Angry and emotionally spent, Des Moines’ top cop lashed out Thursday against the Iowa man accused of fatally shooting two police officers, calling the killings a “cowardly act of calculated murder.”
“As the days move on, there are going to be some people who talk about this and try to explain it and figure out why and make a reason of why someone would do that. … I will not be one of them,” said an emotional Chief Dana Wingert, who added that he was amid the “stages the grief.”
“What happened yesterday was the calculated murder of two law enforcement officers. Plain and simple, that’s the reality,” he said, speaking alongside officers, some of whom appeared to be fighting tears.
On Thursday afternoon, Scott Michael Greene was charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the ambush-style slaying of Urbandale Officer Justin Martin, 24, and Des Moines Sgt. Anthony “Tony” Beminio, 38. The officers were attacked as they sat in their squad cars, parked nearly two miles apart.
Greene fled before later surrendering, officials said. He was hospitalized for an unspecified medical condition.
On Thursday, officers from Des Moines and neighboring Urbandale said they were stunned and struggling to make sense of the violent deaths of two fellow lawmen.
“We can guess. I can guarantee, whatever it is, it’s not going to make any sense,” said Des Moines police spokesman Sgt. Paul Parizek when asked about a possible motive.
He called the slayings — the first deadly officer shooting in Des Moines since 1977 and the first ever in Urbandale — “the biggest case we’ve ever faced.”
New details in the investigation trickled out Thursday.
Parizek said police found Greene’s car off the road in Dallas County, west of Des Moines, and uncovered a .223-caliber rifle hidden in the brush. Parizek said police were going through surveillance videos from businesses near the shooting sites — close to a major mall and to a high school — for a better understanding of how the attacks unfolded.
Greene was known to police in Urbandale, a small suburban city west of Des Moines. Over the years, he’d had a string of run-ins with police and a history of racially charged encounters with African Americans.
In a YouTube video uploaded last month to an account in his name, a picture shows Greene waving a Confederate flag in front of black women at a high school football game. A separate video shows police trying to remove Greene from the game. A man using Greene’s name commented that he was “offended by the blacks sitting through our anthem.” The video’s title includes the words “police abuse, civil rights violation.”
One of the officers, Martin, was shot near the high school that Greene’s daughter attended. Police said Thursday it was unclear whether the Confederate flag incident and the shootings were related.
“I don’t see how we can connect those two incidents right now,” Parizek said. “A lot of this will depend on what he tells us, if he tells us anything.”
Greene lives with his mother, Patricia Ann Greene, and his teenage daughter, a cheerleader at the school. Police said they were called to the house the day of the football game after Greene got into a fight with his mother. He accused her of hitting him following an argument over a pit bull she wanted removed from the house, according to court records. A few days later, his mother asked for a protection order against her son for abuse and financial exploitation.
A judge ruled Tuesday that Greene had committed elder abuse and ordered him to move out of his mother’s house. It also was revealed in court that he was facing intense financial problems.
Greene’s family “didn’t ask for this. They didn’t do this. … They are just as torn apart,” Parizek said Thursday.
Those who know Greene say his life took a downward turn about six years ago when his father died, his son joined the military and he moved in with his mother. He worked part time at two hardware stores in recent years but had quit to look for a full-time job. He was hired last month at Central Iowa Fencing, a local construction business, but he quickly quit the job.
“He was never disrespectful,” said Phyllis Nace, a neighbor of the Greenes.
Greene and his mother would sometimes visit as Nace worked in her yard, tending her perennials. He often wore camouflage and dog tags, she said. She and her husband never saw him with guns or displaying the Confederate flag.
His mother “was kind of frustrated with Scott because he was just having trouble getting on with life,” Nace said. “She just said that he’s been a challenge.”
In the four or five days before the shooting, Greene had been moving “all kinds of stuff out of the house and taking it somewhere, and all of a sudden, this ordeal shows up,” said Richard Nace.
By Thursday, signs of collective mourning had spread throughout the towns.
Outside the Urbandale and Des Moines police headquarters, residents left hundreds of cards, flowers and posters. Churches hosted vigils. And police said they had received unsolicited support.
“It’s just crazy. I don’t live far from where the shootings happened, and it’s just not the kind of thing you ever see here,” said Liz Mortensen, who brought her young son to Timberline Church in Urbandale to pray for the fallen officers and her community. “We’re putting our trust in the Lord to heal our neighborhoods, to protect our police.”
Times staff writer Matt Pearce contributed to this report