A suspect in a burglary of a Baton Rouge, Louisiana, pawn shop told investigators his group was seeking bullets to harm police officers in the area, and law enforcement officials treated the threat as so credible that it shaped their response to protests over the death of Alton Sterling, authorities said Tuesday.
The suspect, who was taken into custody at the scene of the burglary Saturday, said, “the reason the burglary was being done was to harm police officers,” and that the group’s aim was “to get bullets to harm police officers in the Baton Rouge area,” Baton Rouge Police Chief Carl Dabadie Jr. said at a news conference Tuesday. Dabadie said police “took this as a very viable threat” — those involved, he said, had just swiped eight guns — and that helped explain law enforcement’s aggressive posture toward protesters.
“This is the reason,” Dabadie said, “because we had credible threats against the lives of law enforcement in the city.”
Television and still photographers have captured images of law enforcement from multiple agencies wearing body armor and gas masks and armed with semiautomatic rifles.
Law enforcement officials said four people were involved in the burglary, which WBRZ reported was at the Cash America pawn shop, and three had since been apprehended. One person involved, police said, was a 13-year-old. Officials said six of the eight weapons stolen, all believed to be handguns, had since been recovered, and investigators had no indication any ammunition was taken. They said they would release more details about those involved in a subsequent news release.
Tensions have been high in Baton Rouge and across the country since Alton Sterling was shot and killed as two Baton Rouge police officers tried to arrest him. Louisiana State Police Col. Michael Edmonson said protesters in at least one instance had thrown bricks at police. East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Sid Gautreaux, III said police’s posture toward protesters, too, was in part because of the threat that came in the wake of the pawn shop burglary.
“What you saw in the response was because of the very real and viable threats against law enforcement,” he said. “All I can say beyond that is look what happened in Dallas, a very peaceful protest and then some crazy madman did what he did.”
On why police believed the burglary suspect’s threat to be credible, Dabadie said: “We gathered his statement. For us, that was enough of a credible threat to take it seriously.”
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Matt Zapotosky