Gunman accused of ambushing New Orleans cops booked into mental ward
Officials didn't elaborate on why the man, who is suspected of wounding an officer, was being detained in that section
By Ramon Antonio Vargas
The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate
NEW ORLEANS — The Georgia man suspected of shooting up a New Orleans police patrol SUV in the French Quarter on Friday, striking an officer in the face, was transferred from a hospital to the parish jail's mental health ward late Saturday, according to officials.
Investigators booked Donnell Hassell, 44, with two counts of attempted murder of police because there were two officers in the cruiser he allegedly targeted, criminal court records show. He would receive a minimum of 20 years and a maximum of 50 years in prison on each count if ultimately convicted as accused.
Orleans Parish Magistrate Court Commissioner Robert Blackburn set Hassell's bail at $1.5 million on Sunday afternoon. Hassell, who did not appear for the brief bail hearing, was being housed at the Orleans Parish lockup's mental health ward, Public Defender's Office attorney Lauren Anderson said in court.
Neither Anderson nor Blackburn elaborated on why Hassell was being detained in that section of the jail.
According to police, Hassell was wearing a black motorcycle vest while riding in the back of a pedicab across Royal Street on St. Philip Street when he suddenly fired a pistol into a marked police cruiser at the intersection at about 4:30 p.m. Friday. The unsuspecting pedicab driver crashed into a sidewalk in a panic, fleeing for cover while Hassell ran off.
Officer Trevor Abney, 31, was struck in his left cheek just below his eye. Glass from the shattered driver's side window of the cruiser cut the arm of Officer Brooke Duncan IV.
Other officers chased Hassell six blocks to the intersection of Decatur and St. Peter streets, near the Joan of Arc statue. WWL-TV obtained surveillance video of the end of the chase that suggests Hassell hid behind the wall of a building then tried to run again as officers got closer. He suddenly dropped to his right side, raised his arms and was handcuffed by officers arriving with pistols pointed at him.
Police said officers did not injure Hassell or use any weapons on him. Nonetheless, he was taken to a hospital to be evaluated for what police described as a possible medical episode.
Officers said they recovered a discarded gun near where Hassell was arrested that they suspect he used to shoot at Abney and Duncan. Police also said Hassell had an empty gun holster on him when he was arrested.
Police searched Hassell's hotel room — about a half-mile away from the site of the attack — as well as a motorcycle with Georgia license plates that he apparently brought with him into town, law enforcement sources said. It is unclear what either search may have turned up.
Authorities have not publicly discussed a potential motive in the shooting. Neither Abney nor Duncan had ever interacted with the shooter before encountering him, police have said. And eyewitnesses said neither officer appeared to even have time to shoot back at Hassell.
Fellow officers rushed Abney to the hospital. He was able to enter the building under his own power, but the bullet that hit him was lodged in his skull, and medical staff listed him in serious condition.
Duncan, 42, went to the hospital as well, but his wounds were not life-threatening.
Social media profiles under Hassell's name and those that mention him also describe him as the president of a motorcycle club based out of Augusta, Georgia, and they contain pictures of him wearing a black leather vest similar to the one seen on the video of his arrest Friday. Information in a national public records database as well as in Georgia court documents show Hassell was previously enlisted in the U.S. Army and fought in the Iraq war.
Records filed in Orleans Parish Criminal District Court on Sunday describe Hassell as unemployed.
Coincidentally, Abney fought in Iraq, too, with the Army National Guard. He served St. Tammany Fire Protection District No. 11, based in his hometown of Slidell, before joining the New Orleans police force in 2015.
Police on Saturday said they had no update on Abney's medical condition. In a statement Sunday, Abney's brother, Shawn, said the wounded officer was talking to his family and was "going through extensive tests to develop a plan for moving forward with recovery."
"We have all been devastated with this cowardly attack," Shawn Abney's statement said.
Shawn Abney's statement also thanked community members who have "reached from far and wide to extend help."
The statement asked internet users to consider contributing money to a GoFundMe.com account which was set up to assist Abney in his recovery. The campaign is named "AbneyStrong."
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