'Gentle' man accused of using 911 to ambush officer

2016-07-09 16:30
Dallas police officers comfort each other in front of police cars decorated as a public memorial in honour of other officers killed during the shootings. (Gerald Herbert, AP)

Dallas police officers comfort each other in front of police cars decorated as a public memorial in honour of other officers killed during the shootings. (Gerald Herbert, AP)

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Valdosta - US police say a Georgia police officer and his assailant should survive a shootout that began with an ambush only hours after a sniper in Dallas killed five officers and wounded seven more.

Stephen Paul Beck, a 22-year-old recovering drug addict, is accused of calling 911 to lure police to his apartment complex in Valdosta and then opening fire.

Officer Randall Hancock's protective vest took some of the bullets, but he was hit once just below it in the abdomen, said Georgia Bureau of Investigation spokesperson Scott Dutton said.

Body camera

It's been a tense week between white police officers and black civilians. In this case, the suspect is Asian and the officer is white.

Dutton said there's no evidence to support a connection with the shootings in Dallas. Investigators are looking into whether Beck might be angry at police in general, but Dutton said "there's nothing that indicates he's got that type of an issue."

Beck shot Hancock multiple times after making a 911 call about a car break-in outside the Three Oaks Apartments just after 08:00 on Friday, Valdosta Police chief Brian Childress said at a news conference.

Hancock underwent surgery at a local hospital and was stable as he rested with his family by his side, the chief said. The suspect was also considered stable, he said.

The police chief said Hancock had been wearing a body camera and its video footage had been turned over to the GBI.

Friends and neighbours of Beck said they were stunned. He had moved to Valdosta years ago from metro Atlanta to check into a live-in treatment centre for people with chemical dependencies, but several people who knew Beck said he had turned his life around.

"He's one of the kindest, most gentle people - just genuinely so," said Taki Zambaras, who ran the treatment centre.

When Beck arrived at the treatment centre, he was "an angry, insubordinate, very confused kid who wanted to leave every day," Zambaras said, but he worked hard in the kitchen and at maintaining the long clay road leading to its doors.

"He left us in pretty good shape emotionally, physically and spiritually," Zambaras said.

Hearing firecrackers

Residents at the apartment complex where the gunfire erupted on Friday recalled seeing Beck smoke on his balcony or chatting with neighbours.

Darius Sheffield said they recently talked about the NBA finals and current movies. "It doesn't seem like him," he said. "The entire thing is kind of weird."

Steven Bowers, 21, said he thought he was hearing firecrackers until a bullet ripped through the siding of his unit, whizzed by his room-mate's head, bounced off the wall and landed on a bed.

Bowers said he grabbed his own gun and looked outside when the shooting stopped. He saw the officer on the ground, but didn't see beck until he was carried away on a stretcher with blood on his face.

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