Picture of suspects in St. John Parish shootings starting to emerge
Published: Friday, August 17, 2012, 11:10 AM Updated: Friday, August 17, 2012, 1:34 PM
Gordon Russell, The Times-Picayune By Gordon Russell, The Times-Picayune
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A grainy picture is starting to emerge of the suspects involved in the shootings Thursday morning that claimed the lives of two St. John Parish sheriff's deputies and injured two others. Five of them had apparently been under surveillance in DeSoto Parish in north Louisiana two months ago, and at least one of them was considered a fugitive in Nebraska and Kansas for "making terroristic threats" as well as allegedly selling marijuana.
kyle-joekel-horizontal.jpgView full sizeGage County Sheriff's OfficeKyle D. Joekel
Authorities believe that suspect, Kyle Joekel, 29, may have ties to anti-government groups, in particular a loose organization known as Posse Comitatus that generally doesn't recognize authority above the level of county sheriff. The name of the group means "power of the county" in Latin, according to the Anti-Defamation League's website.
Group members refuse to recognize various aspects of federal authority, and some refuse to pay taxes. The group has been associated with citizen militias as well as neo-Nazi organizations.
Lt. Robert Davidson of the DeSoto Parish Sheriff's office told The Shreveport Times that the suspects in custody include Kyle Joekel, Brian Smith, Terry Smith, 44, and Derrick Smith, 22. Terry Smith is the father of both Derrick and Brian Smith, according to Davidson, who identified. Brian Smith and Joekel as the shooters in the incident. Davidson said he did not know the name of the other suspects.
Authorities this morning confirmed the four suspects named by Davidson, plus two women: Chanel Skains, 37, and Teniecha Bright, 21.
Joekel had had run-ins with the law in Gage County, Neb., and Marshall County, Kan., last year and was considered a fugitive in both places.
In one incident, in August 2011, Joekel and a man named David Schwartz were making trouble at a bar in Barneston, Neb., near the Kansas border. Before authorities arrived, the two fled in Joekel's red Dodge pickup at high speed. They headed south toward Kansas, "intending to harm law enforcement," according to a news release from the sheriff's office in Marshall County, Kan.
A high-speed chase ensued, ending in Oketo, Kan., where Joekel's car crashed into two parked vehicles, sending one of them into the living room of a residence.
Joekel managed to escape by fleeing on foot. Schwartz was captured, according to the Marysville (Kan.) Advocate. However, he was released after questioning.
The Beatrice (Neb.) Daily Sun reported that authorities believed Joekel went underground and left the area shortly after that incident. He was due in court on Sept. 1, 2011, to face charges of distributing marijuana and resisting arrest, the paper reported.
He allegedly tried to sell four and a half pounds of the drug to an undercover investigator for $6,075. He posted 10 percent of a $200,000 and was released, the paper reported.
Enlarge Brett Duke, The Times-Picayune BRETT DUKE / THE TIMES-PICAYUNE Police work a scene after two St. John the Baptist Parish sheriff's deputies were killed and two other deputies were injured in a shootout early Thursday morning in LaPlace. 2 St. John Parish sheriff's deputies killed, 2 others injured gallery (21 photos)
Gage County (Neb.) Sheriff Millard "Gus" Gustafson said authorities had "intel" indicating that Joekel was affiliated with some anti-government groups, information that seemed accurate based on "the kind of people he was hanging around with."
In particular, Joekel was believed to have links to the Posse Comitatus organization, which, according to Gustafson, had more adherents in the 1980s in his part of the country but has largely faded away.
"We got a feeling there were people giving him aid so he could elude law enforcement," Gustafson said. "It just didn't look right. These guys would be driving around at night, and they'd have weapons on the front seat. If you're doing that, something's wrong -- you're either hunting illegally or doing soemthing else."
However, Gustafson cautioned, "we never had anything official showing" a link. "We don't have it all nailed."
The Shreveport newspaper reported that Joekel, Terry Smith, Brian Smith, and two women had been living in a trailer park north of Mansfield in June. DeSoto Parish authorities were alerted after residents saw some of them carrying assault weapons.
After a break-in at the trailer park's washroom, the sheriff's office moved a trailer to the site and began surveilling the group, Davidson told the Times. The DeSoto Parish Sheriff's Office ran background checks and discovered members of the group were on a federal watch list.
Davidson told the newspaper that Joekel was linked to an "anti-government group." He said that Joekel and Brian Smith -- the two men he said committed the shootings Thursday -- were apparently "spooked" by deputies' presence at the trailer park and were not seen there after the break-in.
Davidson also said that Terry Smith applied to the sheriff's office for a federal firearms license, saying he planned to sell guns from a building in Mansfield. Sometime in late June, the group moved out of the trailer park, and the surveillance ended, Davidson told the Times.
The weapons used in Thursday's shootings are believed to have been bought from a pawn shop in Mansfield, Davidson said. He added that Terry Smith apparently pawned a weapon in Gonzales in late June.
Gordon Russell can be reached at email@example.com or 504.826.3347.