Coroner IDs fallen HANO officer

Coroner IDs fallen HANO officer

The search continues for one or more gunmen responsible for the first murder in the history of the HANO police force.

The 45-year-old officer, now identified as James Bennet Jr., was found shot to death in his patrol car while working an off-duty detail in a desolate part of Central City at Freret and Erato streets.

"We're devastated. We had prayer yesterday for the family, and we continue to pray," said Rev. Willie Gable with Progressive Baptist Church.

The officer, patrolling a shutdown HANO construction site, was riding solo in his patrol car Sunday morning when someone apparently shot him, shattering the car window.

"Our members come in for Sunday school, we see all this," Gable said.

It's not known if the suspect was inside or outside the car, which rolled to a stop after the gunfire.

"We don't want to speculate. There's glass in and out of the car. Our crime lab is investigating," said NOPD Supt Michael Harrison.

"The first thing I thought of, he must have been by himself," said Jessie Smallwood, the former head of HANO.

Neighbors say it's not uncommon to see HANO officers patrolling by themselves, especially at night.

"It's very dark down on that end. At night it's one security [officer], but during the day they got a lot running around," said Central City resident Frederika Singleton.

Smallwood said during her tenure, HANO cops never worked alone.

"The concern of a person being overcome from the back or the front was high, and it still should be," she said.

HANO officials wouldn't comment on policy, but current HANO Director Gregg Fortner issued a statement saying that HANO mourns the loss and is increasing patrol coverage in the area.

Security at the construction site had been handled by the contractor, Parkcrest Builder of Houston, until two months ago. That's when HANO terminated its contract and took it over.

HANO spokeswoman Lesley Thomas said Parkcrest's contract was cancelled on March 31 after it failed to complete a single unit on time under its contract.

"We were disappointed when we heard the project was languishing," Gable said.

As someone who's made a difference in Central City, Gable wants answers.

"We've put the word out in the community if they know anything, come to the church and tell us," Gable said.

For now, police haven't given a suspect description and are not reporting anything new in their investigation.

If you know anything that could help solve this case, call Crimestoppers at (504) 822 1111.

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