Louisiana sheriff slams reaction to shooting death of Saskatchewan Roughriders running back Joe McKnight
The man who says he fatally shot Saskatchewan Roughriders player Joe McKnight in Louisiana last week has been arrested and jailed on a charge of manslaughter, but Tuesday’s announcement was overshadowed by a heated press conference from Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand.
Ronald Gasser, 54, was arrested late Monday, after initially being released last week without charges pending further investigation (external - login to view)
, jail records show.
Normand held a briefing the next morning to discuss the case, slamming local reaction to the shooting that was the result of an apparent road-rage incident, even going so far as to read out expletive-filled comments that had been directed at officials.
“Thank you for your patience, your restraint and your trust in the process, and in this organization” he said to the family of McKnight upon opening. But from that point on, much of what Normand said focused on the local reaction to his force’s delay in making an arrest.
Ronald Gasser, 54, was arrested late Monday over the killing of Joe McKnight.
City of Oakland, Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office / City of Oakland, Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office
He said the delay was for strategic reasons, and zoned in on those who were in uproar over Gasser’s release in the wake of the Thursday shooting.
“Our arrest is only as good as a prosecution,” he said. “For those who have criticized the men and women of this organization … tough … I don’t care.”
“If people don’t think that we know what we’re doing strategically … tough. I don’t care.”
Normand said his officers had deliberately delayed arresting Gasser in order to “let the case mature” to a point where authorities were confident about the charge being brought.
He said initial witness reports had been misleading, and said that what he considers a key witness was not spoken to until Saturday. Normand said that if an arrest had been made earlier, later witnesses would not have come forward. He said investigators had 268 cars that they were interested in identifying, and had conducted over 160 interviews to date.
“We started Thursday afternoon with a witness that lied,” he said, going on to say that this initial witness told police “three different stories in the space of an hour.”
“Shame on that individual that started something … going down a path we, collectively, should be ashamed of ourselves,” he said.
“From the first instances of what went out on the social networks, we created an environment where witnesses were afraid to come forward.”
He said that Louisiana’s stand your ground law — which says that imminent threats to a person can be met with force providing the person being threatened is not engaged in illegal activity — put pressure on police to “get it right.” In perhaps a sign of how Gasser’s defence might play out, Normand said Gasser’s interview was “replete” with statements about he was in fear of McKnight.
This is a 2013 file photo showing New York Jets running back Joe McKnight.
Former NFL player McKnight has been shot to death following an argument at an intersection with another motorist.
Despite the uproar that had followed the initial release, uncharged, of a white man after he had admitted to killing a black man, Normand insisted race was not at the heart of the matter.
“This isn’t about race,” he said. “Not a single witness has said up to this day that a racial slur was uttered in the course of these events.”
When deputies arrived at the scene, the sheriff previously said Gasser handed them his gun and confessed to killing McKnight, who played running back for the Roughriders last season.
At the press conference, Normand outlined how the police investigation indicated Gasser and McKnight had engaged in a long-running bout of verbal abuse from their vehicles that had eventually come to a head. He said Gasser, in his statements, indicated he was irritated by McKnight initially cutting him off and may have set off after the football player.
He said that at the lights at Behrman Highway and Holmes Boulevard, Gasser’s vehicle was hemmed in and McKnight exited his own vehicle and arrived at Gasser’s window. At this point, Normand said Gasser fired three shots from inside his car after pulling a gun from between his seat and the console.
“Two people engaged in bad behaviour that day. I don’t know why, but they did,” Normand said.
When reporters asked whether his reading aloud of the threats to officials was necessary, Normand defended it.
“I hope it gets everybody to realize how crazy we’re getting,” he said.
At a weekend vigil for McKnight state politicians had promised to revisit the stand your ground law.
“You can believe that we will be going back to the Capitol to work on legislation to make it clear [that] when people commit these crimes, they cannot hide behind laws that were intended to do one thing, and are used to disguise what appears to be [murder],” state Sen. Troy Carter of New Orleans told Nola.com.
McKnight was signed to Saskatchewan’s practice roster on Sept. 26, and he ran for 150 yards in his first CFL start on Oct. 15 as the Roughriders beat Toronto 29-11. He finished the 2016 season with 228 rushing yards and 80 receiving yards over five games with Edmonton and Saskatchewan.
McKnight played three seasons for the New York Jets and one with the Kansas City Chiefs before moving to the CFL.
— With files from Associated Press, Washington Post
Man charged with manslaughter over shooting death of Roughriders running back Joe McKnight (external - login to view)
A decade ago, Gasser was involved in a similar altercation — at the same intersection — with a driver. The sheriff said that in February 2006, a man observed a truck driving erratically and called a number on the truck, speaking to a man later identified as Gasser.
Gasser and the man got into a fight on the phone and then Gasser followed the man to a service station, confronted him and hit him several times. Gasser drove away and the victim called 911.
Investigators found Gasser and issued a misdemeanour summons for simple battery, which was later dismissed. Authorities have said they are trying to determine why it was dismissed.
Joe McKnight: Ronald Gasser charged with manslaughter of Riders RB | Saskatoon StarPhoenix (external - login to view)