Jamie D. Croom refused to go back to jail, even if it meant dying at the hands of law enforcement officers, his sister said.
So when the Middle Louisiana Fugitive Task Force on Tuesday morning surrounded him at a small motel in north Baton Rouge — covering both the front and back of the building — Croom did not surrender. Instead, he opened fire with a handgun, fatally striking 27-year-old deputy U.S. Marshal Josie Wells in the neck, law enforcement authorities said.
In return, it is believed that at least one member of the task force fired back, police said on Wednesday, wounding Croom, the 31-year-old New Roads man suspected of killing a pair of siblings outside a Pointe Coupee Parish nightclub in February. Croom died early Wednesday morning at a hospital.
“Our deputies and law enforcement partners face untold dangers every day in the pursuit of justice in cities nationwide,” Stacia A. Hylton, director of the U.S. Marshals Service, said in a prepared statement. “The fugitive who killed Deputy Wells was extremely dangerous, wanted for double homicide and intentionally evaded justice.”
While many details about what led to Wells’ death at the small Elm Grove Motel in Scotlandville remained unclear on Wednesday, law enforcement officials did provide some new information about both the Tuesday morning incident and the events that led up to it.
Don Coppola Jr., a Baton Rouge police spokesman, said Croom was inside a structure at the motel when the shooting occurred.
“It was surrounded,” Coppola said. “So if he would’ve tried to get out through the front or back, he would’ve been confronted by law enforcement.”
Authorities would not say on Wednesday how many law enforcement officers were at the motel when an attempt was made to capture Croom, a convicted felon wanted in the slayings of Lechelle Rita Williams, 42, and Sinica Lee Williams, 38, which occurred less than a month ago outside a nightclub in New Roads.
Kevin Harrison, the U.S. Marshal for the Middle District of Louisiana, declined to comment about the incident on Wednesday, citing a necessary period of grieving following Wells’ death.
While the motel shooting remains under investigation jointly by the BRPD and the FBI, a separate investigation into the deaths of the Williams siblings continued to unfold on Wednesday, leading to the arrest of a fifth person since Tuesday in the Feb. 18 killings. Information from that investigation, led by the Pointe Coupee Parish Sheriff’s Office, is beginning to explain how Croom was able to evade authorities for several weeks after the double-homicide.
A woman identified by sheriff’s deputies as Croom’s girlfriend, Tanisha Foster, allegedly deceived another woman into renting a motel room for Croom at the Motel 6 off Airline Highway in Baton Rouge at some point before he ended up at the the Elm Grove Motel, according to a warrant for her arrest.
Foster, 23, was booked into the Pointe Coupee Parish jail on Wednesday on two counts of accessory after the fact to first-degree murder. The other people arrested so far during the investigation into the deaths of the Williams siblings include 21-year-old Elie Croom III, 37-year-old Elie Terrance Edwards, 30-year-old Terry Billy Matthews and 30-year-old Shelly M. Croom.
Elie Croom III and Shelly Croom were jailed on two counts each of accessory after the fact to first-degree murder. Edwards and Matthews were jailed on counts of principal to first-degree murder and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
The arrest warrants for both Edwards and Matthews say eyewitnesses saw them surround Sinica Williams outside the Sugar Shack, the New Roads nightclub, to prevent him from leaving the parking lot when Jamie Croom confronted both siblings prior to the shooting.
Warrants for Elie Croom III and Shelly Croom say they drove Jamie Croom around after the Williams siblings were killed.
Shelly Croom allegedly falsely registered a vehicle in someone else’s name then used it to chauffeur Croom to various locations. Elie Croom III allegedly picked up Jamie Croom from the Motel 6 and took him to another vehicle even though he knew the man was wanted for murder, according to an arrest warrant.
Pointe Coupee Sheriff Bud Torres confirmed that the slayings of the Williams siblings came as a result of an ongoing dispute between the two families, a feud he said was rooted in a drug-related turf war. The sheriff also confirmed that a nephew of Sinica Williams, 25-year-old Darrius Lee Williams, allegedly shot Jamie Croom in early December during an argument in New Roads.
Croom’s sister, Latonia Croom Duncan, 37, said her brother was shot twice in the chest and once in the hand. Torres said Croom suffered only minor injuries in the shooting after a bullet grazed his chest. The New Roads Police Department said incident reports from when Williams allegedly shot Croom were not available on Wednesday.
Torres said Darrius Williams was arrested following the shooting and booked into the parish jail on counts of attempted second-degree murder.
Duncan said the dispute between the two families began when Darrius Williams broke into her grandmother’s home in New Roads. The feud snowballed thereafter, eventually leading Sinica Williams — a convicted felon — to threaten members of the Croom family, Duncan said.
“He didn’t just walk up to them and shoot them down,” Duncan said of the killings. “He did it for a reason, because he felt threatened.”
Duncan said her family reported all the incidents to law enforcement authorities. But the sheriff said authorities often were unable to make arrests in incidents involving the two families because family members on both sides refused to cooperate.
Cooperation with law enforcement also became a problem in the most recent case against Jamie Croom. He was jailed in March of last year on attempted murder charges, but the case eventually collapsed when a key witness recanted her testimony. Croom was released from jail the same day he pleaded “no contest” to reduced charges, receiving credit for the jail time he served awaiting trial, according to court records and the Pointe Coupee Parish Sheriff’s Office.
It was after that stint behind bars that Croom swore off incarceration, his sister said.
Torres said Duncan warned one of his deputies of her brother’s intentions to avoid incarceration no matter the means, even if it meant “suicide by cop.” But the Sheriff’s Office did not relay that exact message to federal officials serving the warrant for Croom’s arrest at the motel.
“But we told them he was armed and dangerous,” Torres said. “They knew that.”
Duncan, Croom’s sister, said she and another relative spoke to a member of the U.S. Marshals Service last Wednesday about her brother’s intentions, citing his plans to avoid jail at all costs.
“He knew if he didn’t shoot, they weren’t going to shoot him,” Duncan said.
Torres said investigators recently learned the same weapon was used in the killings of Wells and the Williams siblings.
Duncan said she thought her brother used the same gun in both shootings because he didn’t want to leave members of the Williams family with unanswered questions about who killed the siblings. Croom wanted them to have closure, Duncan said.
“It’s just a sad, sad day,” she said. “There’s three families that have losses.”
Family members of Wells, the slain deputy U.S. Marshal, gathered Wednesday at Hall Davis & Sons Funeral Service on Scenic Highway to help send Wells’ body back to his home state of Mississippi.
With raindrops beginning to fall from an overcast sky, several dozen law enforcement officers looked on as the casket containing Wells’ body was loaded into a hearse. Police escorted the hearse out of the city with a trail of law enforcement vehicles following it, a final honorary display for the fallen deputy.
* Editor’s note: Story was edited after publication to reflect change to Croom’s plea after his March 2014 arrest.