Morgan City police, officials react to death of police chief

As police in Biloxi, Miss., continue their investigation into the Friday death of Morgan City Police Chief Travis Crouch, his friends and family are struggling to accept the loss of a man they say did so much for the community.

“He was a wonderful man. He helped out anybody he could tremendously,” said Bridgette Basas, who grew up with Crouch, on Monday. “I am friends with a lot of law enforcement officers. In the last few days, you have heard nothing but how amazing he was, how much they loved working for him, how much it’s not going to be the same.”

Crouch, 46, was found shot to death at about 11 p.m. Friday in a hotel room at the Beau Rivage Resort and Casino, where he was staying for the weekend with family and friends.

Late Monday afternoon, Harrison County Coroner Gary Hargrove ruled Crouch’s death a suicide, saying the gunshot wound was self-inflicted.

Biloxi police Sgt. Christopher De Back would not say Monday if anyone was in the room with Crouch when the shooting occurred, but had said there does not appear to be foul play. The gun used in the shooting was not a police-issued weapon.

Investigators are sorting through and examining evidence, a process that could take a few weeks, De Back said.

When reached by phone Monday, Crouch’s son said the family would not be making any comments on Crouch’s death because it was too soon and they were still grieving.

Back in Morgan City, just about everyone knew Crouch and anyone could go to him with their problems knowing he would do his best to help, Basas said.

When people posted questions on the Morgan City Police Department’s Facebook page that Crouch created, he would answer them or have his officers answer them.

When people posted about crime in the Morgan City area on Facebook and Crouch saw their posts, he would assign one of his officers to investigate or he would handle it personally.

“I don’t think he probably realized what he’s done for this community, the far-reaching effects it had on the people,” Basas said. “I don’t think a lot of us realized it until this.”

Crouch was born in Morgan City into a well-known family and grew up in the community. Court records in St. Mary Parish show Crouch had no legal troubles.

He and Mayor Frank “Boo” Grizzaffi knew each other most of their lives, but really became close when Grizzaffi selected Crouch as the new chief of police on Feb. 26 from a pool of six candidates.

Crouch was the youngest of the candidates but he made Grizzaffi believe in him.

“He believed he could do it, made me believe he could do it. We took a chance and it turned out to be the right decision,” Grizzaffi said. “He exceeded everyone’s expectation and had done an excellent job in his first year performing his duties. It’s sad that it had to end this way.”

Grizzaffi said that in addition to creating the Facebook page and launching a smartphone application that connected people to the department, Crouch reinstituted a drug task force and was in the process of forming neighborhood watch groups.

In an effort to reach out to people, Crouch put his cellphone number online and implored people to call him anytime with any questions or concerns they had, Grizzaffi said.

Crouch and his officers also visited local schools and ate lunch with the students in an effort to get them to trust the police.

“It became a problem here in the city where people would look at police as somebody they had to run from and he wanted to change that image and really make the police someone you want to run to,” Grizzaffi said. “He was well on his way to changing that image here with this Police Department.”

Grizzaffi received a call from Assistant Chief Michael Banks Sr. at about 1 a.m. Saturday, about two hours after the shooting occurred, leading to a whirlwind 24 hours for Grizzaffi, the department and the city.

Later that morning, Grizzaffi and members of the City Council gathered the rest of the department and told them the news. He said there were looks of “shock and awe in their eyes.”

Grizzaffi said grief counselors would be available Monday at the department for anyone who wanted to talk to someone about Crouch’s death.

One of those people who is experiencing shock and awe is Banks, who worked with Crouch since 1991 and who now assumes the role as leader of the department.

Banks said Crouch transformed the department, holding people to a higher standard and bringing a sense of camaraderie that the department had been previously lacking. One example of that, Banks said, were the hunting and fishing trips Crouch would take with his fellow officers.

“Even though he was a police chief, it made him no different than you,” Banks said.

Grizzaffi said state civil service law requires him to appoint a permanent police chief in 60 days. He has not appointed an interim chief and Banks said that has not even been brought up yet in their conversations.

Grizzaffi said he still has a list of candidates from the previous application process, though he said he is not sure whether he will go off that list, go through the civil service process again to create a new list or use a combination of both for his search.

Staff writer Billy Gunn and The Associated Press contributed to this report.