Ambush prompts local caution

Local lawyers donate extra line of protection for deputies
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Local lawyers donate extra line of protection for deputies
July 19, 2016
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The murder of three Baton Rouge police officers and wounding of three others Sunday has cut a hole in the heart of the Bayou Region, where law enforcement officials are reviewing security procedures and a major spiritual leader has issued an unprecedented call for soul-searching and prayer.

Bishop Shelton Fabre of the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux has requested prayers for an end to violence and that churches conduct prayers an hour each day for the next two weeks.

As an investigation continues, authorities now express no doubt that the killings were methodically carried out by the gunman, 29-year-old Gavin Long of Kansas City, Mo, with the intention of targeting police officers. Although confident that Long was the only gunman Sunday, officials have not ruled out the potential that other people may have helped in some other way.

That potential, amid a nationally tense climate arising from questions about police shootings of black men, are among the reasons local officials are looking closely at how to better keep officers safe.

Baton Rouge officers Montrell Jackson and Matthew Gerald were slain Sunday, as was East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office Deputy Brad Garafola. Two other officers were wounded.

“Officer safety is the key right now,” said Houma Police Chief Dana Coleman in a Sunday interiew. “There is an intensified emphasis on officer safety both on and off the job. They have to look out for each other.”

Lafourche Parish Sheriff Craig Webre said he has been meeting with senior staff members to analyze officer safety and security.

“We are going to look at response strategies both off duty and on duty,” Webre said. “We need to look at a myriad of issues and make some recommendations and maybe dictate some new polices. We don’t want to rush to judgement and we don’t want to knee jerk, but we want to ensure out people in law enforcement that we are doing everything we can humanly do to make them safe.”

Long’s rampage marks the second time this month that a gunman has killed multiple police officers. On July 7 in Dallas Micah Xavier Johnson gunned down five police officers, wounded seven others and a civilian. The officers were escorting marchers protesting the fatal police shooting in Minnesota of Philando Castile July 6 and the Baton Rouge police shooting of Alton Sterling July 5. Both cases are still under investigation. The Sterling shooting has resulted in numerous marches and rallies in Baton Rouge.

According to officials and credible media accounts, Long, a former Marine whose service included six months in Iraq, traveled to Baton Rouge after visiting Dallas, where he posted YouTube videos indicating his displeasure with police actions.

“One hundred percent of revolutions, of victims fighting their oppressors, from victims fighting their bullies, 100 percent have been successful through fighting back, through bloodshed,” Long states in a video that can be seen at, posted on YouTube under the name Cosmo Stenpra. “Zero have been successful over simply protesting. It has never worked and never will. You’ve got to fight back. That’s the only way a bully knows to quit. He doesn’t know words. He can’t understand words. He doesn’t understand protests.”

National news programs and even local press coverage has, according to some law enforcement officials, emboldened people like Long. Some have suggested that hyperbole and rhetoric have fueled violence such as that seen in Baton Rouge and Dallas, and some find it difficult to hide their frustration.

“You’re damned right I am angry,” Terrebonne Parish Sheriff Jerry Larpenter said Sunday. “I was in church this morning and the word was to preach God all around, but how can you share God with people with hate in their hearts that want to kill people?”

“The media is to blame,” said Larpenter, whose officers are also employing tactics geared toward keeping them safe from attacks. “We don’t even know the truth of what’s going to happen with this Alton Sterling case. There was an article this morning that said Alton Sterling was murdered. Let’s wait till the Justice Department clears or charges those two police officers.”

Larpenter as well as Coleman have said that those who would target police officers have hate in their hearts, which makes escalation into violent action easy.

Addressing violence and hatred, Bishop Fabre said in a detailed and unusually direct statement issued Sunday, is the role the faithful can play, through prayer.

“Even though our tears are still falling and our fresh and fervent prayers are still ascending to God for the victims and families of the recent violence and loss of life that has gripped our state, our nation and our world, we again today stand before more violence and loss of life in Baton Rouge, which is very close to home for us,” said Fabre, a native of New Roads who served as a priest in Baton Rouge for 17 years, who also appeared to be addressing the concerns of those who would like to see change in some police practices. “Where there is justice, there is peace. Where there is injustice there will always be the temptation to violence. God calls us all to ‘see’ others as He ‘sees’ them. As Pope Francis has indicated, we must truly seek to ‘encounter’ those who are racially or ethnically different from us in a real effort to appreciate the countless gifts that unite us, and to seek to address and to solve the problems that challenge and seek to divide us, complicating our lives together. When we learn to ‘see people with the eyes of the Lord, we will then move forward in justice and peace.”

Webre said he and his officers are not seeing the resentment and anger that have been noted in other jurisdictions nationally and other local law enforcement executive agree. During a parish-wide can-shake effort by officers Saturday in Lafourche to benefit families of the slain Dallas officers, Webre said people not only gave cash but also thumbs-up and they honked horns in support of law enforcement. In Lafourche and Terrebonne officers have been gifted with boxes of donuts, meals and even medals bearing the likeness of St. Michael the Archangel, the legendary protector of police officers.

“We are not feeling effects of isolation, alienation, distrust or contempt,” Webre said. “We are seeing the exact opposite.” •

Baton Rouge shooting