brother Jonathan told me
— Ramon Antonio Vargas (@RVargasAdvocate) December 2, 2016