NEW ORLEANS — A New Orleans police officer was fatally shot Friday, ambushed as he and his patrol team left their cars to investigate something suspicious shortly after midnight. Other officers returned fire, wounding a suspect who eventually surrendered to a SWAT team, police said.
"Our officer collapsed right there on the scene" and died at a hospital, Police Superintendent Michael Harrison said.
"They were on routine patrol," he said. "They saw something that aroused their suspicion. They were exiting the vehicle, and ... this perpetrator fired at our officer."
He said one or more officers fired back, and Darren Bridges, a 30-year-old felon on parole after a weapons conviction, was hit several times. He fled into an apartment, which was surrounded by a SWAT team, and police negotiators eventually persuaded him to give up without another shot.
"Our officers showed great restraint, great courage, great professionalism, even during a time of great mourning and grief. I am very proud of them," Harrison said at an afternoon news conference.
Bridges will face charges including first-degree murder in the death of Marcus McNeil, 29, a three-year veteran survived by a wife and two children, ages 5 and 2, Harrison said. He did not have a report on Bridges' medical condition.
Bridges had been sentenced to 6½ years in 2012 for attempted possession of a firearm by a felon. He has previous battery and marijuana convictions, all in New Orleans, said Ken Pastorick, spokesman for the state Department of Corrections. Pastorick said he was out on parole on the battery charge when he was arrested in 2011 in the weapons case. Online court records show he was originally arrested on charges of illegally carrying a weapon and possessing a weapon after a felony conviction.
Pastorick said parole supervision on the weapons charge would have ended in June "had all this not happened."
People who knew the slain officer in college say he was sunny, funny and smart. Kem Washington, a private CPA who was his teacher and adviser at Dillard University, said he was a good student who planned to work in accounting and never said anything to suggest he'd go into police work.
"He was a good guy, so I'm not at all shocked that he did choose a career in that area, to help people," she said.
"Anything we said, he would turn it into something funny," said Jasmi Brown, a year behind McNeil in the accounting class and now a fifth-grade teacher in Stafford, Texas. "Even if someone was a little down about something, he always found a way to turn it into something positive, something funny, and make everybody laugh."
From 2011 until he joined the police department in 2014, McNeil was a banker with First NBC Bank, The New Orleans Advocate reported .
After graduating high school until 2011, he was a children's literacy coach with the Children's Defense Fund in New Orleans — and the 6- to 8-year-old students loved him, Mary Joseph, the nonprofit's former director, told the newspaper.
"A jewel is gone," she said.2 comments on this story
"He was well-liked, well-loved by his colleagues. They are grieving and mourning," Harrison said. "From all indications, he loved doing his job, loved the New Orleans Police Department and loved working in east New Orleans."
McNeil was the fifth New Orleans Police Department officer to die in the line of duty over the past four years. Two were shot and three hit by cars.
A police officer for the city's public housing agency also was shot to death during that period.
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said, "We talk to these officers at their graduation and of course we say this all the time about how dangerous this job really is, and unfortunately tonight our worst nightmares have come to be."