Officer James Bennett Jr.’s badge number, 119, was retired Friday during an emotional funeral that gathered hundreds of friends, family and law enforcement officers from across the region.
Housing Authority of New Orleans Police Chief Robert Anderson held back tears as he bade farewell to the slain officer, one of fewer than two dozen on his small force. And he vowed that “the law enforcement community will not rest until the individual responsible for this is brought to justice.”
Bennett, 45, was killed at Freret and Erato streets near a HANO construction site in Central City in the early morning hours on Sunday. Authorities have released few details about his death, other than to say he was shot while his cruiser was in drive and that the vehicle then came to rest at a curb.
A spokesman for the NOPD, which is investigating Bennett’s death, said the department had no new information in the case Friday.
“I want to thank you for sharing James with us,” Anderson said to Bennett’s family. “The pain you are feeling caused by this brutal act cannot be described.”
Bennett’s flag-draped casket was accompanied by dozens of police motorcycles as it made its way from the L.A. Muhleisen & Son Funeral Home in Kenner across the Mississippi River to Westlawn Memorial Park in Gretna.
Mourners included New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison and Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand.
As officers from agencies as far afield as Iberia Parish and Gulfport, Mississippi, looked on, members of the New Orleans Police Department’s honor guard issued a sharp report from their rifles in a final salute.
Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office Detective Nick Vega recalled the pair’s 17-year friendship. Bennett was an Army veteran, a longtime policeman and an avid powerlifter.
“Working with James as a partner was always an adventure,” Vega said.
Vega mentioned that Bennett started a series of businesses in addition to his police work and found time to become a member of the Shriners, a charity organization, and a 32nd-degree Mason.
Among the dozens of officers in mourning was Bennett’s brother Anthony, who works for the Seattle Police Department.
Vega recalled how when Anthony Bennett graduated from the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office Training Academy, his older brother was insistent that Vega train him.
Vega also recalled his final telephone conversation with Bennett on May 22.
“His last words to me were, ‘Take care of yourself. I’ll talk to you later.’ Later would never come, as James was stolen from us that fateful morning,” Vega said. “But they can’t steal from us the memories we have of James. We should choose not to dwell on how he died but celebrate how he lived and what he stood for.”
Anderson said that when he took over as head of HANO’s small police force about a year ago, Bennett was the first officer he met. “He was one of the officers you could always count on,” Anderson said.
Bennett’s brother tried to lure him away to the Seattle Police Department, Anderson said, but there was something about New Orleans that made him stay.
“James didn’t want to leave the metropolitan area,” Anderson said. “When it comes to leaving this city, there’s some kind of magic grip it has on us.”
Bennett is survived by a son, Justin Bennett.