A Friday afternoon shooting outside an apartment complex near Tigerland marked the third time in less than three weeks that East Baton Rouge Parish law enforcement authorities were shot at while serving drug-related search warrants.
Sheriff Sid Gautreaux called the recent trend “disturbing,” adding, “it’s a sign of the times.”
According to the Sheriff’s Office, Friday’s shootout, which injured a suspected drug dealer but no deputies, happened after weeks of investigations and at least one controlled buy — where confidential informants or undercover deputies purchase drugs from suspected sellers.
Two teams of three deputies each arrived Friday afternoon at the Gaslite IV apartment complex in the 4600 block of Y.A. Tittle Avenue with the intent of serving a search warrant, Gautreaux said.
The investigators didn’t know whether their suspect was inside the apartment or away from home, so they had three deputies waiting in front of the complex and three stationed in the back, Gautreaux said.
Shortly before 1 p.m., Lionel Gilmore, 24, the suspected dealer, exited his apartment and entered a blue Mazda sedan in the parking lot. The clearly marked deputies, seeing Gilmore, then switched on flashing lights and announced themselves as law enforcement, Gautreaux said.
At that point, Gilmore opened fire from inside the car, shooting at the detectives, Gautreaux said.
The deputies returned fire, littering the Mazda with bullets, one which struck Gilmore in the head, the sheriff said.
Witnesses reported hearing varying numbers of gunshots, ranging from about 10 to 30. At least half a dozen bullet holes were visible Friday afternoon in the Mazda.
Not long after the shooting, an ambulance arrived and took Gilmore to a hospital. He was in stable condition Friday night, said Casey Rayborn Hicks, a Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman.
Once Gilmore is released from the hospital, deputies plan to book him into East Baton Rouge Parish Prison on three counts of attempted first-degree murder of a police officer and some drug-related counts, Hicks said.
Detectives searched Gilmore’s home after the shooting and found a potato chip bag with a scale and a small amount of heroin inside. Investigators plan to search the blue Mazda on Monday, Hicks said.
Acquaintances of Gilmore said he lived at the apartment complex for a while and that he took care of his mother, grandmother and his younger sisters.
“I hope that he’s all right, and I hope that this helps him change his life,” said Charmion Marchand, whose daughter and granddaughter live at the apartment complex. She hopes her family members will leave the apartment soon because, she said, it’s an unsafe area to live.
Marchand’s daughter, who witnessed the shooting, told her mother that she was outside watering plants when she heard several gunshots. Then someone said, “I’m going to kill you,” and more gunshots followed, Marchand said.
Todd Hannie, who frequents the neighborhood and was there Friday, said he heard three “booms” followed by a combination of the barking of his black Labrador retriever and gunfire that sounded like “rat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat.”
“I’m not going to be down here as much,” Hannie said.
A 28-year-old resident of the area who identified himself only as Ahmed, declining to give his last name, described the neighborhood as unsafe and, especially at night, noisy.
“Tigerland is like hell,” he said, referring to the neighborhood known for a grouping of several bars along Bob Pettit Boulevard near Nicholson Drive that is a few hundred yards north of Friday’s shooting location.
Speaking to reporters near the shooting scene Friday, Sheriff Gautreaux referenced two other recent incidents when law enforcement agents were shot at while serving drug-related search warrants. He spoke about the lack of respect for life many suspected criminals appear to have.
“They don’t fear jail, and they don’t fear death,” Gautreaux said.
On April 24, Sheriff’s Office SWAT members were shot at while serving a warrant in a cocaine investigation in the 5400 block of Truman Street off Plank Road near Baker. In that shooting, Jonathan Lewis, 31, is accused of shooting a rifle while sitting in a bedroom of his home as SWAT team members entered to clear the residence, according to an affidavit of probable cause.
Authorities arrested Lewis and booked him into Parish Prison on four counts of attempted first-degree murder of a police officer. A search of Lewis’ home turned up a few ounces of cocaine, some marijuana, $1,000 and an assault rifle, Hicks said.
On April 16, two Baton Rouge police officers were injured while serving a search warrant in the 1300 block of North 36th Street. The officers weren’t seriously injured, and the accused shooter, Patrick Lathan, 18, was arrested and booked into Parish Prison on five counts of attempted first-degree murder of a police officer.
“It’s very dangerous to serve drug-related search warrants,” Baton Rouge Police Chief Carl Dabadie said through a spokesman.
For that reason, officers who serve warrants undergo rigorous training to prepare for the high-pressure, high-risk situations, Dabadie said.
“Every police officer faces dangerous situations every day,” Dabadie said. “Yet they still put their life on the line to make the community safer.”
Follow Ben Wallace on Twitter @_BenWallace.