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La. murder suspect who escaped after pepper spraying deputy, stealing cruiser recaptured at hotel

Investigators are still trying to determine how the suspect obtained pepper spray; the deputy was in possession of her department-issued pepper spray, stun gun and service weapon after the escape

By Michelle Hunter and Gabriella Killett
The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate

NEW ORLEANS —Leon Ruffin, the murder suspect who escaped from custody two days ago by pepper spraying a Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office deputy and stealing a marked patrol unit, was rearrested Tuesday at a hotel in New Orleans East, according to Jefferson Parish Sheriff Joseph Lopinto.

“Mission accomplished,” said Lopinto, who hinted additional arrests of possible accomplices will follow. “Certainly [Ruffin had] some type of assistance during the last two days.”

Earlier Tuesday the sheriff released surveillance footage of the escape and roundly defended the deputy’s actions, calling Ruffin an “animal” and suggesting that critics of how the incident was handled apply for jobs on the force themselves.

Escape on video

Ruffin, 51, of Algiers, had been held at the Jefferson Parish Correctional Center in Gretna since his July 21 arrest in the shooting death of his longtime friend, Gannon Johnson, 53. He was awaiting trial on charges including second-degree murder. Ruffin pleaded not guilty to the homicide.

He reportedly suffered a seizure Sunday afternoon while at the jail and was taken to Ochsner Medical Center West Bank. He was not handcuffed or shackled during the trip because he was in a wheelchair with an orthopedic boot and wearing an arm sling, Lopinto said.

Sheriff’s investigators, however, suspect Ruffin was purposely faking the injuries.

“I think that’s a ruse,” the sheriff said. “Unfortunately, he gamed the system in order to be able to take advantage of the situation.”

In surveillance video recorded by the hospital, the deputy can be seen stopping her patrol vehicle just before 7 p.m. after Ruffin created a disturbance on the back seat of the unit, Lopinto said.

When the deputy opened the back door, Ruffin, who had already removed his boot, pepper sprayed her and then shuffled to the driver’s seat as she scrambled backwards, firing three shots, according to Lopinto.

On the night of the escape, authorities weren’t sure whether he had been hit. But sheriff’s officials confirmed Tuesday that Ruffin was not shot in the skirmish.

The deputy could have ignored Ruffin’s screams for help, Lopinto said. But she decided to act with compassion.

“This animal took control of situation and took advantage of her trying to be a nice person and trying do a good job,” Lopinto said.

Massive manhunt

More than 200 law enforcement officers from several law enforcement agencies including the sheriff’s office, State Police, the U.S. Marshals Service and the FBI mobilized after the escape to search for Ruffin, Lopinto said.

The sheriff’s office quickly disabled the radio inside the deputy’s vehicle to prevent Ruffin from using it to evade authorities.

The patrol unit was recovered in Algiers within about 3 hours, Lopinto said. Investigators still are still trying to determine how Ruffin obtained the pepper spray.

The deputy still had possession of her department-issued pepper spray, stun gun and service weapon after the escape, authorities said.

Investigators tracked Ruffin an unnamed hotel in New Orleans. Authorities believe he’d been there during most of the time he was on the run, Lopinto said.

Ruffin was taken into custody by the NOPD Violent Offender Warrant Squad and the U.S. Marshals Service. Authorities were executing search warrants at the hotel as of Tuesday evening.

He was booked into the Orleans Parish Justice Center at 3 p.m. on a warrant obtained by the Sheriff’s office, according to jail records.

Once back in Jefferson Parish, he will face several new charges, including aggravated battery of a police officer, disarming of a police officer, aggravated escape and theft of a motor vehicle, Lopinto said.


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