One was a decorated “Officer of the Year.” The other was a proud recent graduate of the academy who had wanted to be a policeman since he was a boy.
A routine traffic stop led to their shooting deaths Saturday night — the first Hattiesburg police officers to die in the line of duty in more than 30 years — and four people were arrested, including two who were charged with capital murder.
The deaths of Officers Benjamin Deen and Liquori Tate stunned this small city in southern Mississippi.
On Sunday morning, bloodstains still marked the street where the two were shot, and a steady stream of people visited the site to leave flowers or balloons. In the nearby New Hope Baptist Church, worshippers prayed for the fallen officers and their families.
“This should remind us to thank all law enforcement for their unwavering service to protect and serve,” Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant said in a statement. “May God keep them all in the hollow of his hand.”
Marvin Banks, 29, and Joanie Calloway, 22, were each charged with two counts of capital murder, said Warren Strain, a spokesman for the Mississippi Department of Public Safety. Banks also was charged with one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm and with grand theft for fleeing in the police cruiser after the shooting, Strain said.
“He absconded with a Hattiesburg police cruiser. He didn’t get very far, three or four blocks, and then he ditched that vehicle,” Strain said.
Banks’ 26-year-old brother, Curtis Banks, was charged with two counts of accessory after the fact of capital murder.
The fourth person, 28-year-old Cornelius Clark, was arrested and charged with obstruction of justice, Strain said. All four are expected to make their initial court appearances today at the Forest County Justice Court.
A preliminary investigation indicated Deen had pulled over the vehicle on suspicion of speeding and then called for backup, bringing Tate. Strain said it was too early to say who shot the officers or how many shots were fired.
The U.S. flag flew at half-staff outside the Hattiesburg Police Department, and red roses placed on a concrete sign wilted in the afternoon sun.
The pain of the department’s first on-duty deaths of officers in three decades hit particularly close to home for Erica Sherrill Owens, whose mother, Sgt. Jackie Dole Sherrill, was killed in 1984 while trying to serve a warrant on a suspect.
When Owens heard that two officers had been killed, she said she hoped it wasn’t someone she knew.
“Then when I heard one of the names, my heart just sank because I went to high school with him,” Owens said, who had gone to Sumrall High School with Deen and graduated a year after him in 1999.
“We were great friends in high school. He married his high school sweetheart and he’s got two kids and a great family,” she said. “It’s just heartbreaking.”
A memorial service is planned for the two officers today.
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