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War on Wise Street: Aftermath: Overture to Disaster

The tragic events that took the lives of two Alexandria officers were put into motion when one man declared war on the police.

September 01, 2003  |  by Mandy Goodnight

The sequence of events leading to the police fatalities on Feb. 20 began on a cool Wednesday morning, one day prior to the Wise Street shootout.

A routine armed robbery call in the Sonia Quarters, a predominantly lower-income, African-American section of Alexandria, brought Officer Michael Fuller and a shift commander to a vacant lot.

The officers searched the area but were unable to find the victim. The commander pulled away from the scene. Fuller finished his report and was leaving when bullets ripped into his patrol car.

Police say 18 to 20 rounds were shot at Fuller's vehicle. The officer was able to get down low and drive away from the scene. He was not seriously injured.

The ambush began a two-day-long siege on the Alexandria Police Department.

The Alexandria PD's Special Response Team was activated to provide protection for detectives investigating the ambush and as a show of force in the Sonia Quarters, which includes Wise Street.

"We didn't know if the entire police department was being targeted or what was going on," says SRT commander Sgt. Bruce Fairbanks.

Detectives went door-to-door with a heavily armed SRT team member at their sides. "It was tense," Fairbanks says.

SRT team member Chris Wolf says there was a "dire urgency" to find the suspect that shot at Fuller.

Officer Jerrod King agrees. "We knew, at this point, he was a cop's death waiting to happen. I have no doubt that he would have shot the next cop he saw," King says.

The investigation began to point to Anthony Molette as a suspect in the ambush. Molette was wanted by Louisiana Probation and Parole and the Alexandria Police Department.

The 25-year-old was first arrested in 1995 with his most serious charges being attempted first-degree murder, attempted second-degree murder, and second-degree battery charges. Court records show that the murder and assault charges were all dismissed.

As intelligence began to filter in to the department, the situation escalated. Word on the street was Molette planned to "hold court in the street" and was not going back to prison.

"He had declared war on the police," says SRT team member Chris Cooper.

The police decided to serve the state warrant on Molette. That Wednesday, Feb. 19 afternoon, about 3 or 4 p.m., officers went to Molette's home to execute the warrant, but they did not find him or evidence to link him to shooting at Fuller.

Half of the SRT team was sent home while the other half rode two men in a car, providing additional security for the patrol division.

"We wanted to supply our officers with some firepower assistance at a minute's notice," Fairbanks says. "We wanted to avoid a repeat of what happened earlier in the day."

Wolf and King rode together that night. "I wouldn't have been able to sleep that night knowing fellow officers could have been in danger," Wolf says. "It was a very serious situation."

The officers returned home early on the morning of the Feb. 20. By 8 a.m., the team was called to report to the department.

Fairbanks says intelligence pointed them to 2316 Wise Street, a home sharing a fenced lot with another house that was being used as a storage building-the "junk house." The lot was nestled between a church and another home. At its back were more houses. About a block away was an elementary school.

The main house was pink and sat on the front corner of the lot nearest the church. The second house was white and backed up to the rear fence, sitting on the opposite corner of the lot from the pink house. In front of the white house, a mostly empty stretch of about 20 feet separated the pink house from the fence. In that stretch, two abandoned vehicles sat as pillars on both sides of the white house.

Both houses faced the street and could be seen by passing motorists.

Fairbanks said that on Wednesday night intelligence reported Molette was inside the pink house. He was said to be armed but with civilians, including small children.

On Thursday, Surveillance teams were sent to the area to watch for movement. Video and still photos were taken of the property's layout and of any individual who came to or went from the house.

Fairbanks said the photos and intelligence were used to develop a raid plan.

The department received a lot of information that swirled in from the street regarding what was going on. Some of those reports said that Molette was trying to get out of town and had left Wednesday night.

Two women came out of the pink house and were taken into custody. Police were told everyone had gone home the night before and that no one was there. In addition, the women told officers the white house was used as a place to put "junk." They said it had no electricity and that nobody lived in it.

Using all the information gathered, the SRT team developed a plan to search both homes with focus on the pink house.

"Everything pointed to him being in the pink house if he was there at all," Fairbanks says.

Unfortunately for all involved, Molette was waiting for the police inside the 'junk house."

Lessons Learned

Looking back on the events of Feb. 20, Alexandria Police SRT team commander Sgt. Bruce Fairbanks says he tries to stress to other SWAT teams to expect the unexpected.

Since the shooting, Fairbanks and other team members have been speaking with SWAT teams across the nation, sharing what happened to them.

Fairbanks stresses the courage his team showed in the face of unspeakable tragedy. "They maintained their composure and maintained the inner perimeter," he says. "They worked flawlessly."

Even after seeing two officers go down, losing their commander and assistant commander, the team maintained its position until the threat presented by Anthony Molette was eliminated. "It speaks a lot about the men," Fairbanks says.

Team member Chris Wolf says he tries to stress to other teams that "no matter what, never, ever give up."

Part of the quick response during the shootout was due to previous joint training with the Rapides Parish Sheriff's Office and Alexandria's SRT team. The teams had worked together and were familiar with one another.

Sheriff's Office SWAT team commanders Lt. Clay Brister and Lt. Matt Davis say it was important that the teams were close, and the shooting brought them even closer together. "Even being a large agency with a SWAT team of its own, Alexandria needed help and one day we could need help," Davis says. "We know that they have our back when we call for help."

Mandy M. Goodnight is a reporter for Alexandria’s daily newspaper, The Town Talk. She covered the shootout on Wise Street as a breaking news story.

Tags: Gun Battles, Duty Deaths, Alexandria (Va.) PD


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