Two arrested in bizarre altercation that caused chaos inside Baton Rouge Walmart
BATON ROUGE - Two men were arrested after an argument led to a gun being drawn at a Baton Rouge Walmart, stirring up panic inside the store.
East Baton Rouge Sheriff Sid Gautreaux says a hysteric 911 call reporting a "possible active shooter" at the Walmart on Burbank Drive at Bluebonnet came in just before noon Tuesday. A massive law enforcement presence, including sheriff's deputies, Baton Rouge Police and Louisiana State Police, swarmed the store. Officers were also dispatched to other Walmarts in the Baton Rouge area as a precaution.
Witnesses later told investigators the incident stemmed from an altercation between two people inside the store. The fight allegedly led to a gun being drawn, whipping shoppers into a panic. The store was immediately evacuated after witnesses reportedly heard several "popping" sounds inside.
Authorities say an innocent bystander was taken to a hospital before EMS arrived. Though the sheriff's office originally reported that person was hit by gunfire, the department later backtracked that statement, saying the victim was actually hurt in the stampede of shoppers fleeing the store.
The sheriff released a revised statement Tuesday evening saying that it appeared no shots were fired inside the store.
Arrest records released Wednesday say Robert Tucker, 44, was in the customer service area when he got into an argument with Jacob Bess, 32. After Tucker refused to follow him outside to fight, Bess allegedly walked outside and returned with a pair of scissors.
Witnesses told investigators that Bess, armed with the scissors, was "moving with a purpose" toward the customer service area. A statement from the sheriff's office said he was also heard saying, "Hey I've got something for ya," as he approached.
Witnesses further said they heard someone shout "gun!" and saw Tucker pointing a handgun at Bess. The sheriff's office says Bess was seen on surveillance video around that time, turning away and walking back toward the exit. Bess reportedly dropped the scissors on his way out and went to pick them up before walking out of the store.
Investigators say Tucker had a concealed carry permit and witnesses reported that he never pointed the weapon in the direction of anyone other than Bess. Bess claimed he never wielded the scissors as a weapon and they fell out of his pocket as he was leaving, but investigators say surveillance video appears to show him re-entering the store with an unidentified object in his hand.
Tucker was booked into jail on charges of disturbing the peace and aggravated assault with a firearm. He bonded out on Friday.
Bess was issued a misdemeanor summons for disturbing the peace.
Robert Tucker (left) and Jacob Bess (right)
Though the situation turned out to be less dire than first thought, the sheriff said he was glad to see his deputies were prepared.
"We constantly train for it. We do it year-round with active shooter response and everybody knows what their roles are," Sheriff Gautreaux said. "This to me showed that all the training that we've done with other agencies, fire department, EMS, other law enforcement agencies, is working."
Burbank Drive was closed in the area for about two hours, and the area was roped off by crime scene tape until around 3 p.m. A sign posted outside the store said it would not reopen until 6 a.m. Wednesday.
You can read the full statement from the sheriff's office below:
"On today’s date, the Sheriff’s Office received a 911 call in which the caller stated, 'there are two black males in the Wal-Mart on Burbank shooting.' Shortly thereafter, Sheriff’s Deputies arrived to find a very chaotic scene.
Panicked customers were running from the front and rear entrances to the store, and told initial responding Deputies that they could hear 'popping' sounds that they believed to be gun shots. Sheriff’s Deputies entered the store, and made an initial security search of the store, to ensure there were no shooting victims in the store, and there was not an active shooting incident that was ongoing. At the same time, another 911 caller advised that Deputies had detained one of the suspects involved in the incident. This suspect was found to be in possession of a handgun. Additionally, the Sheriff’s Office received information that someone had arrived at a local hospital transported by private vehicle with what was believed to be gunshot wounds. This was reported by the injured victim to hospital emergency room personnel.
A second security sweep of the store was conducted by EBRSO & BRPD Swat personnel, and found the store to be secure. At this point, investigators began gathering witness statements, interviewing store employees, and reviewing store surveillance video. Upon reviewing the video, investigators determined initial information obtained from eyewitnesses, and the 911 calls, was not accurate. Investigators have determined that an altercation did occur in the Customer Service area of the store between two males, where weapons were drawn. When customers saw the handgun, panic set in, and customers were running and screaming while trying to exit the store. Many witnesses have reported hearing 'popping' noises during the incident. A forensic examination of the weapon taken from the detained suspect will be conducted. The second suspect involved in the initial altercation ran from the store and has not been located as of yet. The investigation is ongoing, and investigators still have video to review and compare to eyewitness statements.
Given the recent events in El Paso and Dayton, and given the initial information we received via 911 calls and witnesses exiting the store, we responded with what we feel is appropriate. The national climate regarding these incidents has the nation on edge, and citizens’ anxiety levels much higher than normal. We are in a position that we must respond according to our protocols and training to ensure that we are keeping our citizens safe. I would like to personally thank all of our law enforcement partners, on the local, state, and federal levels, as well as all medical and fire department personnel for the tremendous response to this incident. Preliminary investigation results gathered are that a shooting incident did not occur, however the investigation is ongoing. We will update with any further developments from this incident."