A veteran Baton Rouge police officer died Sunday after he and his colleague were shot while responding to tips about a homicide suspect in the city's Howell Park neighborhood.
Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul said the second officer remains in the hospital "fighting for his life." The suspect — who was wanted in a domestic violence homicide that morning — was taken into custody without incident several hours after the shooting, which occurred about 12:30 p.m. on Conrad Drive.
Officials have not identified either of the officers, but Paul said the one who died had served with the department for 21 years.
"Our officers — talk about being public servants and the responsibility that comes along with being a law enforcement officer," Paul said during a short media briefing at the scene Sunday. "This is a call no chief wants to get."
Police had received a tip that the suspect in an earlier homicide, Ronnie Kato, was at a house in the 3100 block of Conrad Drive, which is off North Foster Drive near Winbourne Avenue. Paul said officers went to the address to make contact with Kato, and that's when the shooting occurred in the yard of the house.
Kato, 36, was already believed to be responsible in a fatal shooting about 9:30 a.m. Sunday on North Pamela Drive, a residential street off North Sherwood Forest Drive and about 5½ miles from where the officers were shot. The victim in that morning's shooting, 58-year-old Curtis Richardson, was pronounced dead on the scene, officials said.
Police released few details about the incident, but officials said it was likely domestic violence related.
Kato was taken into custody Sunday evening after a standoff with police that lasted several hours, during which he was barricaded inside the house on Conrad Drive. Apparent gunshots were heard in the area of the house intermittently late Sunday afternoon.
Paul said the suspect had fired at SWAT officers during the standoff and the officers had returned fire. It appears no one was injured from the gunfire and Kato was later arrested around 4 p.m. Kato is expected to be booked into East Baton Rouge Parish Prison on first-degree murder and other counts after an interview at the East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office.
Paul said BRPD detectives will be conducting the investigation, though a variety of law enforcement entities converged on the scene Sunday to assist local police.
Around the same time Kato was taken into custody, a coroner's van accompanied by a procession of law enforcement left Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, escorting the slain officer's body away from the hospital. Dozens of his colleagues had gathered at the hospital during the afternoon, awaiting updates in the aftermath of the shooting.
The second officer, a seven-year veteran of the force, was still receiving treatment as of Sunday evening. Paul asked for prayers for the officers and the entire Baton Rouge Police Department.
"Not only were these police officers public servants — they were fathers, husbands, loved by their families," he said.
These officers were already dealing with the stress of "this current COVID threat that we're in," Paul added. "Still, our heroes step up."
Other local and state officials offered their condolences via social media later in the evening.
"It is a tragic day in the Baton Rouge community," Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome tweeted. "I am deeply saddened by the incident earlier that resulted in the loss of one of our bravest souls. As we mourn this tragedy, let us reinforce that violence in our community, and particularly violence against those who serve and protect, is unacceptable."
"Our hearts are heavy today as we mourn the loss of a dedicated public servant who made the ultimate sacrifice for the people of Baton Rouge and the state of Louisiana," Gov. John Bel Edwards said in a tweet Sunday evening. "This officer protected and served the Baton Rouge community for more than 20 years, and we will never be able to fully repay him for his heroism and commitment to keeping us safe."
The perimeter around the Conrad Drive scene was chaotic on Sunday afternoon while the standoff was l ongoing. Police blocked streets up and down Winbourne Avenue and North Foster Drive.
Neighbors and onlookers crowded street corners and police tape, some donning masks, other holding up their phones to record the swarm of law enforcement vehicles. Children and parents sat on front steps, some calling out to officers for more information.
While it is difficult to track domestic violence incidents, law enforcement officials have expressed concern in recent weeks that the coronavirus pandemic could keep abusers and their victims trapped in close proximity while observing lockdown orders, possibly exacerbating existing tensions.
Domestic situations are often dangerous for law enforcement officials. In August 2019, a police sergeant was shot in the leg after responding to a domestic disturbance near Nicholson Drive. BRPD spokesman Sgt. L'Jean McKneely Jr. said then that officers are often at great risk when attempting to respond to domestic calls.
"You just don't know the extent of a person's mind when they're dealing with a domestic type situation," he said. "You don't know how far he or she may want to take it."
Broome has also announced that she has requested Gov. John Bel Edwards to allow all flags at East Baton Rouge city-parish buildings be flown at half-staff.
Two Baton Rouge police officers were shot Sunday at a house in the city's Howell Park neighborhood and taken to the hospital.
Staff writer Youssef Rddad contributed to this report.