JACKSON, Miss. (AP) – Two detectives tried for three or four minutes to restrain a murder suspect they had been questioning before the suspect wrestled away a gun, fatally shot one of the detectives and then committed suicide, officials said Monday.
During a news conference Monday, Police Chief Rebecca Coleman confirmed for the first time since the April 4 shooting at Jackson police headquarters that another detective was in the room with Eric Smith, who was shot by suspect Jeremy Powell. That second detective fired one shot, then sought help after her gun jammed.
Smith and his partner were wrapping up questioning of Powell at Jackson police headquarters. Powell, whose handcuffs had been unlocked, began to pace when told he would be arrested, said Assistant Chief Lee Vance. Smith and the other detective tried to restrain Powell for as long as four minutes, but Powell grabbed Smith’s gun and shot him four times before shooting himself in the head twice. Both the 40-year-old Smith and the 23-year-old Powell died in the third-floor interview room.
“When the situation went bad, it was at the completion of the interview,” Vance said. “When they were telling him, `You’re going to be booked into jail’ and those type of details that happen before they take him to get booked.”
Coleman said that Smith’s partner fired one shot before her gun apparently jammed and the magazine ejected. The detective then left the room to get help, but didn’t find anyone until she reached the first floor. Many employees had gone home because it was after 5 p.m.
Powell had been picked up by police because they had been tipped that he was involved in the April 1 stabbing death of Christopher Alexander, Vance said, and had found evidence in a vehicle that tied Powell to the crime.
“It appeared to me he had made up his mind that he wasn’t going to jail, and that any alternative that he had to take to in order to keep going to jail, he was willing to do that,” Vance said. “It’s commonly known in law enforcement circles as suicide by cop.”
Vance said that a video recording of the incident shows Powell saying three times that he won’t go to jail. The Associated Press has asked for the recording to be released under open records laws, but authorities have yet to respond to the request.
Jackson police policies allow officers to carry guns into suspect interviews, Vance said. Voluntary state and national accreditation standards call for guns to be secured at all times.
“All of our procedures are constantly under review and when we find we can improve a measure of safety, we will take advantage of it,” Vance said.
He said that suspects are typically handcuffed when placed into a police car, but are often unshackled for interrogation.
Coleman said Smith’s partner remains on administrative leave, which she described as “standard procedure.” An internal affairs investigation has found no policy violations so far, though Smith’s partner has not yet been interviewed as part of that inquiry, Coleman said.
Officials said the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation’s inquiry could continue for as long as two more weeks. Investigators with that agency have interviewed Smith’s partner, Coleman said.
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