FIVE YEARS LATER: Law enforcement leaders reflect on 2016 ambush on police
BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - It was one of the darkest days in Baton Rouge. On Sunday, July 17, 2016, a lone gunman opened fire, unleashing terror outside the B-Quick gas station on Airline Highway. Once the bullets stopped flying, the ambush on law enforcement right on our doorstep left two Baton Rouge Police Department officers, Matthew Gerald and Montrell Jackson, as well as an East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office deputy, Brad Garafola, dead. Three other law enforcement officers were also hurt, including Chad Montgomery, Bruce Simmons, and Nick Tullier.
Five years later, Sheriff Sid Gautreaux says there’s not a day that goes by that he doesn’t think about the men who lost their lives that day and their families that were forever changed because of it.
“Scottie, you know I’ve been in law enforcement a long time and it’s terrible to lose anybody at any time but I can tell you that was the worst day of my life and I will never forget what took place that day,” said Gautreaux.
In the days and weeks after the attack, the sheriff admits there were times where he had to take a breath but his commitment to getting his deputies and this community through it, pushed him to put one foot in front of the other.
“There were moments where I just had to step back whether it be for five minutes or whether it be for 30 minutes. I had to step back and catch my breath and just put it all in perspective and realize as sheriff what I needed to do, what I needed to do for those families, for the men and women and the people who serve the department and those are things that just come with the job and you can’t stop,” said Gautreaux.
The sheriff says one sense of comfort from that time was that out of so much hurt, also came something beautiful.
“This community was hurting at this time but I saw something that I mean it moves me to today,” said Gautreaux. “I saw this entire community come together then when that happened. It was such an outpouring of love and concern from all of the community and that touched me and it always will and I think we’ve built upon that since then.”
BRPD Chief Murphy Paul took over as head of the Baton Rouge Police Department about a year and a half after the ambush. At the time of the attack, he was with Louisiana State Police.
“When you look at 2016 and you look at all of the incidents that happened like our heroes losing their lives and paying the ultimate sacrifice.. the great flood... all of those things created trauma not only in the community but in our police officers. We know that trauma still exists,” said Chief Paul.
While the chief was not with the agency at the time, he says the loss within the department affects him and his officers almost daily.
“We can never feel the pain that the family members of those officer or the officers who worked side by side with them every day or their supervisors and we’re going to continue to lift them up in prayer,” said Paul.
In the years since taking over, the chief says they have done mor than pray. He says they have taken action to repair relationships within in the community and make sure his officers are protected. They have increased training for officers and, more importantly, the chief says they’ve created a support system and peer-to-peer counseling services through a collective healing grant for officers who face the trauma that often comes along with carrying a badge each day.
“We wanted to create an environment where our officers feel safe to say I need a break and to feel safe to say I need help and that’s what we’ve been trying to do,” said Paul.
As tough conversations around law enforcement continue in Baton Rouge and beyond and while the city has seen one of its darkest days, both the sheriff and the chief say they are looking forward to the brighter days that they believe still lie ahead.
“The people know that the men and women who wear the uniform are going out there and saving lives and doing our part to make sure that their quality of life is better,” said Paul.
“There’s evil in this world and we have to deal with it but the majority of the people out here on these streets in Baton Rouge and East Baton Rouge Parish.. the vast majority are good people,” Gautreaux added. “They’re just like me and you Scottie. All they want to do is live in peace and raise a family and that’s the people we serve and it’s up to us to do everything we can to maintain their peace, their safety and security.”
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