Teens charged with murder in death of off-duty sheriff's deputy


Editor's Note —This weekend, Jackson County (Miss.) Sheriff Deputy Frederick J. Gaston III was gunned down in the parking lot of at hotel at which he was staying while en route to training with the U.S. Air Force Reserve in Virginia, where he served as a lieutenant colonel. Two teens tried to rob Gaston in what local police called “a crime of opportunity,” and instead took his life. Every officer death is a tragedy felt by everyone in the police community, most of all by those who knew the individual who has been lost.

Corporal Lance Shipman, who was recently interviewed for PoliceOne TV for a three-part Will to Win segment which is available here, about how he survived a potentially deadly incident, said in an email to PoliceOne today: “My good friend and Chief of Police during my incident was shot and killed during a robbery in Gaston County, NC. Fred responded to the scene and did a lot for me during my incident and after... Fred was just the best guy in the world and we all miss him.

Officer Down: Deputy Sheriff Frederick J. Gaston III

By Amanda Millard
The Gaston Gazette

GASTONIA, N.C. — Frederick J. Gaston III planned to spend the night in Gastonia and continue on his way to Virginia for U.S. Air Force Reserve training.

He never made it there.

The Jackson County, Miss., Sheriff's Office deputy was shot in the chest just before midnight Saturday by two teenagers, according to Gastonia Police.

He died at Gaston Memorial Hospital, said Gastonia Police Sgt. Jimmy West.

Gaston, 49, of Biloxi, Miss., stopped at the Microtel Inn off U.S. 321 in Gastonia to spend the night on his way to training with the U.S. Air Force Reserve, where he served as a lieutenant colonel. He checked into his hotel room, the last one at one end of the building, and headed Wendy's for supper, West said.

He walked to his vehicle in the parking lot to get his luggage shortly before midnight.

"That's when we believe he was approached by these two thugs," West said.

The teens were trying to rob Gaston, according to arrest warrant affidavits.

West said the man still had money on him and an eyewitness told police that Gaston didn't put up a struggle.

"I think it was just a crime of opportunity," West said. "I think he just happened to be at the wrong place at their right time."

Rekeam Jamall Fleming, 16, of the 800 block of Radio Street in Gastonia and Tommy Dean Barnette Jr., 17, of the 300 block of South Eighth Street in Bessemer City both face charges of first-degree murder.

Barnette also faces charges of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. He pled guilty to fleeing to elude arrest with a motor vehicle in 2007.

Fleming and Barnette were arrested at 10:30 a.m. Sunday at a house off 12th Street in Bessemer City without incident, West said.

Gaston had a career in law enforcement. He worked his way up to the rank of lieutenant with the Gulfport, Miss., Police during the 13 years he worked there.

Gulfport Police Sgt. Chris Ryle said he knew Gaston for around 10 years.

"He loved to work traffic. He loved to work DUIs," Ryle said.

Ryle described Gaston as laid back and easy-going.

"He was just a super all-around guy," Ryle said. "Our focus is on the family and our thoughts and prayers are with them."

Gaston served as interim police chief for the Moss Point Police for about a year, said Moss Point Police Lt. Mark Meseldach.

Gaston left the department in June to work for the Jackson County Sheriff's Office.

Jackson County Sheriff Mike Byrd described Gaston "as the most dedicated, loyal criminal investigator that any law enforcement agency could ever ask for."

"This is something so tragic and senseless for two little thugs to do something like this," Byrd said. "I buried my own son two years ago. He was a police officer. This just makes me sick to my stomach."

Byrd thanked the Gastonia Police Department for their quick investigative work.

"My hats off to the Gastonia Police Department. They did a fantastic job. I got a call at about 2 a.m. and they had them in custody by noon," Byrd said.

Gaston's family declined to comment. Byrd said he left behind a wife and two children.

"It makes no sense. It's a senseless crime. It didn't have to happen," West said. "Because of their mentality, his family is without a husband and a father."

Copyright 2008 The Gaston Gazette

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