Two police officers were gunned down just miles apart early Wednesday morning in targeted, “ambush-style attacks,” authorities said, and a suspect who had been removed from a high school football game two weeks ago for carrying a Confederate flag was arrested hours later.
The officers were gunned down as they sat in their patrol cars. The first shooting occurred around 1:06 a.m. local time in Urbandale, a Des Moines suburb, and the second 20 minutes later just three miles away. The Des Moines officer was responding to the first shooting.
They were later identified at a Monday afternoon press conference as Des Moines police Sgt. Anthony “Tony” Bemino, 38, and Urbandale Police Officer Justin Martin, 24. Bemino had been with the police department since 2005, while Martin just finished his probationary period in the summer and was sworn in over the summer.
Police identified the suspect as Scott Michael Greene, who Des Moines Police Sgt. Paul Parizek called “a coward” at a Wednesday morning press conference.
Greene was taken inside Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines via Dallas County ambulance while a handful of police officers stood outside the hospital.
The first shooting happened at 70th Street and Urbandale Avenue about one block from Urbandale High School. Authorities say the second shooting happened at Merle Hay Road and Sheridan Avenue. Roads around both shooting scenes were closed.
The Urbandale officer was found dead in his patrol car, while the Des Moines officer was injured and died later at Iowa Methodist Medical Center in Des Moines, Parizek said. Neither officer had communicated by radio before they were shot, and police have not said if dashcams or body cameras were on the officers.
Greene, the suspected shooter, had a confrontation with Des Moines and Urbandale police officers at a football game two weeks ago after Greene was cited for trespassing and escorted from the stadium. According to the encounter, which Greene posted on YouTube, he went to the Urbandale High School football stadium carrying the Confederate flag in what he called a peaceful protest. Black fans in the stands behind him asked that Green be removed from the stands.
YouTube video believed to be recorded and posted by Greene on Oct. 14 shows Greene being asked to leave the stadium grounds. Video shows him flying a Confederate flag in the bleachers in front of black spectators. Someone then hit him in the back and stole some of his property, he said.
“You have to understand that in the current social climate we’re in, that’s going to cause a disturbance,” a police officer tells Greene, who recorded the conversation with his cell phone.
Urbandale was hosting Des Moines Hoover High School, a school only two miles away with a diverse student body from dozens of countries.
As Greene debated his free speech rights with police, who told him the flag was not allowed on school grounds and that he was labeled a trespasser who could not return to school property, Greene repeatedly asked to file assault and theft charges. Police said they would return the flag to him, but that the school district had banned him from the property.
All Urbandale schools were canceled Wednesday as a precaution. Two Catholic schools and a child-care center in the areas near the shooting sites are also closed Wednesday, KCCI reports.
A scheduled get-out-the-vote event in Des Moines featuring Tim Kaine and Bill Clinton was canceled following news of the shooting, Hillary Clinton’s campaign said.
Officers throughout the metro area, working in pairs, were on high alert.
“Imagine that you lost a friend or family member, that’s the only way to describe it,” Parizek said. “We’re heart-broken.”
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch called the killings “senseless” and “appalling” and said her office was in contact with local authorities.
“I know that this is a time of particular tension and mistrust between law enforcement and many communities,” she said. “I know that while we do not yet know what led the perpetrator to commit these awful crimes, many will be nevertheless be tempted to read a message or motive into this assault.
“But let me be clear: There is no message in murder. Violence creates nothing; it only destroys. And the path to the more just and peaceful society that we desire for ourselves and for our children is paved not with hatred and malice, but with compassion, and understanding, and the hard work of cooperation. Let those be our watchwords in the days to come.”
Greene is a 46-year-old Urbandale resident. He is 5-feet, 11-inches tall, weighs 180 pounds and has brown hair and green eyes, authorities said. Greene was last known to be driving a blue 2011 Ford F-150 with Iowa license plate 780 YFR. The truck has a silver-colored topper with a ladder rack.
“There is clearly a danger if you’re a police officer,” Parizek told KCCI-TV. “These officers were gunned down sitting in their car doing nothing wrong, so there’s definitely some danger out there. There’s somebody out there shooting police officers. We hope we find him before anyone else gets hurt. We definitely don’t want anyone in the public or the community to get hurt. But there is a clear and present danger to police officers right now.”
The two officers bring 2016’s national total of officers killed in the line of duty to at least 114, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page. At last update, the page listed 112 line-of-duty deaths so far this year.
Anyone with information they would like to share regarding this investigation can contact investigators at 515-283-4869 (Des Moines Police Dept.), 515-222-3321 (WESTCOM), or submit a tip anonymously through Crime Stoppers of Central Iowa at 515-223-1400.
Media organizations reported that on a dark day in Des Moines and its suburbs, police officers were met with a huge outpouring of support.