New Orleans officer dies 4 weeks after home invasion shooting
Gunmen sought in fatal shooting at detective's eastern N.O. home Saturday, November 10, 2007
By Brendan McCarthy
Shortly after midnight, Detective Thelonious Dukes, a 19-year veteran of the New Orleans Police Department, died in a University Hospital operating room.
Dukes had been fighting for his life ever since robbers invaded his home Oct. 13 and shot him and his wife. At times, he was making headway in the battle to heal from bullets that tore through his torso.
Just Thursday, colleagues said, the longtime street cop squeezed the hands of family members, smiled and blinked his eyes in response to questions. But in Friday's early morning hours, nearly four weeks since doctors put him in a medically induced coma, Dukes died.
Superintendent Warren Riley announced Dukes' death Friday morning after the weekly Comstat meeting.
"This is a very sad day for the New Orleans Police Department," Riley said. "He was an outstanding individual."
Twenty-two captains, clad in starched white shirts that denote their rank, flanked the superintendent. "Within this organization, everyone is pretty much family," Riley said.
Dukes made his mark on the Police Department as a street cop, who for several years nabbed pickpockets, burglars and carjackers in the Downtown Development District. He later worked auto thefts.
For many years, Dukes and his partner Tyrone Martin ranked high among their fellow officers for the large number of felony arrests they secured, colleagues said. Together, the pair collected many commendations and awards. Beyond the police work, Dukes was first and foremost a devoted father and husband, said Deputy Chief Bruce Adams.
"He spent most of his off-duty time with his family," Adams said. "This guy was deeply in love with his wife."
Dukes also loved working out and riding motorcycles, Adams said.
Few details made public
A New Orleans native, Dukes graduated in 1979 from Joseph Clark High School. He worked security several years at Schwegmann's Supermarket before joining the New Orleans Police Department.
The home invasion on Oct. 13 went down in the dark, on an eastern New Orleans street, when Dukes would not have expected trouble. NOPD's top brass have released few details of the crime. Sources say Dukes was working on a motorcycle in his driveway, partially shielded from the street by a trailer used to tow the bike.
Two gunmen surprised Dukes shortly before 3 a.m. They marched him at gunpoint into the house and woke up his wife. They forced the couple into the bathroom and made them kneel on the ground, police sources said. The gunmen demanded money, jewelry and guns.
Police believe the men did not know Dukes was a police officer. They also didn't know he was carrying a weapon.
At some point, the gunmen threatened Dukes' wife, police sources said. Dukes drew his gun and got off at least two shots.
The gunmen shot back. The detective was shot in his lower torso and leg. His wife was shot in the foot. It is not known if the gunmen were injured.
Two weeks later police confirmed that Elton Phillips, 20, a resident of eastern New Orleans, was a suspect in Dukes' shooting. Phillips was also involved in a bizarre incident a day earlier, one that played a role in the resignation of District Attorney Eddie Jordan.
Phillips had spent a part of Oct. 11 in Baton Rouge with Jordan's longtime girlfriend, according to police documents and Jordan. Phillips and another man drove her back to her home in Algiers. Minutes later, Phillips allegedly robbed a man at gunpoint at a nearby gas station. Phillips fled to Jordan's home, where he stayed for several minutes talking to Jordan's girlfriend, and he made a phone call to arrange a ride, Jordan said. Phillips left.
Dukes was shot about 30 hours later.
In the line of duty
Riley said Friday that robbery appeared to be the motive in Duke's case.
"They were clearly looking for someone to rob," he said.
Riley said he didn't believe retaliation, or the fact that Dukes was an officer, factored into the case.
Riley also said he considered Dukes to be in the line of duty at the time of the incident, "defending his wife and kids."
Phillips is being sought, according to police. Investigators said they believe he left the New Orleans area. Police have yet to identify the other possible suspects in the case.
The last NOPD officer killed in the city was officer LaToya Johnson, who was fatally shot in August 2004.
Mayor Ray Nagin released a statement Friday afternoon saying he is praying for Dukes' family.
"New Orleans has lost a faithful son and the New Orleans Police Department has lost a hardworking, committed officer," Nagin said.
Darlene Cusanza, executive director of Crimestoppers, announced Friday that the reward for information leading to the arrest of the person responsible for Dukes' shooting has been raised to $12,500. Cusanza asked that anyone with information call Crimestoppers at (504) 822-1111 or toll-free at (877) 903-7367. All calls are anonymous.
Copyright 2007 The Times Picayune
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