Police in Hattiesburg, Miss., arrested four people Sunday in connection with the shooting deaths of two police officers who were gunned down during what began as a routine traffic stop, authorities said.
Marvin Banks, 29, and Joanie Calloway, 22, were each charged with two counts of capital murder. Banks' brother, Curtis Banks, 26, was charged with two counts of being an accessory after the fact of capital murder. Cornelius Clark, 28, was arrested later and charged with obstruction of justice, the Mississippi Highway Patrol said.
Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree said the crime began when Officer Benjamin Deen, 34, pulled over a gold Cadillac Escalade about 8 p.m. Saturday.
Calloway was driving, he said, and the Banks brothers were passengers. For reasons that aren't yet clear, Deen called for backup, which brought a rookie officer, Liquori Tate, 25, to the scene.
One of the suspects opened fire on the two officers, the Associated Press reported, citing Warren Strain, a spokesman for the Mississippi Department of Public Safety. Both officers died shortly after arrival at a Hattiesburg hospital.
Deen, a decorated K9 officer, had been named Hattiesburg police Officer of the Year in 2012, the Jackson, Miss., Clarion Ledger reported.
His family said part of the reason he won the award was for rescuing a man from a burning home.
Deen, known as B.J., was a family man who married his high school sweetheart, Robin, a family spokesman told the Los Angeles Times. The couple had a 12-year-old daughter, Melah, and a 9-year-old, Walker, the spokesman said. Deen was proud of his Cherokee and Blackfoot heritage and had an extensive arrowhead collection.
“He loved to hunt and fish, and living and being outdoors,” said the spokesman, a Deen family friend who spoke with The Times with the family’s permission, but on the condition that he not be identified.
“The two things that really summed him up as far as a person, he didn’t go anywhere without his family, ever,” the family spokesman said. “The day before he went on shift and passed away, he had just been out with his son – they were out target shooting with each other – he was boasting, he was proud of his son.”
The second thing was, “He was honestly a friend to everyone he met, he loved serving his community, he loved being a cop,” the spokesman said.
Tate, the second officer, was not even a year out of the police academy, according to his father, Ronald Tate, of Atlanta, who described him as a passive, laid-back young man who never got into fights.
Tate worked a series of jobs at fast-food stores and at automotive supply shops before deciding he wanted to become a police officer like the ones who came into his stores, Ronald Tate told the Los Angeles Times.
Less than a year ago, Liquori Tate had announced how thankful he was to start his career in law enforcement.
“I graduated the Police Academy today. I am now a Police Officer,” Tate wrote on June 11, 2014. “I would like to thank God, the Police Academy, the Police Department, my family, friends, and love[d] ones.”
Ronald Tate, an Army veteran, learned about his son’s death by phone.
“Man, oh God, I can’t begin to explain to you what that does to a parent,” Tate told The Times. “You know, that just killed me, that took my time -- the clocks, the hands -- everything stopped moving. Sleep don’t matter no more, food don’t matter no more. I haven’t eaten, I haven’t slept, my body don’t care. All the things you think matter in life … all of that went out the door. It stopped me, it stopped my time, nothing matters no more. If I could have traded everything I could in that minute to get my son back, I would have” done it.
Three suspects were arrested without incident at different locations in Hattiesburg early Sunday morning.
"No sir, I didn't do it," Curtis Banks said in response to reporters’ questions as he was led into a police station, the Clarion Ledger reported.
The mayor and police chief declined to comment on the shooting's motivation, saying they were waiting for the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation to finish its investigation.
According to Lt. Jon Traxler of the Hattiesburg Police Department, the Banks brothers are Hattiesburg residents and have prior arrest records on weapons charges.
In addition to murder, Marvin Banks was charged with one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm, the Associated Press reported. He was also charged with grand theft for fleeing in the police cruiser after the shooting, Strain said.
“He absconded with a Hattiesburg police cruiser. He didn't get very far, three or four blocks and then he ditched that vehicle,” Strain said.
Hattiesburg residents Tamika Mills and Pearnell Roberts discovered the two fatally wounded officers and called 911, the Clarion Ledger reported.
"Never in my life have I experienced or seen anything like this except on TV, and to be in the midst of it, it's shocking and heartbreaking," Mills said. "As we were coming down Fourth Street, we noticed a bunch of lights. As we came on through, [Roberts] told me to turn around because she saw somebody laying on the ground.
"So I backed up. That's when we noticed the officer was down. We just saw that one, but in the course of me being on the phone with 911, I turned and I saw another officer across the street rolling on the ground. [Roberts] ran across the street to check on him. He wasn't all the way alert but he asked her, 'Am I dying? I know I'm dying. Just hand me my walkie-talkie.'"
Strain said Sunday morning's manhunt created a sprawling crime scene. "All three [initial] suspects were found in different places, so each of those is a crime scene," he said. "Plus the site of the shooting, so that makes four, spread out around Hattiesburg."
The fourth arrest occurred hours later.
As for why the suspects would shoot the police officers — and whether there might be any larger social element, as seen recently in clashes between citizens and police elsewhere around the country — Strain said it's too soon to know.
"We are less than 24 hours into this," he said. "We are still considering every possibility."
DuPree said he was "elated" police caught the suspects quickly. In a nod toward recent violence between police and residents in other cities, DuPree said relations between police and the community in Hattiesburg are good.
Saturday’s shooting marked the first deaths of police officers in Hattiesburg in more than three decades, he said.
Tips from the community flooded into the police department after the shooting, he added. "You just don't hear about these kinds of crimes being solved within hours," he said.
Nationally, it was the second time in five months that two police officers had been shot dead in the line of duty at one time. On Dec. 20, two New York City police officers were slain by a lone gunman as they sat in their patrol car in Brooklyn. The gunman, who had posted anti-police rants online, then committed suicide.
The Hattiesburg suspects are being held at the Forrest County Jail pending a court appearance scheduled for Monday.
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant said he and his wife “join all Mississippians this morning in mourning the death of our two police officers in Hattiesburg.”
“This should remind us to thank all law enforcement for their unwavering service to protect and serve,” said Bryant, a former deputy sheriff, in a statement. “May God keep them all in the hollow of his hand.”
A vigil for the officers was planned in Hattiesburg for 1 p.m. Monday, and the families are expected to attend, city spokeswoman Chinika Hughes said.
Liquori Tate’s father, Ronald, is a security consultant for corporations across the country. He said he’s still in denial, and he’s afraid to leave Atlanta to come to Hattiesburg to face the inevitable grief.
Liquori Tate was especially close to his sister, Alonte, who has been devastated by her brother’s death, Ronald Tate said. Sometimes Liquori Tate would spot her around town and follow her in his police cruiser to make sure she got home safe, Ronald Tate said.
“He was a traffic cop, he didn’t want to do anything else. He just loved sitting and watching them roll through a stop sign and go stop them and give them a warning ticket. He wasn’t about tickets, he was about warning tickets,” Ronald Tate said. “They would cuss him out, he would laugh about it.”
Tate said he didn’t mind that investigators were keeping details about the case and the suspects so close to their vests. “I don’t want to jeopardize anything that sends these guys to the Mississippi gas chamber.”
He added, “I’m so scared I’m going to find my son was killed over nothing much.”
Times staff writers Lauren Raab in Los Angeles and Tina Susman in New York contributed to this report.