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Birmingham Cop Killer Suspect Had Prior Confrontation With Cops

June 17, 2004
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Birmingham Cop Killer Suspect Had Prior Confrontation With Cops

Two unidentified Birmingham police
officers wait near the crime scene
following the shooting.

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By Jay Reeves, The Associated Press

Birmingham, Ala. (AP) -- An arrest attempt turned deadly when three police officers were fatally shot at a house where they had gone to pick up a man wanted for misdemeanor assault.

Gunfire erupted shortly after officers arrived at the one-story house, divided into apartments, at 1:19 p.m. CDT Thursday.

Kerry Marquise Spencer, 24, and Nathaniel Lauell Woods, 27, were arrested within two hours and were being held Friday on suspicion of capital murder, police said.

At least two other people also were in custody, said City Hall spokesman Brett Oates.

"They are all being questioned," said Oates.

The district attorney's office said formal charges could come later.

Police Chief Annetta Nunn, struggling to maintain her composure, called the slayings a tragedy. "This is something that seems unimaginable," she said later.

The officers were killed when they went to a house with a fourth officer to arrest Woods on a misdemeanor domestic assault warrant, said Nunn. She said the fourth officer was not injured.

Chief deputy coroner Jay Glass identified the slain officers as Harley Chisholm III, 40; Charles Robert Bennett, 33; and Carlos Owen, 58, who had been on the force for 26 years. Chisholm was hired in 1998, and Bennett had been a Birmingham officer since 2001.

Chisholm and Owen were found dead inside a small room at the rear of the house, Glass said, and Bennett's body was outside the front of the home.

Glass said investigators told him the officers were shot with a high-powered SKS assault rifle, but an autopsy was being performed to confirm the type of rounds used in the shooting.

Spent shell casings were found both inside and outside the house, Glass said, but investigators weren't sure whether the casings discovered outside were connected with the killings.

"It's not unusual for people to be shooting off rounds out there," Glass said. "There had been some reports of gunfire out there not too long ago."

The Birmingham News said the officer outside the front door was able to make a final radio call for help for his fellow officers before a bullet struck him in the head.

Friends of the officers gave this account to the newspaper: One officer patrolling the area had an argument with one of the men inside the apartment home about noon Thursday. The officer checked police records and found that Woods was wanted by Fairfield police on a third-degree assault charge.

Owen, Chisholm, Bennett and Mike Collins went to the home to serve the warrant. Owen and Chisholm entered the apartment through the back door to arrest Woods. He broke away from them and ran toward the front of the house, where Bennett was about to come through the front door as shots were fired.

The shootings marked the second time in a year that three police officers were gunned down in Alabama -- and less than six months since two others were slain when summoned to a house.

The shootings Thursday occurred in a low-income neighborhood of modest, older homes.

During a search for suspects, dozens of officers swarmed around the house and went door-to-door. The area around the house was blocked off with yellow crime scene tape as police, wearing body armor and carrying shotguns and rifles, moved through the area.

Herman Harris, who said he lives in the area, and other neighbors said the house has a reputation as a "crack house."

"They're all the time out back doing drugs," Harris said.

Nunn said no drugs were found inside the house.

Other Alabama communities have experienced the grief of two or more officers being slain in recent months.

Fayette police officers Arnold Strickland and James Crump and dispatcher Leslie "Ace" Mealer were shot to death at the Fayette police station in west Alabama a year ago. Devin Darnell Thompson, 18, has pleaded innocent by reason of mental disease or defect to capital murder charges.

On Jan. 2, Athens Sgt. Larry Russell and officer Tony Mims were shot to death in an ambush after being called to a home in the north Alabama city. Farron Barksdale, 25, is charged with capital murder and has pleaded innocent by reason of mental disease or defect.

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