12/13/2006

NOPD officer shoots robbery suspect after struggle

This serves as a reminder that, at any time, you may find yourself in a struggle to retain your weapon. Be sure you have trained yourself sufficiently to navigate such an attack.

See Related POSA Training Video (Section 3)

By Coleman Warner, Staff writer
Times-Picayune

A New Orleans police officer shot a bank robbery suspect after a foot chase through an Uptown neighborhood and a struggle over the officer's gun, police said.

The suspect, whom the officer shot in the kneecap during the tussle, allegedly walked into the Whitney Bank on Tchoupitoulas Street on Tuesday about 9:30 a.m. and implied he had a gun but never showed one, said Anthony Cannatella, chief of detectives for the New Orleans Police Department,

The suspect, Romero Ceasar of New Orleans, 33, allegedly was handed an undisclosed amount of money and left on a bicycle, heading away from the river into Uptown, where he ducked behind a house and changed clothes, Cannatella said.

Police later found the clothes the robber had worn, Cannatella said.

Minutes after the robbery, the officer, whom Cannatella would not name, came into the bank to work an off-duty security detail. The bank employees told him they had just been robbed.

The officer jumped into his patrol car and began scouring the neighborhood, and soon spotted the suspect near the 5300 block of Laurel Street, about two blocks from the bank. The officer chased the man on foot through yards and into an alley, where Ceasar appeared poised to pull a weapon, Cannatella said.

The officer then fired a shot and missed, and the suspect, who is 6 foot 3 inches tall and weighs about 325 pounds, jumped the officer in what Cannatella termed a "violent" struggle over the officer's gun.

The officer fired two more shots during the fight, one of them hitting Ceasar in the knee.

Officers were still trying to determine if Ceasar was carrying a weapon.

Criminal District Court dockets show Ceasar has been repeatedly arrested through the years on a variety of charges, ranging from drug possession to attempted murder.

He was sentenced to five years in prison in 1993 after taking a plea deal on the attempted murder charge. Ceasar was found innocent in 2001 in an armed robbery trial, and the district attorney's office that same year refused to prosecute another armed robbery case against him. Most recently, he was arrested Aug. 15 on charges of aggravated assault, disturbing the peace and simple battery, but was released from prison two months later when prosecutors did not move forward with the case.

Ceasar, whose injuries were not life-threatening, was taken to a hospital police declined to name. The bank money was found in his clothes at the hospital, Cannatella said.

Police booked Ceasar with attempted first-degree murder of a police officer, resisting arrest, attempting to disarm a police officer and narcotics violations. Ceasar had drugs on him, said officer Garry Flot, an NOPD spokesman.

The FBI was summoned to the crime scene to investigate the bank robbery. Ceasar likely will be booked today on federal bank robbery charges, said Sheila Thorne, an FBI spokeswoman.

The NOPD officer was not seriously injured.

"There's no visible marks on him. I'm sure he's going to be sore tomorrow," Cannatella said.

The episode rattled neighbors in the historic neighborhood, including Al Huntley, 27, who heard the gunshots from a back room in his home. "By the time I came out, there were police everywhere," he said. "They didn't even want me coming outside."

Whitney Bank staff remained inside the building at 5335 Tchoupitoulas St. for more than an hour after the robbery, with the doors locked.

"This location is closed due to an emergency," a sign on the door read, and instructed customers to visit a bank branch at 1324 Carrollton Ave.

Copyright 2006 The Times-Picayune Publishing Company

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