By Carol Robinson Alabama Media Group, Birmingham
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — A veteran Tuscaloosa police officer in pursuit of a wanted felon was shot to death Monday night.
“Heroes come in many different forms,” said Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox. “Tonight, one of our heroes has died in the line of duty.”
The officer was identified as Dornell Cousette, a 40-year-old who served 13 years with the department.
Tuscaloosa Interim Police Chief Mitt Tubbs said the investigator had received a tip a suspect wanted on outstanding warrants for failure to appear on felony crimes was at the residence. When Cousette got to the home at 6:23 p.m., he saw the suspect on the front porch and the suspect ran inside.
Cousette followed and an exchange of gunfire ensued. Both Cousette and the unidentified suspect were wounded, Tubbs said. A bail bondsman at the home at the time of the shooting was not injured.
Cousette, shot in the facial area, was taken to DCH Regional Medical Center. He was pronounced dead a short time later. His body is being taken via police escort to Montgomery for an autopsy.
The 20-year-old suspect fled the home after the shooting and later showed up at the hospital in Northport, where he was taken into custody. He was previously arrested in 2017 on charges of robbery and assault. Failure to appear warrants and a bond forfeiture were issued against him on Aug. 21. His condition has not been released.
A veteran of the U.S. Army, Cousette joined the force in 2006 and is the fourth law enforcement officer shot to death in the line of duty in Alabama this year.
"It’s terribly difficult,'' Tubbs said. “Every time you hear the phone ring, you just hope it’s not this call. And unfortunately today it was this call.”
"We are a family, and it’s very difficult to take,'' he said.
Birmingham Police Sgt. Wytasha Carter was killed Jan. 13, Mobile Police Officer Sean Tuder was killed Jan. 20 and Auburn Police Officer William Buechner was killed May 19.
In addition to the deaths of Carter, Tuder and Buechner, at least five other officers have been injured by gunfire in 2019. In the Birmingham shooting that killed Carter, Officer Luke Allums was critically wounded and hospitalized for nine days. He has since returned to work.
Two Auburn officers – Webb Sistrunk and Evan Elliott – were injured in the May incident that killed Buechner. Another Auburn officer – Justin Sanders – was shot and wounded in February. Officers Sanders, Sistrunk and Elliott continue to recover but have not returned to work at this time, according to Auburn police.
Birmingham police Officer Cullen Stafford was shot between five to seven times in a downtown shootout last week. He was recently released from the hospital but has a lengthy road to recovery.
Monroe County deputy sheriff Julius Dailey died in June when he crashed his patrol car while en route to a burglary call.
According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, Cousette is the Tuscaloosa department’s 12th officer to die in the line of duty, eight of those by gunfire. The last Tuscaloosa police officer killed in a shooting was Officer John Charles Thomas on Dec. 10, 1972.
As of July 23, there had been at least 10 other officer-involved shootings statewide in 2019 that left three suspects dead and seven injured in the first six months of the year. Those incidents have taken place in Gardendale, Madison, Fort Payne, Birmingham, Brent, Huntsville, and Gadsden, according to the Gun Violence Archive.
“The violence that law enforcement faces is a significant issue, but it is also a reflection of a rise in violent crime being felt across the nation,’’ Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall told AL.com in a previous article. “Alabama has already lost three police officers to hostile fire during 2019 – the greatest amount due to gunfire in a single year in our state since 2009.”
“This year Alabama has seen an uptick in officer deaths and injuries, specifically related to gun violence,’’ Birmingham Police Chief Patrick Smith said in July.
“Guns have become so prevalent in society that some people have taken for granted the devastation one person can cause due to improper use (shooting in the air), gun violence (simple disputes becoming deadly) or when guns are illegally obtained and this person is approached by an officer, simply knowing what to do.”
Cousette was a father of two daughters and engaged to be married.
“He was a great officer. Everybody loved him,'' Tubbs said. “You can tell by the number of people who arrived at the hospital when we got the news. He was well thought of throughout the department and he was a hero. He was a hero.”
Tubbs said as difficult as the loss is, Cousette’s fellow officers will have to go on. "It’s something you try to prepare for. You know there’s a possibility it will occur,'' he said. “It’s our duty to protect the citizens of Tuscaloosa. As tough as it is, that’s what we do. That’s what we’ll continue to do.”
©2019 Alabama Media Group, Birmingham