ABOVE PHOTO: Officer Liquori Tate and Officer Benjamin Deen (Hattiesburg Police Department via AP)
By Jay Reeves
HATTIESBURG, Miss. — With lowered flags and prayers, a southern Mississippi city is mourning two police officers, while the four people arrested after their shooting deaths await an initial court appearance Monday.
Red roses decorated a chain-link fence Sunday near the spot where officers Benjamin Deen and Liquori Tate were killed, and worshippers remembered the men in a small brick church just a few dozen yards from the scene.
“It’s sad. It’s just a tragedy,” Dorothy Thompson said outside New Hope Baptist Church after a Mother’s Day service that included prayers for the officers and their families.
Nearby, bloodstains still marked the asphalt where gunfire erupted Saturday night during what authorities described as a routine traffic stop gone awry.
A memorial event was scheduled for the men at the city convention center Monday afternoon.
Also Monday, an initial court appearance was set in Forrest County for Marvin Banks, 29, and Joanie Calloway, 22, who were each charged with two counts of capital murder.
Banks’ 26-year-old brother, Curtis Banks, was charged with two counts of being an accessory to murder after the fact, and 28-year-old Cornelius Clark was arrested on a charge of obstruction of justice.
A preliminary investigation indicated Deen had pulled over a vehicle for speeding and then called for backup, which is when Tate arrived. Gunshots erupted in the road near the Hattiesburg Housing Authority office.
Warren Strain, a spokesman for the Mississippi Department of Public Safety, said it was too early to say who shot the officers or how many shots were fired, and it wasn’t clear what prompted the gunfire.
Strain said Marvin Banks also was charged with one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm and with grand theft for fleeing in squad car after the shooting.
“He didn’t get very far, three or four blocks, and then he ditched that vehicle,” Strain said.
Married and the father of two, Deen, 34, is a former “Officer of the Year” in Hattiesburg. Tate, 25, graduated from the police academy last year.
In a statement, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant said the officers’ deaths “should remind us to thank all law enforcement for their unwavering service.”
“May God keep them all in the hollow of his hand,” he said.
The U.S. flag flew at half-staff outside the Hattiesburg Police Department after the shootings, and red roses placed on a concrete sign wilted in the afternoon sun.
For many in the community, the first death of an officer in three decades while on duty was a shock. The pain hit particularly close to home for Erica Sherrill Owens, whose mother, Sgt. Jackie Dole Sherrill, was killed in 1984 while trying to serve a warrant on a suspect.
“Then when I heard one of the names, my heart just sank because I went to high school with him,” Owens said, who had gone to Sumrall High School with Deen and graduated a year after him in 1999.
“We were great friends in high school. He married his high school sweetheart and he’s got two kids and a great family,” she said. “It’s just heartbreaking.”
Tate grew up in Starkville, 150 miles north of Hattiesburg. Strain said he was a 2014 graduate of the law enforcement academy.
He was known to his friends as “CoCo,” said his stepfather, B. Lonnie Ross of Jackson, adding that Tate was 12 when they met and already wanted to be a policeman.
“He was the most respectful young man you would meet. It was a pleasure to meet someone so gentle and nice,” Ross said. “Everybody who met him liked him.”
Jarvis Thompson, who knew Tate from childhood, said he wanted to be a policeman to make a difference in the black community.
“He wanted to become an officer because we’ve seen so much of our peers get killed or end up in jail,” said Thompson, 24, of Starkville. “He was talking all the time about how he wanted to do better and make the place better.”
Alberta Harris, who heads the Briarfield Neighborhood Association near the shooting site, said she both of the officers were humble.
“They cared about the people that they were serving and protecting,” she said.