New Orleans police ID officer shot in French Quarter
The gunman faces two counts of attempted murder, officials said
By Ramon Antonio Vargas
The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate
NEW ORLEANS — A French Quarter visitor who wounded a pair of New Orleans police officers in a barrage of unprovoked gunfire faces two counts of attempted murder, officials said Saturday.
Investigators have obtained a warrant to arrest Donnell Linwood Hassell, 44, in what Police Superintendent Shaun Ferguson portrayed as an ambush that sent officers Trevor Abney and Brooke Duncan IV to a hospital. Abney, shot in the face, was seriously wounded, and Duncan was injured by glass shards when bullets shattered the windshield of their police SUV.
Hassell, though quickly arrested after the Friday afternoon attack, was not immediately jailed because he, too, was sent to a hospital for what Ferguson called some sort of "medical episode" during his arrest.
Mayor LaToya Cantrell called the shooting a "cowardly attack" and "heinous moment" for which the city would seek justice.
Abney remained hospitalized Saturday after one of the bullets fired at the cruiser struck him below his left eye and lodged in his skull. Duncan was treated for cuts on his arm.
Little information about Hassell was available. Social media profiles under his name or mentioning him describe him as president of a motorcycle club in Augusta, Georgia. Information in a national public records database show he was previously enlisted in the U.S. Army, and Georgia court documents say he fought in the Iraq war. Law enforcement sources say he was staying as a guest at a Quarter hotel on a weekend packed with visitors in town for Halloween.
Attempts to contact Hassell's family were unsuccessful.
Police say Hassell was wearing a black motorcycle vest while riding in the back of a pedicab crossing Royal Street on St. Philip Street when he began shooting into the police SUV at the intersection at about 4:30 p.m. The pedicab driver crashed into a sidewalk and the gunman ran off.
Neither Abney nor Duncan appeared to have time to return fire, eyewitnesses said. Ferguson said neither officer had interacted with the shooter before he targeted them.
Fellow officers rushed Abney to the hospital. He was able to enter the building under his own power, but medical staff listed him in serious condition. Duncan went to the hospital as well, but his wounds were not life-threatening.
Other officers chased Hassell six blocks to the intersection of Decatur and St. Peter streets. WWL television obtained surveillance video that suggests he hid behind the wall of a building then tried to run again as officers got closer. He suddenly dropped to his right side near the Joan of Arc statue, raised his arms and was handcuffed by officers arriving with pistols pointed at him.
Ferguson said officers nearby recovered a discarded gun that they suspect Hassell used to shoot at Abney and Duncan.
Ferguson said officers did not injure the suspect or use any weapons on him. Hassell nonetheless was taken to a hospital to be evaluated for what the chief described as a possible medical episode.
The chief on Saturday thanked the public for what he called an "outpouring of love and support" for the two wounded officers.
Abney, 31, entered the police training academy as a recruit in 2015. He works in the 8th District, which patrols the French Quarter and neighboring areas.
In November 2016, he received a Police Department commendation after he and fellow 8th District officer William Knowles aided a heroin overdose victim whom they found lying unconscious and not breathing on a French Quarter sidewalk. The department said Abney and Knowles' actions saved the man's life.
Before becoming a police officer, Abney attended Northshore High School in Slidell. He also fought in the Iraq war with the Army National Guard, according to the Slidell-based Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5735.
Duncan, 42, is a 16-year police veteran. His late grandfather, Brooke Duncan II, reigned as Rex, King of Carnival, in 1971. His father is a prominent labor attorney.
Ferguson said he and the mayor visited both officers at the hospital on Friday.
Local Fraternal Order of Police attorney Donovan Livaccari said Abney and Duncan are members of his organization, which was "praying for their swift recoveries." He said Abney's injuries are "severe."
"Unfortunately, it looks like officer Abney will have a longer road to recovery," Livaccari said.
If convicted of attempted murder of a police officer, Hassell would face 20 to 50 years in prison for each count.
(c)2020 The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate