AP NEWS

Slain police officer was shot from behind, investigator says

May 8, 2019
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Dozens of people bowed their heads to honor fallen Biloxi police officer Robert McKeithen during a prayer vigil on Tuesday, May 7, 2019, outside the police department in Biloxi, Miss. A Biloxi police officer, McKeithen died after being shot multiple times in the parking lot of the Biloxi Police Department, Sunday night. (Justin Mitchell/The Sun Herald via AP)

GULFPORT, Miss. (AP) — A 19-year-old man accused of killing a Mississippi police officer walked up behind him in the police station parking lot and shot him several times in the back, according to a sworn statement filed by a sheriff’s investigator.

The statement is included in court records in the case of Darian (DEHR-uhn) Atkinson of Biloxi, the Sun Herald reported Wednesday. He is charged with capital murder in the death of 57-year-old Biloxi Police Patrolman Robert McKeithen (muh-KEETH-en) on Sunday .

The newspaper reported that a video from outside the Biloxi police station showed Atkinson running through the parking lot after the shooting.

Atkinson was arrested Monday in Wiggins, about 40 miles (65 kilometers) north of the crime scene. He smiled and hummed as he was led into a courtroom Wednesday at the Harrison County Jail in Gulfport, where he made an initial appearance on the capital murder charge.

Atkinson was wearing a knee-length sleeveless vest that the sheriff said is for inmates considered suicide risks. He told Justice Court Judge Brandon Ladner he doesn’t know if he needs a public defender because he hasn’t been able to call his family.

“I got to get on the phone. ... I got to talk to my folks,” said Atkinson, who was in wrist and ankle shackles and wearing a green garment that Harrison County Sheriff Troy Peterson called a “suicide vest.”

Such garments, also called anti-suicide smocks, are designed to be difficult to tear or otherwise fashion into a noose.

Atkinson’s mother, Pamela Broger, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that her son had been having mental health problems in recent months. She said she had to call police to her home because of him.

“There is some truth to that,” Biloxi Police Chief John Miller told reporters Tuesday after a prayer vigil for McKeithen.

Broger also said officers told her they couldn’t do anything because her son hadn’t hurt anyone.

“That’s probably not what was said exactly,” Miller said. He did not elaborate.

Broger declined to comment again Wednesday.

Ladner scheduled a hearing Friday to decide whether Atkinson needs a court-appointed attorney.

Darian Atkinson is being held without bond. A charge of killing a working law enforcement officer, prosecutor, judge or firefighter means the death penalty is possible.

Atkinson’s 21-year-old brother, Davian Atkinson is charged as an accessory after the fact in the killing of McKeithen and also made an initial court appearance Wednesday. The judge said Davian Atkinson is accused of driving his brother to Wiggins and of letting him make phone calls.

Davian Atkinson said he will hire his own lawyer. His bond is set at $500,000. If convicted, Davian Atkinson could face up to 20 years in prison, Harrison County Prosecutor Herman Cox said.

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Associated Press reporter Janet McConnaughey in Biloxi, Mississippi, and researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed to this report.