Authorities have arrested a man they believe is connected to the shooting of a New Orleans police officer Sunday morning. They also recovered the body of a dead man thought to be connected with the case.
The NOPD said it has arrested 34-year-old Cornelius Barthelemy in connection with the early morning shooting of Officer Jonathan Smith.
Smith, a 44-year-old officer assigned to the 5th District, was working an off-duty detail at a Marigny po-boy shop when he was shot in the spine, buttocks and legs, according to New Orleans police.
He was in “good spirits and very coherent,” interim NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison said at a late morning news conference.
“He left the scene in good spirits, and his injuries are not expected to be life-threatening,” Harrison said.
Smith was outside Gene’s Po-boys at the intersection of Elysian Fields and St. Claude avenues when a light-colored, four-door Ford SUV pulled up about 1:40 a.m., Harrison said.
He said two passengers got out of the vehicle, and one of them shot Smith three times. Smith managed to return fire, possibly wounding the men, according to the NOPD. The two passengers and the driver all fled in the SUV after the shooting.
A few hours later, shortly after 9 a.m., the Gretna Police Department received a call about someone shot at an apartment complex, according to Deputy Chief Anthony Christiana.
Christiana said that upon arrival, officers found a man suffering from a single gunshot wound to the torso. They questioned him and found that the information he gave did not make sense.
“Officers continued their investigation and continued looking around the apartment complex, to find out how he arrived there,” Christiana said. “That’s when they located a vehicle that matched the description of the one utilized during the officer’s shooting in New Orleans.”
Once Gretna police located the Ford SUV, they looked in the vehicle and noticed “a large amount of blood on the front seat of the vehicle,” Christiana said.
Inside the car, officers discovered a dead body, he said.
“They were looking to ensure the safety of anyone who may have been injured in the vehicle, based upon the blood being in the vehicle, and that’s when they discovered the body,” Christiana said.
The NOPD said the wounded man, Barthelemy, was taken to a local hospital. While he was being treated, police showed him still photographs from surveillance video of the shooting incident.
Barthelemy confirmed he was one of the three men in the video along with the unidentified man found dead in the vehicle, the NOPD said. Barthelemy identified that man by the nickname of “Caesar” and the at-large suspect by the nickname of “Renegade.”
After receiving medical treatment, Barthelemy was taken to Central Lockup, where he was to be booked with attempted first-degree murder. Police are still working to identify “Caesar” and “Renegade.”
“With the help of our partner law enforcement agencies and the public, we’ve apprehended two of the three individuals believed to be responsible for this incident in less than 24 hours,” Harrison said. “We are still working to arrest the third suspect, and I continue to urge anyone who has any information that would lead to his arrest to come forward immediately.”
DNA and ballistics tests are pending.
At his news conference, Harrison said police didn’t have a motive for the shooting, nor did they know if the suspects frequented the restaurant.
Smith was shot three times, Harrison said. One bullet hit him in the upper buttocks, one round lodged in his lower spine, and the other shot pierced the upper part of his rear thigh, possibly fracturing his femur.
Smith had full mobility when Harrison saw him.
The shooting wasn’t an ambush, exactly, Harrison said, but the three men involved in the incident walked up to Smith “very casually” before one began firing. He said Smith had never spoken to the men before.
“Once you put the uniform on, it is as dangerous working a detail as it is patrolling the streets,” Harrison said.
Eugene Theriot, owner of Gene’s Po-boys, said Smith’s shooting ability may have saved his life.
“I heard he was a quick draw and that’s what saved him,” Theriot said of Smith, whom he called “a real nice guy.”
“The officer is like a big old teddy bear. I don’t know why they’d do something like this.”
Theriot said he hired Smith in July to work the paid detail. Drugs in the area have changed the character of the neighborhood near his restaurant, he said, adding that he thinks the officer’s shooting was drug-related.
“The drug problem is getting so bad. It’s not like it was years ago,” Theriot said. “You’re not gonna stop this kind of thing.”
Still, Theriot can’t understand why anybody would shoot a police officer on his property.
“You gotta be on drugs to come over here and do something like this,” he said. “I have some of the best cameras in the city out here.”
Sgt. Kevin Burns of the Public Integrity Bureau Force Investigation Team is in charge of the ongoing investigation.
The Independent Police Monitor’s Office also was on the scene and will conduct its own independent review of the incident.
Police urge anyone with information about the shooting to call Crimestoppers at (504) 822-1111.
Harrison reminded anyone who might harbor the remaining suspect that doing so is a crime.
“Protecting individuals who have committed a crime is a serious mistake. Anyone willingly protecting any of these individuals will also face very serious charges,” he said.
Staff writer Danny Monteverde contributed to this report.