Police shot one man dead and arrested two brothers after responding to an armed robbery at a Dollar General store in New Orleans East on Tuesday night. One of the officers involved, six-year veteran Joshua Carthon, had just finished serving a lengthy suspension for drunk driving.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Police Superintendent Michael Harrison praised the actions of the two officers involved, who arrived at a robbery in progress at the store at 10600 Chef Menteur Highway about 9:53 p.m.
Harrison said that as the officers got to the scene, they encountered armed suspects trying to flee the business.
“While we’re still investigating who fired first or even if any gunfire was exchanged at all, we do know that two of our officers did fire their weapons, fatally striking and killing one suspect,” Harrison said at a Wednesday morning news conference with Landrieu.
A 21-year-old man who has yet to be identified died at the scene. Police took 24-year-old Spencer Banks into custody after finding him hiding in a car in the store’s parking lot. Banks’ 23-year-old brother, Halbert Adams, who allegedly fled the area Tuesday night, turned himself in to police at the 7th District station Wednesday morning.
Harrison said the suspects rushed employees who were closing the store Tuesday night and demanded money. At that point, a burglar alarm was tripped. Employees of a security company watching surveillance cameras from a remote location alerted police.
Carthon and seven-year veteran Officer Clifford Thompson were nearby. Police said that within two minutes of being dispatched, the officers had arrived at what Harrison characterized as a “hostage” situation.
The suspects first tried to slip through a side door, where they were confronted by police, Harrison said. Then, as employees fled out the front, the suspects exited through the rear of the store, which faces a wooded area.
As at least one suspect came out through the back, Harrison said, “the officers were forced to fire their weapons.”
But while the department initially reported that the dead man was killed after an exchange of shots, Harrison was not ready Wednesday to say whether the suspects fired at all. Police also were not yet ready to disclose how many rounds were fired at the suspects or how many times the dead man was hit.
Personnel records show that shortly before the shooting, Carthon had finished serving a suspension for an April 2014 drunk-driving incident.
An investigation by the NOPD’s Public Integrity Bureau concluded that Carthon was involved in a wreck in his 2001 Dodge pickup at 3 a.m. at North Miro and Lapeyrouse streets. Carthon, who was off-duty, told investigators that he’d had only one drink, but his blood- alcohol content was measured at .131 percent, well above the legal limit for driving.
Carthon was given a 20-day suspension for failing to adhere to the law and an additional five-day suspension for violating the department’s policy on alcohol use.
Reached by phone Wednesday, Carthon declined to answer any questions about the shooting, as per department policy.
NOPD spokesman Tyler Gamble said he could not comment at this point on whether the suspension will be looked into as part of the investigation into the shooting.
Both officers had their body cameras activated Tuesday night, Harrison said. He said the video appears to show an object in the dead man’s hand, and the footage is being analyzed to see whether he pointed a weapon at the officers.
Gamble said the video could be released to the public after investigations by the Public Integrity Bureau and the office of District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro have concluded.
Both Harrison and Landrieu watched the footage from the police body cameras Wednesday morning, and the mayor expressed confidence in the officers, saying the dead suspect was found with a semi-automatic gun near his body.
“The people of New Orleans will be very proud of how incredible the NOPD was last night,” Landrieu said. He called the encounter between robbers and officers “a very, very difficult circumstance.”
In line with standard NOPD procedure, both officers involved in the shooting have been placed on administrative reassignment pending the results of a review by the Public Integrity Bureau.
Fraternal Order of Police attorney Donovan Livaccari said he had spoken to the officers and they were holding up after the “traumatic experience” of the shooting. He said the officers’ interviews with investigators will likely occur next week.
“No police officer goes to work with the foresight that they’ll be involved in that type of situation,” he said. “I was very glad to see the mayor and the superintendent being supportive of these officers.”
Harrison and Landrieu went to the scene Tuesday night after the shooting, which drew a huge police presence on Chef Menteur Highway, including an NOPD robot, the SWAT team and police dogs. SWAT members briefly emptied a nearby Domino’s Pizza store while searching for the missing suspect.
Tuesday night’s shooting was the second fatal police encounter this year. An NOPD officer shot a man Jan. 7 in Central City. Two civilians died in police shootings in 2014, according to the Office of the Independent Police Monitor.
Representatives of two police watchdog agencies that have been created since Hurricane Katrina — the police monitor and the federal consent decree monitor — also arrived at the scene of the shooting Tuesday night to track the investigation.
Independent Police Monitor Susan Hutson said her agency was notified quickly and was able to “get the information that we needed” on the scene.
“The system is working exactly like it was supposed to,” Landrieu said.
“The execution of police action last night and the way they handled themselves, the way the investigation was done was exactly the way it was designed in the new New Orleans police way.”
Landrieu noted that Adams turned himself in to police Wednesday at his mother’s urging.
“This is a great example of a parent basically understanding what is necessary to keep her child out of harm’s way,” he said.
Court records show that Banks, Adams’ brother, was charged in 2011 for burglary. The case against him ended when he entered a pretrial diversion program.
The freestanding Dollar General store robbed Tuesday sits far back from Chef Menteur Highway, surrounded by trees and marshy ground. By Wednesday morning, it had reopened for business. A manager declined to comment on the shooting.
Police said they had recovered $2,000 in stolen money from the scene.
It was at least the second time this month that a Dollar General store in the area was robbed.
On April 5, a Dollar General at 13100 Chef Menteur was targeted in a strikingly similar armed robbery.
Police said two suspects rushed the door as the location was closing and forced a manager and a cashier to empty safes and registers.
Harrison said police are trying to determine whether Tuesday’s robbery had any connection to earlier crimes.
Staff writer Jim Mustian contributed to this report.