A routine traffic stop in a small town in Mississippi turned deadly when two police officers were fatally shot late Saturday, according to news reports.
Officers Benjamin J. Deen, 34, and Liquori Tate, 24, of the Hattiesburg Police Department were rushed to a hospital but did not survive, Mayor Johnny DuPree told CNN.
“The men and women who go out every day to protect us, the men and women who go out every day to make sure that we are safe, were turned on tonight,” DuPree said.
Saturday marked the first shooting death of a Hattiesburg officer since 1984, according to the Clarion-Ledger.
Within hours of the shooting, which occurred about 80 miles southeast of Jackson, Miss., authorities had three suspects in custody, including two who have been charged with murder, according to the Associated Press. A fourth suspect was arrested later.
Marvin Banks, 29, and Joanie Calloway, 22, are each facing two counts of capital murder, Warren Strain, a spokesman for the Mississippi Department of Public Safety, told the AP. Banks’s 26-year-old brother, Curtis Banks, has been charged with two counts of accessory after the fact of capital murder.
Cornelius Clark, 28, was arrested later and charged with obstruction of justice, the Mississippi Highway Patrol said, according to the Associated Press.
Strain added that Marvin Banks — who is accused of fleeing the scene of the shooting in a police cruiser — has also charged with one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm and with grand theft.
“All three subjects were taken into custody without incident,” Strain told the AP, noting that each suspect was found in a different location.
They are expected to make their first court appearance on Monday, according to news reports.
Asked by reporters whether he’d shot two patrolmen, Curtis Banks said: “No sir, I didn’t do it,” according to the Clarion-Ledger.
The shooting occurred during National Police Week and only days after an New York police officer died after he was shot in the head in what prosecutors described as an attempted “assassination.”
National Police Week draws as many as 40,000 attendees to Washington from police departments all over the world for ceremonies and conferences that pay tribute to fallen officers, according to the organization’s Web site.
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, a former law enforcement officer, released a statement about the shooting on Sunday.
“Deborah and I join all Mississippians this morning in mourning the death of our two police officers in Hattiesburg,” the statement said. “This should remind us to thank all law enforcement for their unwavering service to protect and serve. May God keep them all in the hollow of his hand.”
Authorities have released few details about the shooting, which occurred after after Deen initiated a traffic stop on a gold Cadillac Escalade on suspicion of speeding around 8:30 p.m., according to the AP. Shortly after, Tate arrived as backup.
Authorities have not said whether all three suspects were in the car at the time of the shooting and are continuing their investigation.
“At this point a weapon has not been recovered,” Strain told the AP. “However, warrants have been issued to search several properties in the Hattiesburg area. We are hopeful and believe that the murder weapon will be recovered. At this point, it appears to have been only one weapon.”
Hattiesburg resident Tamika Mills told the Clarion-Ledger that she was one of two people who found the wounded officers and called for help. She recounted the tragic scene for the newspaper:
“Never in my life have I experienced or seen anything like this except on TV, and to be in the midst of it, it’s shocking and heartbreaking,” Mills said. “As we were coming down Fourth Street, we noticed a bunch of lights. As we came on through, (Roberts) told me to turn around because she saw somebody laying on the ground.
“So I backed up. That’s when we noticed the officer was down. We just saw that one, but in the course of me being on the phone with 9-1-1, I turned and I saw another officer across the street rolling on the ground. (Roberts) ran across the street to check on him. He wasn’t all the way alert but he asked her, ‘Am I dying? I know I’m dying. Just hand me my walkie-talkie.'”
The Banks brothers, both felons with multiple arrests for firearms charges, have had many run-ins with the law, according to Reuters.
DuPree told CNN that Deen leaves behind a wife and two children, while Tate was unmarried and had no children.
“You have to search for words you say to family members how much we love them; we are here to support them,” he said.
Jarvis Thompson, who went to church with Tate as a child, told the AP that he grew up in a rough part of Starkville, Miss., and became a police officer to make a difference in the black community.
“He wanted to become an officer because we’ve seen so much of our peers get killed or end up in jail,” Thompson said. “He was talking all the time about how he wanted to do better and make the place better.”
Erica Sherrill Owens, whose mother — Sgt. Jackie Dole Sherrill — was the last Hattisburg officer killed in the line of duty in 1984, told the AP that she knew Deen in high school.
“We were great friends in high school,” she said. “He married his high school sweetheart and he’s got two kids and a great family. It’s just heartbreaking.”