Baton Rouge police officer wounded in shooting; injuries not serious, official says

A Baton Rouge man accused of shooting into a marked police unit and injuring an officer Sunday night had been found not guilty by reason of insanity in a 2002 killing and, in the last two years, had been admitted repeatedly for emergency mental health care, according to authorities.

Eugene Thomas Jr. — who led officers on a chase through Old South Baton Rouge after shooting at family members and then opening fire on the responding officer — had been found safe for release from a state mental health facility several years ago. He was arrested again in 2009 when police found him with a gun; however, the charge of felon in possession of a firearm was later dismissed because Thomas had never been convicted in the 2002 fatal shooting.

In Sunday’s shooting, the wounded Baton Rouge Police officer, who has not been identified, suffered severe but not life-threatening injuries, said Sgt. Don Coppola Jr., Baton Rouge police spokesman.

According to a press conference broadcast by WAFB with BRPD Chief Murphy Paul, the wounded officer, whose name has not been released, was talking Monday morning and was “in good spirits.”

Two days before he opened fire Sunday night  first on his family and then minutes later on the officer responding to the scene, Thomas had disappeared in his sister’s Mercedes-Benz without explanation, his mother Stephanie Hardnett said.

Thomas had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and depression, Hardnett said, and had recently been in and out of hospitals for care. 

Around 10:45 p.m. Sunday, officers responded to a call of shots fired in the 2200 block of Thomas H. Delpit Drive. Thomas had gotten out of the Mercedes-Benz, began screaming and then opened fire on his mother, cousin, sister and her friend while they were inside another vehicle, according to his arrest report. None of them was injured.

Days earlier, Thomas had taken the Mercedes-Benz, which belonged to his sister, and disappeared, the report says, leading the family had filed a report with the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office.

After shooting at the officer, the suspect fled the scene.  Officers pursued the suspect until he surrendered a few blocks away on West Harding, across the street from the Baton Rouge Police 2nd District precinct. 

Around 11 p.m. Sunday, an officer found the Mercedes-Benz in the 900 block of Lettsworth Street. As the officer approached in his marked police vehicle, Thomas opened fire, Coppola said.

Numerous rounds of gunfire struck the windshield and driver’s side door of the police vehicle, Coppola said. The officer was rushed to an area hospital and is expected to survive his injuries. He was struck in his face and eye, the arrest report says.

A spokesman for BRPD says Kristen Perkins, 25, is facing a variety of charges, including operating a vehicle while intoxicated and negligent injury.

After fleeing Lettsworth Street, a different officer found Thomas in the Mercedes-Benz traveling at a high rate of speed, the report says.

One eastbound lane on I-10 was shut down for about an hour Sunday evening after a woman started driving the wrong way down the highway.

The officer turned on his emergency lights and tried to conduct a traffic stop, but Thomas instead led the officer on a short, high-speed chase, the report says. Thomas surrendered at the dead end of West Harding Street, where officers observed a black-and-silver handgun on the driver’s side floor board, the report says.

No one was injured in that shooting but the suspect left the scene, ending up on Lettsworth Street where he fired several rounds at the police unit — the first unit to arrive there. The injured officer was struck with glass and shrapnel from the car, but appeared to have escaped the bullets themselves, Coppola said.

The arrest report says the pistol was clearly jammed, and there was another magazine in the front seat.

Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul and Mayor Sharon Weston Broome spoke with the officer after the shooting, the police chief said, adding that the officer “is doing fine.”

“It’s an emotional event for him and his family, so we ask you to keep them in your prayers,” Paul said.

According to the Baton Rouge Police Department, Perkins was driving a Mercedes vehicle and traveling westbound in the eastbound lanes of I-10 near Perkins Road and S. Acadian Thruway. Police say four other vehicles, including a prison transport van, were also involved as those drivers were attempting to avoid the Mercedes.

Coppola said that it did not appear the officer returned fire during the altercation.

Kristen B. Perkins was arrested and charged with operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated, reckless driving, negligent injuring, and driving the wrong way down one-way traffic.

In 2002, Thomas was arrested in the fatal shooting of Brian Williams, 23, in front of Polk Street Elementary School, according to The Advocate records. Then 18 years old, Thomas explained to police his motive in the shooting, saying Williams “had on my shorts.” At the time police called the explanation irrational.

Police told WBRZ that Perkins smelled heavily of alcohol, had slurred speech, and admitted to having three mixed drinks before getting behind the wheel.

When police confronted Thomas following that shooting in 2002, he had his gun cocked, but dropped the weapon when ordered to do so, the story says.

In 2002, Thomas was arrested in the fatal shooting of 23-year-old Brian Williams in front of Polk Street Elementary School, according to The Advocate records. Then 18, Thomas explained to police his motive in the shooting, saying Williams “had on my shorts.” At the time, police called the explanation “irrational,” the story from 2002 reads.

Thomas was charged with second-degree murder in that case, but later was deemed incompetent to stand trial in 2004, according to 19th Judicial District Court records. Officials said Thomas was found to be a “danger to himself and others” and was ordered to remain in a mental health facility. Thomas stayed in the care of the state Department of Health and under supervision by the state Department of Corrections for many years, but in October 2017 his probation was terminated, according to court records.

Thomas’ mother said her son had been recently struggling with his mental illnesses, often ending up in hospitals after taking his medicine. She said she doesn’t know how Thomas obtained a gun and was upset to learn about the officer.

Stephanie Hardnett said the mental health system has continued to fail her son, who she says needs to get back on medicine and ideally into a long-term mental health program.

Thomas’ younger sister Doris Hammond, 25, also said the family would regularly encounter situations with Thomas when he was having “an episode” and they needed to have him committed for mental health treatment. He would stay in treatment facilities for a week or a month and then be released again.

It was unclear whether the officer was hit by a bullet or injured from shrapnel after bullets pierced the police cruiser, but he is expected to recover. A BRPD spokesperson says the officer has been placed on administrative leave with pay, and his name will be released Tuesday.

She said Thomas had his first episode when he was 16. The family contacted police because Thomas was missing and officers later found him naked in a pool. The episodes would typically include hallucinations, paranoia and a lack of awareness about reality and the people around him.

Hammond said she feels the consistent lack of comprehensive care has failed her brother, treating his symptoms over and over without addressing the overarching problems by taking a deeper look at his diagnoses and medications. Hammond also said she believes the problem was that Thomas was not receiving the proper amount and combination of medications, not that he would stop taking the pills.

The crash happened just after 5:00 p.m. Sunday. According to Baton Rouge Police Kristen Perkins was traveling westbound in the eastbound lanes of 1-10 near Perkins Road and South Acadian Thruway when she crashed into four other vehicles causing a pile up. Two people were sent to the hospital with minor injuries. 

Other than the episodes, Thomas did not have issues with violence or criminal activity, his sister said.

“I don’t want anyone to think he was some kind of devil or something — he was a good person; he just wasn’t getting the treatment he needed,” she said. 

Thomas, of 2313 Thomas H. Delpit Drive, was booked into Parish Prison on Monday morning on four counts of attempted first-degree murder and one count each of attempted first-degree murder of a police officer and felon in possession of a firearm.

Whenever Grace Toohey posts new content, you’ll get an email delivered to your inbox with a link.

Email notifications are only sent once a day, and only if there are new matching items.

Whenever Lea Skene posts new content, you’ll get an email delivered to your inbox with a link.

Email notifications are only sent once a day, and only if there are new matching items.

Posted in Baton Rouge