The family of the man shot dead by a sheriff's deputy Saturday said he was asked to leave a weekend birthday party after he plunged a screwdriver into a door. But, they say, he was unarmed and leaving the home in his car when he was killed.

Family members said they had called law officers, asking them to escort Melvin Watkins from the premises after he and another man argued during a relative's 95th birthday party. They said none of them thought the 54-year-old man might be killed on the street in front of a Highland Club Avenue home in the southeastern part of East Baton Rouge Parish.

"I'm going to have to live with this for the rest of my life," said Margaret Gibbs Watkins, the dead man's widow, who witnessed her husband's shooting.

Shortly before 5:30 p.m. Saturday, the Sheriff’s Office received a disturbance call at a home in the 16000 block of Highland Club Avenue, said State Police spokesman Trooper Taylor Scrantz. A deputy arrived and made contact with a person Scrantz described as a suspect, and at some point during this encounter, the deputy fired his gun, killing the person. 

"The investigation into the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office deputy-involved shooting remains active and ongoing," Scrantz said in a statement Monday. "LSP detectives are in the process of interviewing witnesses, analyzing evidence, and examining all aspects of the incident."

Scrantz said no further information will be released to protect the integrity of the investigation. Upon completion, the findings of the investigation will be delivered to the East Baton Parish District Attorney’s Office.

Margaret Watkins, 59, said her husband had arrived at the birthday party shortly after the festivities began; he wanted to pick up some money from her. She said her husband had not been invited to the party because he had a tendency to become loud and rowdy, traits that other members of the family didn't want at the small family get-together. 

Melvin Watkins ended up staying for a plate of food and a drink, but eventually got into an argument with another relative, and plunged a screwdriver into a door, family members said. 


Can't see video below? Click here.


Family members said they called the Sheriff's Office to have the two men separated.

At some point, family members coaxed him to leave and ushered him to his car. After Watkins backed out of the driveway and positioned his car to exit the neighborhood, a sheriff’s deputy arrived in his patrol car, Margaret Watkins said. 

According to a family member who said he was an eyewitness and who did not want to be named, the deputy parked his car in the center of the street and exited his vehicle, asking several people in the driveway, “Where is he?”

Relatives pointed to Melvin Watkins’ car. At that point, the family member said, the car was stationary on the road because it was blocked by the deputy's vehicle. The deputy approached Watkins’ car, the family member said, and asked Watkins to exit his vehicle.

Within seconds, the deputy had fired two shots through the windshield, the family member said.

“He was just trying to leave, and the police got out and he shot through the windshield," Margaret Watkins said.

Shane Evans, chief of investigations for the East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner's Office, said Monday that preliminary autopsy results show that Melvin Watkins died from gunshot wounds to the chest.

The family member said it appeared Watkins lost consciousness after the first two shots and his foot seemed to have slipped off the brake. As the car rolled forward, the deputy fired five more shots through the passenger side window.

Witnesses said the car struck several mailboxes, rolled into someone's front yard and flipped over another vehicle before landing right-side-up.

A portion of the deputy's interaction with the family was captured by a security camera video that the family shared with The Advocate.

Video obtained from the family shows the deputy parking his car in the center of the street and exiting his vehicle. He encounters several people on the driveway and they wave him off-camera toward the street. In an interview, they said that is where Melvin Watkins was shot. Ten seconds after the deputy exits his car, the family members react in shock to something happening out of view of the camera, in the direction of the street.

Family members said Monday they were alarmed when the deputy took out his gun almost as soon as he arrived. One family member described the deputy’s reaction as “devastating.”

“He didn’t even ask what was going on,” Margaret Watkins said. “He just told him to stop the car, and the next thing you know, he shot him.”

Melvin Watkins was a car mechanic who was funny and loud with an upbeat personality, family members said Monday. He was helpful and handy, always offering to fix things around relatives’ homes.

In the upscale home where the family held the party, elegant dinnerware, champagne glasses and centerpieces remained untouched in their display planned for Saturday's festivities. Tasteful bouquets of fresh roses adorned counter-tops and tables across the kitchen and living area, all arranged for the abbreviated celebration.

Outside on the patio, a banner reading “Happy Birthday” in gold and white remained suspended beneath the eaves. At the time of the shooting, the family said, they hadn’t even sung “Happy Birthday” yet.

Advocate staff writer Ellyn Couvillion contributed to this report.

Email Jacqueline DeRobertis at jderobertis@theadvocate.com