Omaha, NE – An Omaha police officer was shot four times in the face and the top of his head while speaking with a shoplifting suspect inside a J.C. Penney store security office on Friday afternoon.
The incident began at 3:27 p.m., when Omaha Police Department (OPD) Officer Jeffrey Wittstruck and Officer Joseph Kunza were dispatched to the Westroads Mall on California Street for a report of a shoplifting at the J.C. Penney store, the Omaha World-Herald reported.
The suspect, 21-year-old Kenya Lamont Jenkins, allegedly stuffed a package of T-shirts into his backpack and left the business without paying for the merchandise, according to police.
Jenkins was detained by store security officers and taken to the store’s security office to wait for the OPD, the Omaha World-Herald reported.
When Officer Wittstruck arrived at the office, he discovered Jenkins had given the store security officers a fake name, police said.
Jenkins was neither “forthcoming or cooperative” while the officer attempted to speak with him, according to the OPD.
Officer Wittstruck ultimately asked the suspect to remove his backpack, at which point Jenkins allegedly rose to his feet and stuffed his right hand into his sweatshirt, the Omaha World-Herald reported.
The officer repeatedly ordered Jenkins to show his hands, but he refused, police said.
Officer Wittstruck then told the suspect he was under arrest and began trying to place him in handcuffs, but Jenkins shoved him away, according to the OPD.
“A brief struggle ensued and Officer Wittstruck drew his Taser,” the department said, according to the Omaha World-Herald. “Jenkins refused all directives and placed his right hand back in his sweatshirt pocket.”
Officer Wittstruck deployed his Taser, but it was ineffective against the violent suspect, police said.
During the physical altercation that ensued, Jenkins allegedly pulled a gun out of his sweatshirt and fired four rounds at Officer Wittstruck, hitting him in his face and the top of his head, the Omaha World-Herald reported.
The wounded officer collapsed to the ground, having never even drawn his duty weapon, police said.
The entire incident was captured by Officer Wittstruck’s bodycam, according to the OPD.
Jenkins fled the scene prior to Officer Kunza’s arrival, but mall surveillance cameras showed him driving out of the parking lot in a white BMW, the Omaha World-Herald reported.
“Help. I’m down. I need help. I’m in the loss prevention office. I believe I’ve been shot,” Officer Wittstruck calmly said over the radio after the shooting, according to KETV.
Officer Kunza, who graduated from the law enforcement academy alongside Officer Wittstruck in 2017, arrived at the security office to discover his fellow officer had been shot and immediately radioed for help, the Omaha World-Herald reported.
Store employees helped him render aid to Officer Wittstruck while they waited for emergency medical personnel, according to KETV.
Additional OPD officers and Nebraska State Patrol (NSP) troopers raced to the scene, blocking off parking lots and streets around the mall, the Omaha World-Herald reported.
A police helicopter circled the scene overhead.
Our Troopers are assisting @OmahaPolice searching for a suspect who shot an officer this afternoon at Westroads Mall. If anyone has any information call the Omaha Police Department. pic.twitter.com/zMTkKBST8M
— NSP_TroopANightShift 🇺🇸 (@NSPTroopANights) March 12, 2021
“You never want to hear those calls come out,” OPD Deputy Chief Ken Kanger told KETV. “Everything stops and everyone goes to work to make sure the officer is safe and we get the individual off the streets as fast as possible. There was some tremendous collaboration that went on on Friday.”
The critically-wounded officer was rushed to a local hospital, where he underwent surgery, OPD Lieutenant Sherie Thomas told the Omaha World-Herald on Friday night.
NSP troopers spotted Jenkins’ vehicle at a gas station near Interstate 80 just before 5:30 p.m., but the suspect sped off before the officers could conduct a “high-risk traffic stop,” NSP Captain Matt Sutter told the Omaha World-Herald.
Jenkins fled from troopers at speeds of up to 145 miles per hour, weaving in and out of traffic, police told the Omaha World-Herald.
“He was passing on the shoulder. He was making some unsafe lane changes,” Capt. Sutter said. “We believe that because of the danger that the individual presented to the public, it was worth it to continue the pursuit and try to stop the car safely.”
Jenkins’ tires were deflated after he ran over a set of stop sticks, and he eventually exited the interstate near Waverly, the Omaha World-Herald reported.
He then headed west on U.S. Highway 6 before turning onto a field road and becoming high-centered on the railroad tracks, Capt. Sutter said.
The suspect ultimately surrendered without further incident and was taken into custody at 5:42 p.m., the Omaha World-Herald reported.
He was carrying a Taurus .380 when he was arrested, according to police.
This community never ceases to amaze me. I’ve been contacted & asked how people can help Ofc Wittstruck & his family. There is an account set up if you are so inclined. Thank you for the thoughts & prayers. #OPD https://t.co/x7wp5f5mPr via @OPDDCKanger
— Omaha Police Dept (@OmahaPolice) March 14, 2021
Jenkins, who has a history of escape and resisting arrest, was treated for a minor leg injury at the OPD headquarters, the Omaha World-Herald reported.
He has since been booked into the Douglas County jail on suspicion of attempted first-degree murder and use of a gun to commit a felony.
Officer Wittstruck was listed in stable condition on Saturday afternoon and is expected to recover from his wounds, according to the OPD.
“Omaha police officers answer 911 calls over and over again throughout the day to keep Omaha safe,” Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer said in a statement, according to the Omaha World-Herald. “It is important to remember the dangers officers put themselves in on each and every call; calls that must be answered because someone was in need.”
“Our prayers are with Officer Wittstruck and his family for a full recovery,” Chief Schmaderer continued. “On behalf of all Omaha police officers, thank you for the showing of support and concern.”
A fundraising campaign established to help the wounded officer and his family has raised over $37,000 so far.