With 2 killings this week, Louisiana police deaths rising
BATON ROUGE - Police badges in Louisiana are banded with black ribbons more than usual this year, a grim reminder that officer deaths are on the rise with two killings just this week alone.
Louisiana has had more job-related police fatalities in 2015 than any other state but Texas, with nine on-duty deaths in each state, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
Law enforcers are weary of what they call "the end of the watch."
Police deaths nationally also are showing an uptick this year, though not at the rate in Louisiana, where the law enforcement community is readying for two more funerals.
"Even though we're grieving, we've got to go out there every night and every day and do this job," said Calcasieu Parish Sheriff Tony Mancuso. "We're not allowed to stop what we're doing."
On Sunday, a Louisiana State Police trooper was shot in Calcasieu Parish by a stranded motorist stuck in a ditch. Senior Trooper Steven Vincent, 44, died Monday, leaving behind a wife and 9-year-old son and two other brothers in law enforcement.
On Wednesday, a domestic dispute in the tiny town of Sunset left a 13-year-veteran officer dead, shot with his own gun. In a sad twist, the 51-year-old Sunset police officer Henry Nelson was killed by his own cousin, the town's police chief said.
The deaths come amid high-profile shootings in other states that have heightened tensions between the public and police officers. But Louisiana officials say officers already went to work with safety concerns every day before the most recent shootings.
"There's no such thing as a routine traffic stop. There's no such thing as a routine interaction with the police. We've got to always be prepared for what might could happen," said Col. Mike Edmonson, the Louisiana State Police superintendent.
Eighty police officers have died on the job so far this year, preliminary data from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund shows, compared to 72 at the same time last year.
Steve Groeninger, with the memorial fund, said the 11 percent increase is largely tied to an increase in traffic-related fatalities. He said the rise nationally this year hasn't reached a level that sets off alarm bells.
But Jonathan Thompson, executive director of the National Sheriffs' Association, sees more reason to worry.
"It's incredibly disturbing," Thompson said. "When you look across the nation, the number of brutal attacks are up significantly on law enforcement."
Louisiana has averaged about five job-related officer deaths annually over the last decade. It had three last year.
This year, according to the data, Louisiana has already reached the high-water mark of 2007, nine on-duty deaths.
And the year's far from done.
In addition to Nelson and Vincent, three other officers have been fatally shot this year, in Shreveport and New Orleans. A New Orleans officer was struck by a car while investigating a vehicle fire in July. A Jeanerette police officer died after crashing his patrol car in a high-speed chase in April. Two officers had heart attacks in January, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page.
Law enforcement officials can't point to a single reason for the spike.
"It can go from a simple car in a ditch to a trooper laying on the ground now, shot to death," Mancuso said earlier this week as he spoke of Vincent's fatal shooting.
In Sunset, a domestic violence call led to Nelson's death.
Harrison Lee Riley Jr. is accused of stabbing his wife and two women trying to protect her, before fatally shooting his cousin Nelson, who responded to the call.
One of the sisters, Shameka Johnson, 40, died Wednesday. Surlay Johnson, 34, remained hospitalized in critical condition Thursday. Riley's wife, Courtney Jolivette Riley, was hospitalized in stable condition with stab wounds, authorities said.
Harrison Riley was hospitalized Wednesday following his arrest, complaining of pain in his ribs. He was treated and transported to the local jail Thursday, the St. Landry Parish Sheriff's Office said. Riley was booked on multiple felony charges, including first-degree murder.
"He may never again see the light of day," said Capt. Clay Higgins, of the St. Landry sheriff's office.
The 35-year-old accused shooter had a string of arrests in Louisiana and Texas. He served prison time in Texas for assault and aggravated robbery, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
Nelson died two days before he was to be off Friday for a month-long visit with his teenage daughter, according to Sunset Police Chief Luis Padilla.
"Always with a smile," Padilla said. "Even when he arrested you, he still had a smile. Never saw him mad or angry or upset, never."
The shooting death shocked the small, 14-person department. The last time a Sunset officer was killed on-duty was 1932, Padilla said.
No funeral date has been set for Nelson. Vincent, the trooper shot earlier this week, will be buried Saturday. A new class for state police cadets begins a day later.