By Ramon Antonio Vargas The Advocate
NEW ORLEANS — Two men trying to steal a trove of pills from an Uptown drugstore last week demanded that New Orleans police blocking the exit “back up” before opening fire and striking an officer, video released on Tuesday showed.
As the officers retreated and sought cover on either side of the Prytania Street store's front door, the robbers began sprinting across its parking lot. But officers unleashed a hail of bullets at the robbers, wounding them as they ran through the crossfire and leading to their arrests at the end of a clash that Police Superintendent Shaun Ferguson called a “sobering” reminder of the job’s perils.
While an investigation into the actions of officers Chad Clark, Everett Route and Shanda Charles during the shootout continues, Ferguson told reporters during a briefing Tuesday that video from the store and police body cameras proved the officers were justified in their actions.
They waited until Clark was hit in the upper left shoulder before firing back, Ferguson said, adding that the officers would have been within their rights to shoot the moment they realized the robbers were deadly threats.
“This incident … shows the brazenness of individuals who intend on doing harm to our community,” Ferguson said. “But this incident also shows how brave and courageous our officers are.”
According to police, Richard Sansbury, 26, and Alan Parson, 18, went into the 24-hour CVS in the 4900 block of Prytania about 6:05 a.m. on June 17. They brought pistols, hooded sweatshirts to hide their faces, and blue medical gloves to avoid leaving fingerprints. Police said they zip-tied two employees and filled a black trash bag with bottles of pills from a safe.
The two men from Indianapolis were leaving with their loot when they realized the way out had been cut off by Clark, a two-year veteran; Route, a six-year veteran; and Charles, a three-year veteran.
“Stop! Get on the ground! Get on the ground right now!” Clark is heard saying on video from the camera on his chest, with his service pistol drawn. “We got two. We got two in here.”
When one of the robbers raised his pistol, the officers — all in uniform — retreated outside. Clark took a position to the right of the front entrance as his two colleagues stood on the other side.
Seconds later, voices coming from inside the store told the police, “Back up! Back up!” The officers stood firm, and gunfire erupted.
Clark’s body camera jolted as he fell to the ground and exclaimed, “Oooh!”
Clark got back onto his feet and scrambled for cover behind a nearby concrete pole. Route, with his pistol in one hand and radio in the other, backed up to pillars on the other side of the door, with Charles beside him.
Meanwhile, on surveillance video inside, Sansbury, in a gray hoodie, and Parson, in a dark one, unintentionally spilled the pill bottles out of their bag, police said.
They sprinted out of the store and across the parking lot, with both reaching back to fire in the general direction of the officers. The officers directed their own volley at them as Route radioed for assistance. Sansbury was wounded but vanished quickly.
Meanwhile, the wounded Parson fell on the pavement. When he got back up, he was bent over as he ran, pressing his palms against the ground to keep himself up as he headed away from the parking lot.
All told, officers fired 29 times while Sansbury and Parson apparently squeezed off about a dozen shots, Ferguson said, citing spent shell casings recovered from the scene.
Parson was captured after he collapsed in the nearby 1300 block of Lyons Street. Sansbury managed to elude police for a couple of hours longer before heavily armed officers with police dogs cordoned off the surrounding neighborhood and found him in a yard in the 1100 block of Upperline Street.
No store employees were injured.
Paramedics took Sansbury and Parson to a hospital while the wounded officer was taken there by his colleagues. Police haven't said exactly where Sansbury and Parson were hit. All have been released.
Authorities booked Sansbury and Parson on counts of armed robbery, false imprisonment and attempted murder of police.
Both remained jailed Tuesday, with Sansbury’s bail set at $1.15 million and Parson’s at $1.7 million. They could face decades in prison if convicted.
Ferguson declined to comment on whether Sansbury and Parson may have been involved in previous pharmacy hold-ups elsewhere. Law enforcement sources last week said authorities were investigating that possibility.
Ferguson acknowledged that last week’s gun battle came on the heels of his officers fatally shooting men in three other incidents dating back to February. But he said publicly released footage showed officers were fired on first in those cases as well.
“Our officers were left with no alternative when circumstances forced a split-second response to the action of these armed individuals,” Ferguson said.
The video release and Tuesday’s briefing resulted from transparency rules adopted as part of a seven-year-old federal reform agreement entered into by the NOPD. That same agreement requires federal and city monitors outside the department to participate in investigating incidents in which officers are involved in serious use of force.
A copy of video released to the public slowed down the footage on some parts, such as when the suspects fired as they ran across the parking lot. But reporters were also shown unedited video.
©2019 The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.