Deputy identified in September deadly shooting of man whose family told 911 he may kill someone
BATON ROUGE – Preliminary findings found an East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s deputy acted within the scope of his duties when he shot and killed a man during a chaotic and violent altercation in a neighborhood off Jefferson Highway last month.
The deputy has returned to work, sources confirmed with the WBRZ Investigative Unit.
“Based on our preliminary information, we allowed the deputy to return to work” from paid administrative leave, the sheriff’s office said in a statement to WBRZ Thursday. The deputy had been on paid leave since the September 14 shooting where Melvin Watkins, 54, was killed.
The sheriff’s office said it will not release the deputy’s name.
WBRZ, though, confirmed the name of the deputy through multiple sources and a series of public record requests. The WBRZ Investigative Unit was able to identify the deputy as James Hammett.
Hammett was the only deputy to be put on leave the day of the shooting and returned to administrative duty on September 30. He remains on administrative duty, according to personnel files obtained through the WBRZ records request which requires public documents be made available for viewing.
Hammett being assigned administrative duty means he has little to no interaction with the general public and works on office tasks for the sheriff’s office.
He joined the sheriff’s office in July 2018 after leaving the Department of Public Safety. There, he agreed to resign after successfully fighting a termination. Records WBRZ obtained in a separate record request showed Hammett had been fired but agreed to a settlement deal after attempting to have a civil service board overturn his termination.
Attorney Jill Craft represented Hammett in his appeal and settlement, which allowed him to clear his official personnel record of being fired.
Craft now represents the family of Watkins, the man Hammett shot and killed as a sheriff’s deputy in September, in a civil lawsuit related to the deadly deputy-involved shooting.
In the statement released by the sheriff’s office Thursday, the agency said video and eyewitnesses described Watkins being on a dangerous warpath when Hammett responded to a 911 call for help at a home in the 16700 block of Highland Club Avenue.
The sheriff’s office said video from the scene shows “shortly after the deputy arrived on scene, the suspect turned his vehicle in the direction of the deputy and accelerated while disregarding verbal commands from the deputy to stop. As the suspect vehicle accelerated toward the deputy, the deputy was forced to flee backward into a neighboring yard as he was blocked in by his parked vehicle and the suspect’s vehicle. As the deputy fled backward he fired shots into the vehicle.”
Watkins died on the scene.
Multiple sources who watched case video but asked not to be identified said the recording showed Watkins on a violent course and the deputy acted with reason. Sources spoke with WBRZ on condition of anonymity from various levels of the investigative process.
The deputy was originally called to a disturbance at the house because Watkins was trying to force his way into the home, authorities said.
Chaotic calls to 911 about the incident were also obtained by the WBRZ Investigative Unit and show a potential fear among the people who had gathered at the home for a party when Watkins arrived.
“Can I get a police officer here. Please hurry up. They fighting,” a woman told the operator. “[Watkins] had a knife!”
“Someone is going to be dead before y’all get over here,” the caller told the dispatcher.
Listen to the 911 calls within the attached video – a clip from WBRZ News 2 at 6:00 where WBRZ Chief Investigator Chris Nakamoto filed an expansive report on the new information Channel 2 uncovered over an exhausting month-long inquiry.
State Police have not released any information about its investigation. It said in a response to a public record request WBRZ filed, Hammett’s job history would be released by mid-November.
About the shooting, it said a State Police investigation will be turned over to the district attorney for review.
“I am confident that Louisiana State Police will be thorough and impartial in completing their investigation,” EBR Sheriff Sid Gautreaux said.
“… It is tragic when any life must be taken even to prevent the loss of further life. We thank the community for their continued support and patience as the investigation is carried out to completion.”
The sheriff’s office would not confirm Hammett’s identity.
Hammett’s previous encounters also include an incident when he was not on duty but was acting as the courtesy officer for his Stumberg Lane apartment complex. A 2011 lawsuit that was later settled accused Hammett of being armed and breaking down the door of a unit in a tirade over loud noises. The lawsuit suggests Hammett was cited or charged but the district attorney’s office determined not to formally charge Hammett, sources said.
There are no disciplinary issues for Hammett’s time at the sheriff’s office. He received awards from the sheriff’s office earlier this year for saving the lives of shooting victims by applying special tourniquets after gunfire in March and was recognized for apprehending a murder suspect who shot three people in June.
State Police did not comment when questioned about this story Thursday.