Sheriff's deputies examine a car with bullet holes at a crime scene… (Gerald Herbert / Associated…)
Authorities are investigating whether some of the seven people arrested in a shootout that killed two Louisiana deputies may have ties to extremist anti-government movements, law enforcement officials told the Los Angeles Times.
Deputies had been conducting surveillance on several of the suspects for more than two months and considered them armed and dangerous, DeSoto Parish Sheriff Rodney Arbuckle said in an interview with The Times.
Their surveillance led them to believe that several of those under watch held anti-government beliefs and were heavily armed, Arbuckle said.
Seven people have been arrested and charged in connection with the Thursday morning shootout about 25 miles west of New Orleans. In what authorities described as an ambush attack, a man armed with an assault rifle opened fire on deputies who were investigating an earlier unprovoked attack in which another deputy was shot and injured.
Authorities arrested Terry Smith, 44, who was described as the leader of the group. Also arrested were his wife, Chanel Skains, 37; his son Derrick Smith, 22; and his son Brian Smith, 24. Authorities also arrested Bryan Smith’s girlfriend, Brittney Keith; Kyle Joekel, 28; and the woman living with Joekel, Teniecha Bright, 21.
The seven have been charged in connection with the shooting of Deputy Michael Boyington, who survived. Murder charges are pending, the Associated Press reported, in the deaths of Deputies Jeremy Triche and Brandon Nielsen. Deputy Jason Triche was wounded.
All were arrested after Boyington was shot at the entrance of a parking lot used by workers at an oil refinery in St. John the Baptist Parish, the Associated Press reported. Boyington was off duty and working as a security guard there. The other deputies were shot at a trailer park in LaPlace, a nearby suburb, after the car that had been linked to Boyington’s shooting was spotted.
The surveillance of the group began more than two months ago, Arbuckle said, after the robbery of an RV park laundromat. Terry Smith and his family -- who traveled from parish to parish taking odd jobs -- were living in the RV park and working at an International Paper plant nearby.
DeSoto sheriff’s deputies questioned Terry Smith’s son-in-law about the robbery, Sgt. Adam Ewing said. He told authorities that the group of men and women living in the trailer park were armed with AK-47s.
“He told me, ‘They’ve got a lot of ammunition and firearms and they don’t like the law,’” Ewing said in an interview with The Times. "And that’s true. They are a hostile, maybe militant group that is looking for any reason to start a fight.”
The department found several suspects had outstanding warrants in Nebraska, Tennessee and Louisiana, Ewing said. The Gage County, Neb., sheriff described Joekel as one of its most-wanted fugitives for allegedly making “terroristic threats” to law enforcement and people inside a bar there.
Authorities believe Joekel may also have ties to an anti-government group known as "Posse Comitatus" that doesn’t recognize any authority above the level of county sheriff.
The phrase means “power of the country,” according to the Anti-Defamation League. The ADL labels the group as “loosely affiliated bands of armed anti-tax and anti-federal government vigilantes and survivalists.”
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