ETHEL — The family of an East Feliciana Parish man shot dead by a sheriff's deputy responding to a burglary call early Monday said the man struggled with his mental health and, despite previous trouble with the law, didn't carry guns and didn't pose a danger to law enforcement officers.
An alarm about 2:30 a.m. Monday brought deputies to a Texaco gasoline station off La. 10, the Sheriff's Office said. When they confronted a man — identified by his family as Christopher Whitfield, 31 — he fled on foot and an unknown deputy shot him behind the gas station. The store's owner said the man had broken in and stolen raw chicken from a cooler.
East Feliciana sheriff's Chief Deputy Greg Phares confirmed that the deputy shot the burglary suspect behind the gas station, but Phares declined to say what led to him firing or if Whitfield had a weapon.
Myrtle Jackson, the dead man's grandmother, told The Advocate that Whitfield struggled to manage mental illness and said he had past legal trouble, including a few recent criminal convictions. She described her grandson as a nice person and said he didn't carry guns.
“I don’t think he should have been shot,” she said.
Family members who gathered at Whitfield's mother's home Monday requested privacy.
The gas station's owner, Danny Williams, said Whitfield had broken into a cooler and took raw chicken from a crate. According to past reports, Whitfield had been arrested in 2010 for breaking into the store.
Phares said the Sheriff's Office is reviewing the shooting itself but declined to comment further during the early stages of the investigation.
In recent police shootings around the Baton Rouge metro area, other departments have handed their investigation to State Police, which they say allows for an impartial review when officers use deadly force.
Phares declined to name the deputy but said the officer has been with the department for several years, adding that he was placed on paid leave following the shooting.
Deputies in East Feliciana Parish don't wear body cameras, and squad cameras didn't capture the shooting, he said.
Across the state, law enforcement officers have used deadly force at least 16 other times since the beginning of the year, but only two were captured on body cameras, according to a nationwide Washington Post database on deadly force.
Community members in the Baton Rouge-area have pushed for law enforcement agencies to equip officers with cameras following several recent police shootings, including a pair of police shootings in East Baton Rouge Parish and another at a motel near Port Allen this summer. Few details about those shootings have trickled out while they're still under investigation by State Police.
In East Feliciana, calls for adding body cameras became stronger after deputies shot and killed 28-year-old Myron Flowers during an April traffic stop near Clinton.
Two officers fired their guns at Flowers, who was in the back seat of the car and had two guns near him but didn't shoot, authorities said.
A grand jury declined to criminally charge the two deputies who shot Flowers.
Phares said the Sheriff's Office plans to release more information about the latest shooting later this week.