Authorities on Thursday arrested an Algiers pastor who shot an alleged copper thief in the head a day earlier. Police apparently determined that the pastor was not in danger when he fired.
Willie Littleton, 62, fired on Rodney Mitchell and Joseph Cross as they scrambled away from the pastor, who trained a gun on them after he allegedly found them stealing copper from an air-conditioning unit at his church in the 1200 block of Vallette Street, interim Police Superintendent Michael Harrison said.
Louisiana law says a person may use deadly force to prevent a “forcible offense,” including the forcible taking of property in the person’s “lawful possession.” But the statute also says that for the act to be deemed justified, the use of force “must be reasonable and apparently necessary” to stop the would-be robber.
Police apparently determined that Littleton’s actions did not meet that standard. He surrendered on Thursday and was booked into Orleans Parish Prison on a count of aggravated battery by shooting, police said.
He was released later after posting a $10,000 bond.
Mitchell, 50, was struck in the head, police said. He was in serious condition at Interim LSU Hospital on Thursday afternoon, according to a hospital spokeswoman.
Cross, 34, was booked with theft between $500 and $1,499 and simple criminal damage, according to Sheriff’s Office records. He was not injured.
The shooting was reported about 5 p.m. at Greater Morning Star Baptist Church in the 1200 block of Vallette Street.
Littleton found the men trying to steal copper from an air-conditioning unit between the church and a neighboring snowball stand, Harrison said.
He initially held Mitchell and Cross at gunpoint, but they were able to hop into a pickup truck and drive away, at which point Littleton opened fire, Harrison said.
Littleton chased the men but lost them at some point.
They were found about a mile away from the church at L.B. Landry Avenue and Diana Street, while Littleton flagged down officers at Newton Street and Behrman Avenue.
Littleton, who was a New Orleans police officer from 1974 to 1983, was questioned and released after the shooting.
He co-hosts a talk show every weekday between 11 a.m. and noon on WBOK-AM, but it did not air Thursday. Paid programming took its place.
Cross, who has a lengthy rap sheet in Jefferson Parish but no prior record in New Orleans, pleaded guilty in February 2011 to a burglary charge in Jefferson, according to court records. He was on supervised release after being granted parole Sept. 15, 2013, according to a spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections.
He has prior arrests in Jefferson Parish for myriad charges, including aggravated assault, theft and second-degree murder, according to court records.
In March 2010, he was found not guilty of the murder charge, which stemmed from the beating death of a friend outside a Terrytown apartment in May 2008.
In addition to the charges related to Wednesday’s theft, Cross is being held at Orleans Parish Prison on a warrant issued in relation to a 2010 conviction for possession of cocaine. He was sentenced to three years in that case. The warrant was issued last September after he failed to pay court fees and fines.
Mitchell was sentenced to 18 months in prison after he pleaded guilty in August 2008 to a charge of aggravated battery in Jefferson Parish.
This was the second time in recent days a citizen fired upon an alleged criminal in Algiers.
On Aug. 20, Keith Jay Jones was shot to death by a man whom Jones had forced inside his own home at gunpoint. The home is located in the 1800 block of West Homestead Drive.
That man was not arrested because he was inside his home and was defending himself.
Littleton’s case differs in that he was outside and the suspects were apparently fleeing as he fired.
“If there is a threat upon your property ... you can use reasonable force,” said Donald “Chick” Foret, an attorney. “But it has to be reasonable and apparently necessary,”
WWL-TV reporter Meg Farris contributed to this report. Follow Danny Monteverde on Twitter, @DCMonteverde.