A man suspected of killing two police officers sitting in their squad cars in central Iowa was taken into custody after an hours-long manhunt, authorities said Wednesday.
The two officers were shot and killed early Wednesday morning in a pair of “ambush-style attacks,” the Des Moines Police Department said. Authorities named Scott Michael Greene, 46, as the suspect in the shootings that killed the officers from Des Moines and Urbandale, a nearby city.
Police had said they were seeking Greene, an Urbandale resident, and they warned residents that he was “believed to be armed and should be considered dangerous.”
The Dallas County Sheriff’s office apprehended him at roughly 8:50 a.m., said Sgt. Nathan Ludwig, spokesman for Iowa State Patrol.
Authorities in the Des Moines area appeared shaken by the double shooting, which came during a year that has seen bloody attacks on officers in cities including Dallas and Baton Rouge, assaults that have fueled a sense of anxiety among law enforcement nationwide. In Des Moines, police were ordered to patrol in pairs Wednesday for safety.
During a news briefing, Sgt. Paul Parizek, a Des Moines police spokesman, said it did not appear there was any interaction between the officers and “the coward … that shot them while they sat in their car.” Parizek then briefly choked back emotion as another officer reached a hand out to show him support.
Parizek said later Wednesday morning that authorities did not know what might have motivated the shooting, and he noted that sometimes investigations do not turn up clear answers to that question.
“We’re not anywhere close to that,” he said. “We may never know what motivated this act.”
One of the officers was fatally shot next to Urbandale High School. A video uploaded to YouTube last month by an account named Scott Greene was titled “Police Abuse, Civil Rights Violation at Urbandale High School” and appeared to show a person recording the footage arguing with police officers asking him to leave the area.
In the video, the man recording the footage, who is identified by one officer as Greene, is heard telling the police that he was assaulted and almost mugged while “peacefully protesting” at what appears to be a high school. An officer is later seen explaining that the Confederate battle flag he was waving violated the school’s code.
“In the current social climate that we’re in, when you fly a Confederate flag standing in front of several African American people, that’s going to cause a disturbance, whether you intended to or not,” the officer said. As a result, the officer said, this man was no longer allowed on the school’s property.
Another video posted by the same account showed a still image of a man holding a Confederate flag in what appears to be the stands at an athletic event.
Police said they had heard about YouTube videos possibly posted by Greene, but a spokesman said at a briefing Wednesday that he had not seen them yet.
Officials with the Urbandale and Des Moines police did not immediately respond to requests for comments about whether the videos were posted by the suspect.
A spokeswoman for the Urbandale school district confirmed that the altercation in the video took place at a high school football game. Dena Soenke, the spokeswoman, said the incident involved a person with Greene’s name, but she did not know for sure if it was the same person.
Court records show that a man with the same name had a history of run-ins with police, including charges of assault and harassment, some of which were dismissed.
The killings prompted schools in the area to close and launched law enforcement officers from multiple agencies into a sweeping search for Greene. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign said that due to the shooting, it was canceling an event planned for Wednesday night in Des Moines with Tim Kaine, her vice-presidential running mate, and former president Bill Clinton, her husband.
In a statement, Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch decried the shootings, calling them “yet another reminder of the tremendous dangers that law enforcement officers face each and every day.”
She also referred to the tension felt between police and communities of color, unease that has flared up during regular protests in recent years over how police officers use force.
“I know that this is a time of particular tension and mistrust between law enforcement and many communities,” she said. “I know that while we do not yet know what led the perpetrator to commit these awful crimes, many will be nevertheless be tempted to read a message or motive into this assault. But let me be clear: there is no message in murder.”
The first shooting in Iowa occurred at 1:06 a.m. when an officer in Urbandale, which is part of metropolitan Des Moines, responded to a report of shots fired, Parizek told The Washington Post.
That officer was shot while sitting alone in his patrol car at 70th Street and Aurora Ave., next to Urbandale High School. He was pronounced dead on the scene, Parizek said.
About 20 minutes later, Des Moines police responding to the shooting of the first officer came across a patrol car at Merle Hay Road and Sheridan Drive, an intersection about two miles away, where they found another officer with a gunshot wound, according to Parizek. The Des Moines officer, who had been among those responding, was transported to the Iowa Methodist Medical Center, where he was also pronounced dead.
Neither of the officers’ names have been released as the families have not yet been notified, according to officials in Des Moines, Iowa’s largest city.
Police said that both shootings appeared to have been ambushes, and Parizek said both officers “clearly were just seated in their cars when they were shot.”
“You’ve got the best police department in the nation right here,” Parizek said. “This is what we do, this is who we are. We’re going to be here tomorrow.”
Parizek said the ongoing situation posed a clear threat to law enforcement officers in the area.
“These guys were gunned down sitting in their car, doing nothing wrong … There’s somebody out there shooting police officers,” he said during the briefing. “We hope we find him before anybody else gets hurt. There’s a clear and present danger to police officers right now.”
The Urbandale Community School District said it was canceling all classes and closing all facilities Wednesday “per the recommendations of Urbandale and Des Moines law enforcement,” school officials said in a statement. They also asked staffers not to report to work.
The Des Moines public school system said that it would have school on Wednesday, a decision made after consulting with the city’s police chief.
“Our community is in mourning today at the news that two police officers – one from Des Moines and one from Urbandale – were killed overnight,” the school system said in a statement.
While Urbandale had canceled classes because one of the shootings was near one of its high schools, the Des Moines school system said it determined there was “no need to cancel classes in Des Moines,” but added that it would remain in touch with the police throughout the day.
Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov Kim Reynolds said they were briefed about the shootings shortly after they occurred.
“An attack on public safety officers is an attack on the public safety of all Iowans,” Branstad, R, and Reynolds, R, said in a joint statement. “We call on Iowans to support our law enforcement officials in bringing this suspect to justice. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the police officers who were tragically killed in the line of duty as well as the officers who continue to put themselves in harm’s way.”
There have been at least 49 officers shot and killed in the line of duty this year, according to preliminary statistics from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, a nonprofit that tracks police deaths. In a report covering the first half of the year, the fund said that more than half of the officers fatally shot by suspects were shot in ambushes.
While the number of police officers killed by suspects declined last year, that tally has already increased so far this year. In some cases, officers have been killed in high-profile incidents, including ambushes in Dallas and Baton Rouge in July that left eight police officers dead. These killings also occurred at a time of intense national focus on fatal shootings by police officers, incidents that have prompted protests of law enforcement that, in turn, have caused officers to say they feel vilified and uneasy.
Police also expressed concerns about ambushes and attacks after two pairs of officers were killed during incidents in 2014, first in Las Vegas and then New York.
The Des Moines officer who was slain appears to be the first from that city fatally shot in the line of duty since 1977, according to the police department’s website and records kept by Officer Down Memorial Page, another group that tracks such deaths.
This is the latest tragedy to strike the Des Moines Police Department. In March, two officers were killed while transporting a prisoner when they were struck head-on by a vehicle driving at more than 100 mph the wrong way down Interstate 80. The blood-alcohol content of the man driving the wrong way was three times the legal limit, according to toxicology tests, WHO reported.
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Travis M. Andrews, Derek Hawkins, Mark Berman