THE INVESTIGATORS: Sheriff’s office hands over surveillance from Burbank Walmart debacle in early August

THE INVESTIGATORS: Sheriff’s office hands over surveillance from Burbank Walmart debacle in early August
What was initially believed to be a shooting at the Walmart on Burbank Drive turned out to be some sort of altercation between a man armed with a gun and a man armed with scissors. (Source: WAFB)

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - The East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office has now handed over several clips of surveillance video it obtained from the Burbank Walmart following a reported shooting incident that sparked mass panic on Tuesday, Aug. 6.

Surveillance video from Aug. 6, 2019 at Walmart on Burbank Drive in Baton Rouge

WAFB’s Scottie Hunter requested a copy of the video the day of the incident in order the shed more light on the situation after EBRSO passed along information to the media, much of which they would later clarify was incorrect.

Men, women, and children can be seen pouring out of the Burbank Walmart from almost every angle. The video released to the 9News Investigators shows the full out panic and terror amid reports of shots fired inside the store.

Moments before the 911 calls, the video shows the argument that sparked the madness. Two men dressed in black clothing can be seen getting into it near the customer service area at the front of the store. The East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office identified one of the men as Robert Tucker and the other as Jacob Bess.

In the video, Bess can be seen storming off and minutes later, he comes back into the store with what appears to be something in his hand. When customers see it, they can already be seen tearing past the registers to get out. Tucker told officers he heard someone scream “gun” and that’s when he can be seen taking out his own gun. And then the chaos erupted. Panicked customers took off, racing outside the store, and were convinced they heard gunshots.

“The combination of all these factors kind of made this the perfect storm to kind of have a false narrative," said Matthew Valasik, associate professor of sociology at LSU. While folks outside the store feared the worst, law enforcement and first responders from every local agency rushed to the scene. Just days after the mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, Valasik says it’s easy to see how the panic spread.

“When you have people there and they hear something or they think they hear something, you almost kind of get this group mentality," said Valasik.

Deputies arrested Tucker in the parking lot. While a helicopter circled overhead, Sheriff Sid Gautreaux held a news conference updating the public.

“Shots were fired,” Gautreaux said at the scene. “One of the patrons in the store, an innocent patron was struck twice.”

Later, all of that had to be corrected by the sheriff’s office. In a press release issued nearly five hours after the initial 911 call, the sheriff’s office told the media that in fact no one had been shot, no shots had actually been fired, and the person who was in the hospital was hurt running from the store during the panic. On top of all that, one of the men who reportedly had a gun was actually armed with scissors, not a gun.

WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked Valasik how things ended up so far from what really happened.

"I think the fact that we're on a very fast news cycle these days and people want information in the blink of an eye that there was just this push to get information out there before information was known," Valasik answered.

Valasik praises the police response, saying their presence was spot on, but he believes just about everything else was a disaster.

“It’s much easier to, in my mind, take your time and wait and say the right thing than just apologize later for something that could have larger impacts on the community or residents,” said Valasik.

While he says he’s not a crime scene investigator, he questions how thoroughly the surveillance videos were reviewed before officials went public with what turned out to be bad information.

WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked the professor if he felt like officers took a close enough look at the video before releasing anything.

“I mean, I think it’s pretty clear whether you determine whether there’s gunfire or not,” said Valasik. “I think it’s just being more thoughtful on how this information is presented and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with saying, ‘We don’t know anything for the time being and when we know more we’ll get back to you.’"

In the midst of the debacle, the 9News Investigators requested the video, but were told then the sheriff’s office would not hand it over because the case was still under investigation. Now that the video has been made public, Valasik says he would like to see officials take thing a step further.

“If they have them, why wouldn’t they release them, especially if nothing occurred?” he asked. “It was just a disagreement between two people, so I think to have more community support and trust, you know, it would be nice to have a discussion of this is, what the breakdowns were, and this is what we’re going to try to remedy in the future.”

While the sheriff has publicly praised the response efforts to the incident, he has not publicly addressed the information his office had to corrected in the hours following the situation.

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