HATTIESBURG, Miss. — Two Mississippi police officers were shot to death during an evening traffic stop turned violent, a state law enforcement spokesman said Sunday. Three suspects were in custody, including two who are charged with capital murder.
The deaths of the officers — the first to hit Hattiesburg in three decades — were felt far and wide in this small southern Mississippi city. Gov. Phil Bryant released a statement saying he was "mourning" the loss of the officers.
"This should remind us to thank all law enforcement for their unwavering service to protect and serve. May God keep them all in the hollow of his hand," Bryant said.
Warren Strain, a spokesman for the Mississippi Department of Public Safety, said Marvin Banks, 29, and Joanie Calloway, 22, were each charged with two counts of capital murder. Banks was also charged with one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm and with grand theft for fleeing in the police cruiser after the shooting, Strain said.
"He absconded with a Hattiesburg police cruiser. He didn't get very far, three or four blocks and then he ditched that vehicle," Strain said.
Banks' 26-year-old brother, Curtis Banks, was charged with two counts of accessory after the fact of capital murder.
The three Hattiesburg residents were arrested without incident at different locations overnight following the shooting, Strain said. They were expected to face initial court appearances Monday. The three were being held at undisclosed jails in the state and could not be reached for comment. It was not immediately known if they had lawyers.
Strain said both officers died of their wounds at a hospital.
Lt. Jon Traxler, a Hattiesburg Police Department spokesman, identified the officers who died as 34-year-old Benjamin Deen, 34, and Liquori Tate, 25. Local reports identified Deen as a past department "Officer of the Year," and Tate was a newcomer to the force who Strain said was a 2014 graduate of the law enforcement academy.
The preliminary investigation indicated that Deen had pulled over the vehicle on suspicion of speeding and then called for backup, which is when Liquori arrived. Strain said it was too early to say who shot the officers or how many shots were fired.
For many in this small community of Hattiesburg the first death of an officer in the line of duty in three decades was a shock. The pain hit particularly close to home for Erica Sherrill Owens. Her mother — Sgt. Jackie Dole Sherrill — was killed in the line of duty in 1984 while trying to serve a warrant on a suspect.
When she heard the news of the two officers, Sherrill Owens said, her first thought was that she hoped it was someone she didn't know.
"I know that sounds so selfish because you don't want to hear of any police officer losing their lives. Then when I heard one of the names, my heart just sank because I went to high school with him."
She was referring to Deen, who had graduated from Sumrall High School in 1998, one year ahead of Sherrill Owens.
"We were great friends in high school. He married his high school sweetheart and he's got two kids and a great family," she said. "It's just heartbreaking."
Tate grew up in a tough part of Starkville, 150 miles north of Hattiesburg, and decided to become a police officer so he could make a difference in the black community, said Jarvis Thompson, who knew him from childhood in church.
"He wanted to become an officer because we've seen so much of our peers get killed or end up in jail," said Thompson, 24, of Starkville. "He was talking all the time about how he wanted to do better and make the place better."
Tony Mozingo, a local judge, left red roses near the scene of the shooting.
"We all just are heartbroken because we know and work with these officers every day," said Mozingo, who was accompanied by his wife and two daughters. Deen was a "consummate law enforcement professional."
The state's chief law enforcement agency, the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, has taken up the investigation.
Hattiesburg resident Tamika Mills was quoted by The Clarion-Ledger as saying some bystanders came upon the officers on the ground, and that one of the officers asked "... 'Am I dying? I know I'm dying. Just hand me my walkie-talkie,'" Mills told the paper.
She added, according to the account, that seeing the officers down was "shocking and heartbreaking."
AP reporters Bill Cormier and Jeff Martin contributed from Atlanta.