Black Former NFL Player Killed in Road Rage Incident, White Shooter Let Go

UPDATE Dec. 6, 2016 1:35 p.m. ET

Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand announced Tuesday in a fiery press conference that54-year-old Ronald Gasser, accused ofshooting and killing ex-NFL running back Joe McKnight, was arrested late Monday and faces manslaughter charges. Gasser’s bond was listed at $500,000.

Related Story: Joe McKnight Case: Shooter Arrested, Sheriff Lashes Out at Critics, Black Community

Original Story Published Dec. 5, 2016

The Jefferson Parish Sheriff Office responds to backlash from social media users saying Joe McKnight’s assailant was released because he is white.

By Sheryl Estrada

Joe N. McKnight Jr.

Ronald Gasser, a 54-year-old white man, shot and killed unarmedformer National Football League player and Louisiana native Joe N. McKnight Jr. on Thursday in Terrytown, La. Gasser “discharged three rounds from a .40 caliber semiautomatic handgun.”

Police received a 911 call at 2:43 p.m. Thursday reporting a shooting near the traffic intersection of Behrman Highway and Holmes Road. Gasser remained on the scene, was taken into custody, questioned by homicide detectives,admitted to shooting McKnight,and then released as the investigation continues.

According to theJefferson Parish Sheriff Office’s (JPSO)news release, McKnight, 28, was on the pavement at the rear of the two vehicles where CPR was being administered by a civilian witness and a JPSO patrol officer. McKnight was pronounced dead on the scene.

Ronald Gasser

“Ronald Gasser, discharged three rounds from a .40 caliber semiautomatic handgun from the driver’s seat of the blue Infinity through the open passenger window,”according to the JPSO statement. “These rounds struck the decedent, who had previously exited the gray Audi Q7 and was positioned at the passenger window of the Infinity. Preliminary accounts by witnesses and the shooter suggested these events represented the culmination of a road rage incident.”

During his five-year career as a running back in the NFL McKnight, played for the New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs. His last season in the league was in 2014, and he had since played as a running back for the Canadian Football League’s Saskatchewan Roughriders.

‘I’ve been accused of dropping the ball’

Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand began apress conferenceon Friday afternoon in a defensive manner.

“This investigation is not going to be moved, influenced, coerced, changed, in any way, by any external force, comments or otherwise,” he said. “I can’t control what’s on the social networks, and if we want to continue to be silly, that’s fine. What I can control is when people in this community decide to demonstrate that they do so peacefully.”

Normand gave a warning if ordinances and laws are not followed:

“If those ordinances and laws are not abided by, they will be arrested an put in jail.”

He also addressed letting Gasser go:

“I’ve been accused of dropping the ball because we released Mr. Gasser last evening, after we took his statement. As I said before, external influences will not motivate this office one way or the other as to how we are going to conduct this investigation.”

Normand said the department would not reveal any details about the investigation at this time. An autopsy on McKnight has been completed. There is no video available of the incident.

The sheriff’s office also issued a news release on Friday that said Gasser was involved in an incident on Feb. 20, 2006, resulting in a misdemeanor summons for simple battery. A man said Gasser attacked him at a service station, at the same intersection where he shot McKnight in Terrytown, striking him with a closed fist several times. The charge was dismissed, but will again be reviewed.

“We will continue to research this matter in order to determine the reason for the dismissal,” thesheriff’s office stated. “Once we are able to determine same, we will report the outcome of our review.”

The demographics ofJefferson Parish, La. is 66.1 percent white, 27.3 percent Black, 14.2 percent Latino, 4.2 percent Asian, .6 percent Native American.

Gasser and Hayes

“We think a black man was lynched yesterday,” Morris Reed, the president of the New Orleans branch of the N.A.A.C.P., said at a news conference on Friday. “We are demanding some answers.”

Many on social media are comparing the deaths of McKnight and Will Smith, a former NFL player and New Orleans Saints Pro-Bowler, noting that Gasser should have been arrested like the man who killed Smith. This is an image that is being widely shared:

Almost eight months ago, New Orleans Police Department immediately arrested Cardell Hayes, who is Black, when he shot and killed Smith, during an incident of road rage.

On April 9 in New Orleans, a Hummer driven by Hayes struck the rear of Smith’s Mercedes SUV and caused it to crash into another vehicle, police said. The two men got out of their cars and exchanged words before Hayes drew a weapon and fired multiple shots. Smith, 34, was pronounced dead on the scene. His wife, who was present, survived. She was shot twice in the leg.

Hayes has pleaded not guilty to charges including attempted murder and second-degree murder.

Gasser and Zimmerman

Gasser being released without charges after killing a Black male, is reminiscent of George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch captain in Sanford, Fla., released by authorities after he killed unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin on Feb. 26, 2012. The death of Martin was a catalyst of the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

During five hours of questioning, Zimmerman said he shot Martin, claiming it was self-defense. He was then free to go. The night of the shooting, Zimmerman disregarded the instructions of the 911-dispatch representative to not to get out of his SUV or approach the “suspicious” person.

Related Story: Is Trayvon Today’s Emmett Till

The following day, detectives re-enacted the shooting with Zimmerman at the scene. It was also discovered he had two prior arrests: one for assaulting a police officer, the other for domestic abuse.

Zimmermanwas eventually charged in Martin’s death. But in July 2013, a jury acquitted him of second-degree murder and manslaughter.

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