September 15, 2003
Neb. Officer Shot in the Head
Officer Down: Jason Pratt - [Omaha, Nebraska]
Officer shot, man killed in overnight shooting
BY LYNN SAFRANEK AND BOB GLISSMANN, WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITERS
The family of Jason Tye Pratt kept a hospital vigil Friday as the Omaha police officer, husband and father lay in critical condition following a traffic stop the night before that ended in gunfire and death.
Pratt, 30, had been in critical condition since being shot once in the head about 10 p.m. Thursday near Miami Street and 34th Avenue, according to police and scanner reports.
Interim Police Chief Al Pepin said Friday that Pratt's outlook "is not good."
Another man involved in the shooting, Albert W. Rucker, 21, died at 2:21 a.m., police said. According to scanner reports, he was shot multiple times.
Both men were taken to Creighton University Medical Center.
Police said Friday that Officer Frank Platt, on the force since August, fired the shots that killed Rucker. They still were investigating how many shots were fired.
At a press conference Friday afternoon, Pepin said "additional weapons" were found at the scene other than the officers'.
This is what happened, according to Pepin and Police Sgt. Kathy Gonzalez:
Officer Robert Branch and Platt pulled over a rusty green Chevrolet near 33rd and Corby Streets for erratic driving at 9:50 p.m. Rucker was the car's only occupant.
Officer Jason Pratt
The officers announced by radio at 9:53 p.m. that they were chasing a man on foot. Soon after, Platt announced that he had lost sight of the man in the area of 34th Avenue and Corby Street.
Pratt, Officer Erik Gustafson and two other northeast precinct officers arrived in the area as backup, along with four other officers. A command officer was at the scene, and a police dog unit was en route.
The officers set up a perimeter and began searching the area. During the search, Pratt found Rucker near 34th and Corby.
Pratt then came under fire. Platt returned fire, hitting Rucker.
An officer announced on the police radio that an officer was down and had been shot.
Officers put handcuffs on Rucker soon after he was shot - following normal procedures - but removed them at the request of medical personnel at the scene.
Gonzalez declined to say if Rucker was armed or if he had fired any shots, including the ones that injured Pratt.
Police cruiser video from the incident was taken as evidence, she said.
Events leading to fatal shooting
Albert W. Rucker was pronounced dead early Friday following a shooting incident that also left an Omaha police officer in critical condition.
Pratt's partner, Gustafson, was on the scene when shots were fired, though Gonzalez said she did not know where he was positioned.
Gustafson, Platt and Branch have been assigned to administrative duties, standard practice while the case is under investigation.
A grand jury will be convened to determine whether any charges should be filed. Under Nebraska law, a grand jury investigates whenever anyone dies in police custody.
The area where the shooting occurred is marked by a retirement center, J.C. Wade Villa at 3464 Ohio St., and houses scattered among large lots, some of them vacant. Some of those lots are filled with trees, brush and overgrowth. An upscale housing development is planned just to the east.
Witnesses reported hearing noise - officers shouting, shots fired.
Mike Kelley, who lives near 33rd and Miami Streets, was on his back porch playing with his lab-pitbull-golden retriever-mix puppies and enjoying Thursday night's cool weather when he heard "a bunch of commotion."
"Then, just out of nowhere, just a massive succession of shots," Kelley said. "The copter was in the air in a matter of seconds."
Swarms of officers filled the street, he said, and it was then he realized an officer had been shot.
"Within 20 minutes, this whole area was taped off," said Kelley, whose house sits near an alley that runs along a tree-and-brush-filled area.
"It was somewhere somebody could easily hide," he said.
Pratt is a patrol officer in the police department's northeast precinct. He has been an officer since 1996.
He also is in the department's emergency response unit, which conducts high-risk operations.
Pratt and his family were visited at the hospital Friday morning by Interim Chief Pepin and a family pastor, the Rev. Jim Price of St. John Evangelical Lutheran in Bennington. Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey also went to the hospital, where he met with relatives of Rucker.
Larry Jacobsen, the former head football coach at Omaha Burke High School, remembered Pratt as a "real stocky, big-legged guy" who transferred to Burke High School from Yutan for his senior year.
"He wanted to see if he could play Class A ball," Jacobsen said. "He came in, and he made our whole year as far as being a competitor. He was a tough runner."
Pratt, known as Tye during high school, played halfback for the Bulldogs, Jacobsen said
Jacobsen said he was a leader on the team from the beginning. "Ones that come in as a senior, they sometimes don't fit in. Not Tye. He fit in right away."
In Burke's 1992 yearbook, Pratt is listed as having the "prettiest smile." He also is listed among the cast of the musical "Li'l Abner."
The Rev. John Pierson, a retired pastor at St. John Evangelical, performed Pratt's wedding ceremony in August 1995. In the announcement of Pratt's engagement to Stacy Flynn, he is listed as a student at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
"At the time, he wasn't a police officer yet," Pierson said. "He was trying to take training to do that."
Price, their current pastor, said the Pratts had just sold their home in Iowa and had dug a basement for a house outside Bennington, where Stacy Pratt grew up and went to school. The couple have two daughters, Madison, 3, and Jordan, 81/2 months.
Some of Thursday night's events were witnessed by the dead man's aunt, Charlene Tate-Haynes.
"I was going home and I saw the helicopter and the police cars turning around," she said.
Tate-Haynes also saw an ambulance and followed it to near 34th and Miami, where police had closed off the street. "I saw the body of the officer being put in the ambulance," she said. "I didn't know who the other person was."
Later, she found out that the victim was her nephew. She said another family member and friends of Rucker who saw his face, told others that he was the one who had been lying in the street.
She and Rucker's father, Albert Tate, said they were told at Creighton University Medical Center that doctors tried to save Rucker, but could not.
The family planned to meet with police later Friday.
Rucker's mother, Diane Johnson, declined to be interviewed Friday morning.
According to court documents, Rucker had three outstanding warrants for his arrest in Douglas County in connection with failing to comply with court orders.
He was found guilty and sentenced in 2000 for second-degree assault. A judge ordered him to serve jail time and to be placed on probation for three years. Rucker was awaiting a court hearing for violating his probation.
He also was awaiting trial for being a felon in possession of a weapon in 2002. A judge issued a warrant for his arrest in that case, too, because he failed to appear in court.
As a juvenile, Rucker spent time at the Youth Rehabilitation Center in Kearney on three occasions. He was found guilty twice on weapons charges and once on a first-degree assault charge.
Tate-Haynes said her nephew liked to listen to music and be outdoors.
"He loved to go fishing with his uncle, and he loved home-cooked meals," she said.
Rucker, she said, lived with friends in different parts of Omaha. Relatives said that Rucker, a 21-year-old Omaha native, had four children, whom he liked to spend time with, family said.
His children were Daytrel Thomas, 5; Albert Rucker Jr. 3; and 1-year-old twin girls, Cytaya and Saytaya - all of Omaha.
Rucker also is survived by four brothers and two sisters.
Funeral arrangements were pending with Myers Funeral Home at 22nd and Lake Streets.
World-Herald staff writers Christopher Burbach, Erin Grace, Tom Shaw, Nichole Aksamit, Kevin Cole, Vince Tuss, Jeff Bundy and Jason Kuiper contributed to this report.