BATON ROUGE, La. — Sheriff’s deputies in Baton Rouge acted in self-defense and were legally justified in fatally shooting a suicidal man who tried to flee by ramming his car into a deputy’s vehicle, a district attorney announced Thursday.
East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III said his office ruled out any criminal charges against four deputies who fired shots at Travis Stevenson during the Feb. 23 confrontation.
Moore said evidence gathered by Louisiana State Police investigators showed that one of the deputies, Lt. Michael Birdwell, was caught between Stevenson’s accelerating car, a parked car and an apartment building.
Deputies fired 21 shots; Stevenson had seven gunshot wounds and died at the scene, according to Moore. Some of the shots were fired at the car Stevenson was driving in an attempt to immobilize it. An autopsy later found he was under the influence of alcohol, cocaine and marijuana.
Moore called it a “very dangerous, intense situation” for the deputies.
“None of the deputies involved expected this situation to escalate as quickly as it did,” he said. Moore added he met with Stevenson’s relatives Thursday to explain his decision.
Michael Bell, an attorney for Stevenson’s family, said they are disappointed nobody was indicted.
“They have a lot of questions as to why not, but they’re at peace,” Bell said, adding that the family likely will file a wrongful death lawsuit. “We believe it was excessive, the number of shots, the number of participants.”
The deputies were responding to a 911 call from Stevenson’s girlfriend, who said he fled after pepper-spraying her and her daughter. Then he called the girlfriend from the road, and deputies got on the phone. Stevenson told them he was going to jump off a bridge over the Mississippi River because he didn’t want to go back to jail, according to a report prepared by Moore’s office.
And about three minutes before Lt. Birdwell confronted him, Stevenson threatened to kill himself in a text message to his girlfriend, the report said.
The report says Birdwell parked directly behind Stevenson’s Cadillac, approached him on foot and shouted at him to get out of his car.
“Stevenson refused to comply and actively attempted to escape by ramming his vehicle backward into the deputy’s vehicle and rapidly accelerating forward into a metal pole next to the building,” the report says.
A deputy broke the driver’s window on the Cadillac, but Stevenson continued to rapidly accelerate back and forth near where deputies stood as they opened fire, the report adds.
“I guarantee you Lt. Birdwell just wanted him out of the car to speak with him.” Moore said.
The shooting wasn’t captured on videotape, but State Police investigators interviewed several witnesses.
“One witness described what she saw as a deputy fired two shots to protect himself from being run over,” he added.
Investigators recovered two cans of pepper spray from Stevenson’s vehicle, but no other weapons.
“The 6,700-pound vehicle was the weapon in this case,” Moore said.
Stevenson was a 48-year-old black man; all four deputies who fired shots are white.
Moore said Stevenson was a father of four who had a “difficult life.” He was 6 years old when his mother was killed in 1973, not far from where he was fatally shot.
“It’s clear from the family that Travis was severely depressed and had been depressed for many years,” Moore said.
Bell, the family’s attorney, said they don’t believe his mental health history is a “real issue” in the case.
“He still led a productive life,” Bell said.