Protestors Question Why Killer of Unarmed Black Man Isn't in Custody

December 2nd 2016

Dave Fonseca

Civil rights groups in Louisiana are questioning why a suspect who police say shot and killed an unarmed victim is not currently being held by authorities.

Protests have arisen over the Thursday shooting of 28-year-old professional football player Joe McKnight, who is black, by 54-year-old Ronald Gasser, who is white, during a traffic dispute in Terrytown, Louisiana.

Joe McKnight

"In no circumstance should somebody be released back into the community because they pose a risk of harm to others in the community, maybe a flight risk," Morris Reed, president of the New Orleans chapter of the NAACP, said during a press conference Friday afternoon. "The police department is certainly not acting as they would ordinarily."



Gasser, despite being referred to as "the individual who shot and killed Mr. Mcknight," by Jefferson County Parish Sheriff Newell Normand, was released overnight without being charged, the New Orleans Times Picayune reports.

A witness quoted in the Times-Picayune said that a man was yelling at McKnight, who was attempting to apologize. The witness further claims that the man shot McKnight multiple times, then stood over his body and said, "I told you don't you f--- with me," and then shot him, again.

During a press conference on Friday afternoon at the sheriff's office, Normand disputed both those claims, saying there was no attempted apology and that "Mr. Gasser did not stand over Mcknight and shoot him. The three casings were located inside the vehicle."

Earlier on Friday, ATTN: asked Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office spokesman Col. John Fortunato why Gasser hadn't yet been charged, despite the witness reports.

"If he was going to be arrested, there would have to be charge, and the district attorney was the best to consult about what the charge would be since they are the ones who will prosecute the case," Fortunato said.

Is "Stand Your Ground" Playing a Role?

Normand suggested during Friday afternoon's press conference that the Louisiana "Stand Your Ground" law may have played a role in the office's decision not to immediately charge Gasser.

"In this state there are some relative statutes that provide defenses to certain crimes," Normand said, adding that officers would be tasked with determining if the killing of McKnight was justified.

When later asked by a reporter during the press conference to clarify if the state's "Stand Your Ground" law played a role in the proceedings of the investigation, Normand said "it is one of the issues that looms on the horizon as it relates to … I’d rather not opine on that at this time."

The law states that homicide is justifiable when "committed in self-defense by one who reasonably believes that he is in imminent danger of losing his life or receiving great bodily harm and that the killing is necessary to save himself from that danger."

Normand criticizes social media reports.

Outside of the sheriff's office, protestors held up a sign reading "A Man Was Lynched Yesterday," an apparent reference to the historic NAACP sign. 

Normand disputed any claims that the investigation was influenced by the fact McKnight was black and Gasser is white. 

"This isn’t about race," Normand said, adding that McKnight had close family ties to former Jefferson County Sheriff's deputy. 

He added that he would not be influenced by protestors who were questioning the department's handling of the investigation. 

"Out of fairness and equity to the life Joe McKnight lived and the life that Ronald Gasser lives, this investigation is not going to be moved, influenced or changed by any external force," Normand said.