Louisiana Police Arrest Man In Shooting Death Of Former NFL Player Joe McKnight

Dec 6, 2016
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

In New Orleans, authorities have arrested the man who shot and killed a former pro football player. Today's arrest comes nearly a week after the shooting. On the day of the incident, the shooter was questioned and then released. Days of protests followed. Tegan Wendland of member station WWNO reports.

TEGAN WENDLAND, BYLINE: This all started last Thursday. Joe McKnight, a former player on the New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs, was driving across a bridge in New Orleans when another driver got mad at him for cutting him off. The two eventually pulled over, yelled at each other, and Ronald Gasser shot McKnight three times, killing him. Onlookers recorded the aftermath with their phones.

(CROSSTALK)

WENDLAND: The gunman, Gasser, sat on the ground, waiting for authorities to come to the scene. Deputies brought him in, questioned him for hours and then released him. That didn't go over too well. Protesters took to the streets, calling the sheriff's department racist for releasing the white man after the death of an unarmed black man. Local NAACP chapter president Gaylor Spiller railed about what happened.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GAYLOR SPILLER: I'm afraid for every black man, every black child, every black woman on the face of this Earth for what we are going through.

WENDLAND: This comes after heated protests in Baton Rouge this summer over the police shooting of an unarmed black man there and on the heels of the shooting of another NFL player. The trial over the death of former Saints player Will Smith started this week. After four days with no new information, Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand announced today Gasser had been taken into custody.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NEWELL NORMAND: This isn't about race.

WENDLAND: And what does he say to critics who claim authorities should have arrested Gasser sooner?

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NORMAND: Tough. I don't care.

WENDLAND: Normand said detectives had to question hundreds of people before they had enough evidence to arrest Gasser even though he'd already admitted to shooting McKnight, claiming self-defense. McKnight was beloved in New Orleans. He played football at John Curtis Christian High School. His coach there, JP Curtis, has known the McKnight family for 20 years.

JP CURTIS: Joe was an exceptional athlete.

WENDLAND: McKnight helped the school win three state championships. He became a running back in the NFL, a huge success story for the small school. Curtis talked with McKnight's family this morning and says they're relieved the case is going forward. He hopes the death causes people to reflect.

CURTIS: We need to come to a place where we are able to pause and gather ourselves together and have more understanding and respect for human life than our own emotions and our own anger.

WENDLAND: Sheriff Normand says he agrees, but he was angry as he held up a sheet of paper with comments made online to public officials about the slow pace of the investigation. He read off expletives unfit for broadcast and then described what he perceived as public sentiment.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NORMAND: We want justice now, and if we don't get it now and we don't get it our way, we're going to start saying things and doing things until we get it our way.

WENDLAND: It's not clear whether today's press conference will do much to calm public concern over alleged racism, but it's an answer to local civil rights organizers' demands. Gasser's in custody, and the investigation is ongoing. For NPR News, I'm Tegan Wendland in New Orleans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.