Omaha, NE – A known gang member, out on federal probation for firearm violations, attempted to murder an Omaha Police Department gang officer during a traffic stop on Tuesday afternoon, police said.
Officer Kenneth Fortune, 42, was shot at point-blank range during the encounter with John Ezell Jr, the Omaha Police Department said in a press release.
His fellow officers then opened fire on Ezell, 36, causing non-life threatening injuries.
The incident began at approximately 3:54 p.m., when Officer Fortune and two other Omaha Police Gang Unit officers initiated a traffic stop on a vehicle being driven by 28-year-old Brandon Richey.
Richey pulled over briefly, but took off again as the officers approached his vehicle, and led them on a pursuit along a bustling commercial route in north Omaha, the Omaha World-Herald reported.
When Richey stopped for a red light at 30th Street and Laurel Street, Officer Fortune jumped out of the passenger seat of the patrol vehicle and attempted to deploy Stop Sticks beneath the suspect’s rear tire.
The effort was unsuccessful, and Richey stepped on the gas “for approximately two car lengths” before he stopped again.
“Officer Fortune picked up the Stop Stick and ran to the stopped vehicle and placed it underneath the front passenger tire,” the department said in the press release. “Just as Officer Fortune turned to address the passenger, later identified as John Ezell Jr, the passenger door opened and Ezell pointed a handgun at Officer Fortune.”
“What’s going on?” Ezell asked as he fired his .38 caliber revolver at the officer, according to police.
The round traveled through Officer Fortune’s radio microphone and into his shoulder, knocking him to the ground.
“[Bodycam] footage shows Ezell exit the car and extend his right arm horizontally and fire in the direction of Officer [Jeffrey] Wasmund, who was along the passenger side of the police vehicle. Officer Wasmund was not hit,” the department said in the press release. “As Ezell was shooting at Officer Wasmund, Officers [Christopher] Brown and Wasmund returned fire at Ezell.”
Ezell was hit “multiple times,” and fell to the ground, where he was placed into handcuffs.
His handgun was found approximately three yards away.
Meanwhile, Richey exited his vehicle with his hands raised, and was taken into custody by Officer Fortune.
Richey’s vehicle was still in gear, and rolled approximately 100 yards down 30th Street before it crashed into a tree.
Ezell and Officer Fortune were transported to the University of Nebraska Medical Center by ambulance.
Both are expected to recover from their injuries, and Officer Fortune has been scheduled to undergo surgery, the department said.
The Nebraska State Patrol is assisting with the ongoing investigation, police said.
All three officers’ bodycams were activated at the time of the altercation.
“Body worn camera footage clearly shows the officers’ use of deadly force to be justified,” Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer told the Omaha World-Herald.
Investigators determined that Ezell fired his weapon at least twice during the incident, according to the agency’s press release. Officer Brown discharged five rounds, and Officer Wasmund fired twice.
“Based upon the review of video evidence, 911 audio and available witness statements, the [officers’] use of deadly force was in accordance with their training,” the department said.
Officer Fortune, an 11-year veteran of the force, has served on the department’s gang unit since 2011.
Officer Brown, 38, has been with the specialized unit since 2010, and joined the force 12 years ago.
Officer Wasmund, 38, is a 13-year veteran of the department, and has served with the unit since 2011.
They have each been placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation, as required by department policy.
Ezell served five years in prison for a federal unlawful transport of a firearm conviction, and was released to federal probation in March, the Omaha World-Herald reported.
He also has past convictions for possession of a deadly weapon by a prohibited person and possession of a controlled substance.
When he is released from the hospital, Ezell will be booked into jail on two counts of use of a weapon to commit a felony, possession of a firearm by a prohibited person, and two counts of attempted murder, the department said.
Richey faces charges of felony flight to avoid arrest and accessory to a felony.