A Denham Springs police officer was justified in fatally shooting a Texas truck driver who police say brandished a gun when officers responded to a report of a suicidal man last month, the Livingston Parish sheriff announced Friday.
Michael Brien LeBlanc, 30, shot 47-year-old Robert Kohl, of Fort Worth, Texas, after Kohl brandished a gun and pointed it toward officers near the Bass Pro Shops on Feb. 23, police have said.
Officers contacted Kohl after his mother called dispatch and said he was talking about killing himself. In a 911 recording released Friday, she says Kohl thought he had been fired, but that didn’t appear to be the case.
City and state police have said Kohl was ordered to pull off the highway the night before after exceeding his driving hours. He told a trooper at the time that he was being followed by law enforcement, but officers have said there wasn’t any police activity in the area that would have supported his claim.
“He was seeing things that weren’t there,” city Detective Glenn Lemoine said the week of the shooting.
Kohl also briefly spoke with a dispatcher shortly before he was shot. The call is difficult to follow and ends abruptly when Kohl hangs up.
He tells a dispatcher he is parked near the highway in Denham Springs and there is a “huge” number of police near him before any were dispatched.
“Wait, hold on. I’m lost. What? Start over,” the dispatcher responds.
“I’m sorry, I’m just really upset over what everyone’s doing,” Kohl says.
Sounding anxious, he says he was told to stop driving the night before and that he wants to move his truck and go to a hotel or go home, but he’s scared. Kohl says he isn’t sure how long he was supposed to rest and wants a straight answer and that he doesn’t want to be “chased again.”
The dispatcher repeatedly asks if Kohl feels fit to drive. Kohl says he can drive but that he doesn’t want to because there are people tailing him.
“Who’s following you? You’re not making any sense right now,” the dispatcher says.
“Please don’t do this to me. I can, I used to be a cop back in the 1990s. I know what. You know what? Forget it. I’m sorry to bother you,” Kohl responds.
The dispatcher begins to tell Kohl he isn’t bothering him, but Kohl hangs up.
“He was a good guy. ... Unfortunately he had suffered with mental health problems all of his life,” his sister Lara Kohl Burhenn said in a Friday phone interview, adding that she didn’t know his specific diagnosis.
“We weren’t there. We don’t know what happened that day. ... We will never know what was going on in his mind that day.”
In the 911 tapes, officers describe arriving on scene, and one remarks that Kohl has a weapon. A few minutes later, they say they’ve taken cover behind a concrete barrier about 30 feet away from him.
“He’s got a gun; he’s got a gun. We’re trying to talk to him,” someone says.
Thirty seconds later, “Shots fired, shots fired.”
Officers call for medics, but Kohl died in a hospital a few hours later from his wounds. He was hit once in the torso with a shotgun.
Burhenn said her family is still grieving Kohl’s death.
“This is a horrendous situation for us to deal with,” she said.
But she said she doesn’t blame the police.
“Our sympathy goes out to them. ... They had to face that decision,” Burhenn said. “We didn’t doubt that the officers had any misconduct there.”
The city asked the Sheriff’s Office to perform the criminal investigation of the shooting. While the case is still open, investigators have determined LeBlanc was justified in shooting Kohl.
“The officer was in fear of his life, as well as the life of a fellow Denham Springs officer on scene when confronted by Robert Kohl. Kohl’s actions toward these officers dictated the action taken,” Sheriff Jason Ard wrote in a news release.
Denham Springs Police Chief Scott Jones also said the department’s use of force board met Friday and found LeBlanc followed procedure. The chief added that the procedure will not be altered.
“(LeBlanc) acted accordingly and under Louisiana law in using deadly force,” he said.
Jones said the officer has been placed on light duty, such as performing office work. The department is waiting for the results of a psychological test before returning him to his regular duties.
Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.