$26,000 Reward In Olive Branch Cop Shooting
by By Jamie Mercer/The Tribune
Local citizens and businesses have pledged $25,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction in the shooting of two Olive Branch police officers early last Thursday morning.
The shooting took place in front of Porter Paints on Old Goodman Road after the officers stopped a suspicious vehicle at 4:32 a.m.. The $25,000 will be added to the $1,000 reward offered by DeSoto County Crimestoppers.
The shooting marks the first time in Olive Branch Police Department history that an officer has been shot in the line of duty.
Officers Mark Ayers and Doug Stanek were both shot as they approached the 2005 Chrysler. Ayers was hit twice in the abdomen while Stanek was struck once.
Ayers was taken to the Regional Medical Center at Memphis where he was listed in extremely critical condition. Stanek was listed in stable condition at The Med before being released the next day.
After shooting the two officers, the suspect left the scene and abandoned the car behind the Tribune offices on Goodman Road. The officers were able to fire several shots at the fleeing vehicle, which had been stolen in Memphis.
It is unknown if any of the bullets struck the suspect.
Police thought they had a suspect when a man with gunshot wounds showed up at a Germantown hospital that same morning.
It was determined after further investigation that he had been shot earlier that morning during a domestic dispute.
"Olive Branch is not the little small town any more," said OBPD Major Don Gammage. "We're definitely getting crime bleeding over from Memphis.
"They stopped the vehicle in an area where there have been several burglaries in the past few weeks," he continued. "There's been two burglaries in the last three weeks at Porter Paints."
Stanek, who joined the department on March 21 and graduated from the Police Academy on June 15, is a former paramedic. While waiting on the ambulance, Stanek began performing CPR on Ayers, a former OBPD detective who returned to patrol duty in January because he said he missed the interaction with the public.
The pair was riding together so Ayers, who joined the department in May 2002, could continue Stanek's training.
"Things like this happen so fast," said OBPD Lieutenant Tim Presley. "An officer doesn't know what the driver intends to do whenever he walks up to a car."
Police officials describe the suspect as a male black in his early 30's, standing approximately six feet tall, with a dark complexion and medium build.
On Saturday, officials from throughout the Mid-South gathered to announce the $25,000 reward. Presley called former Memphis Mayor Dick Hackett, who now lives in DeSoto County, and asked him to help coordinate the donation effort because of his long list of contacts.
"Under Mississippi state law Crimestoppers can only offer $1,000," Hackett explained. "I asked how much (Presley) thought we needed to raise and he said $25,000 might get the phone ringing."
DeSoto County Sheriff James Albert Riley, State Senator Merle Flowers and Hackett himself are among those who have already made donations. Hackett said he hasn't been turned down by any individual or business.
Anyone wishing to donate may contact Hackett at (901) 283-4163.
Authorities are searching for anyone who may have picked up a hitchhiker in the early morning hours of June 29. The Olive Branch Police Department can be reached at (662) 895-4111; the DeSoto County Crimestoppers telephone number is (662) 429-TIPS.
Joining with Hackett, Olive Branch Police officials and DeSoto County Sheriff's Department representatives at Saturday's press conference was Shelby County district attorney Bill Gibbons.
"They asked me to come down here and make a plea to the residents of Shelby County," Gibbons said. "We're urging citizens from throughout the area to call - any little bit of information could help.
"Our crime problem is metropolitan," he added. "Criminals don't care about state lines."
Commander David Mitchell of the DCSD agrees with Gibbon's assessment. He said there is no such thing as "turf" when a fellow officer is shot.
"We're here to show our support," Mitchell declared. "We're ready to do whatever is needed to help."
Olive Branch Police Chief Art Heun said that community leaders from throughout the Mid-South have come together to make the $25,000 reward possible.
He's hopeful that the increase in the reward will cause someone with information to come forward.
"Whoever is responsible is still out there," Heun said. "This was a heinous crime - anybody who would shoot two police officers in cold blood wouldn't hesitate to do it again."
Heun and countless members of the Olive Branch Police Department make regular trips to The Med to check on Ayers' condition. According to police officials and family members, the prognosis ranges at times from a full recovery to paralysis from the chest down.
"We're hoping and praying for a full recovery," Heun said. "The doctors are still in the process of assessing his condition; it's basically day-to-day and sometimes hour-to-hour."
To help offset Ayers' mounting medical debt not covered by insurance, the Southern States Police Benevolent Association, in cooperation with the OBPD, has set up an account at area First Tennessee Bank branches in Ayers' name.
"Any amount is appreciated," said Olive Branch Police Sergeant Rob Stuard, who serves as SSPBA vice-president.
According to Heun - who admits he's "cried a lot of tears the last few days" - Ayers is awake and responsive despite his injuries.
During one of Heun's visits the chief was holding the injured officer's hand. Ayers indicated he wanted a note pad so he could communicate with his boss.
"He got the pad and the first thing he wrote was 'sorry,'" Heun said.
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