A year ago, he was wanted by Nebraska authorities for allegedly making “terroristic threats” to law enforcement.
By Friday, investigators said Kyle Joekel, 28, was one of seven people involved in what was being described as a pair of ambushes on sheriff’s deputies outside of New Orleans. Two deputies were killed and two others wounded before it all came to an end early Thursday morning.
According to a report by the Shreveport Times, investigators in Louisiana had Joekel on their radar for months before the shooting and believed he was part of some sort of “anti-government group.”
A spokesperson for the Louisiana State Police, which is the lead agency in the ambush investigation, declined on Friday to say whether his agency’s investigators believe anti-government views were a motive for the killings. However, Sgt. Len Marie told TPM those questions could lead to something bigger.
“We’ll definitely look into that and it will be part of a much larger investigation outside of the murder investigation,” Marie said. “We just don’t want to rule anything out.”
The previous probe into Joekel was conducted about two months ago by the DeSoto Parish Sheriff’s Office in north Louisiana, according to the Shreveport Times. It began after neighbors apparently saw Joekel and others carrying assault weapons in and out of a trailer. But nothing ever came of it, the newspaper reported, because investigators were unable to get enough evidence for a search warrant or arrests.
Joekel’s run-ins with police were nothing new. He was wanted by authorities in both Nebraska and Kansas since at least August 2011.
The website of the Gage County Sheriff’s Office in Nebraska listed him as a fugitive, saying he fled the area after being involved in a bizarre incident that took place in both states and involved him making “terroristic threats toward law enforcement and other individuals.”
The details of the incident were not immediately clear on Friday afternoon, but the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported that the sheriff of Gage County believed Joekel was part of a group known as Posse Comitatus. The group, which was largely active in the 1970s and 80s, was seen as the precursor to the sovereign citizens movement.
“It just didn’t look right,” Sheriff Millard “Gus” Gustafson told the newspaper. “These guys would be driving around at night, and they’d have weapons on the front seat. If you’re doing that, something’s wrong — you’re either hunting illegally or doing something else.”
Authorities said Joekel and another suspect, Brian Smith, 24, were still in the hospital as of Friday afternoon, having been injured in the shootout with police. Authorities have not released details on their conditions. Five others were arrested and each being held on at least $350,000 bond: Terry Lynn Smith, 44; Derrick Smith, 22; Chanel Melissa Skains, 37; Britney Keith, 23; and Teniecha Teniel Bright, 21. Authorities said Terry Lynn Smith with the father of Brian and Derrick Smith.
Investigators said the first attack happened at about 5 a.m. on Thursday in the parking lot of a Valero refinery in LaPlace, in south Louisiana, just upriver of New Orleans.
St. John the Baptist Parish sheriff’s deputy Michael Scott Boyington approached a car that five of the suspects were in. Authorities said someone from the car shot him. The group then drove away.
A short time later, the suspects were followed to a trailer park in LaPlace. There, police said, deputies arrested one of the suspects and had him in custody when another one sneaked up on them and opened fire. St. John Sheriff Mike Tregre said the suspect used an assault weapon in the attack, but the state police spokesman declined to confirm what types of weapons were recovered in the investigation.
Authorities have not disclosed which suspects were allegedly present at the second incident or who pulled the trigger. Deputies Jeremy Triche and Brandon Nielsen were killed. A fourth deputy, Jason Triche, was wounded.
Nick Martin is an associate editor at TPM in New York City. He came to the site in 2011 as a reporter for TPMMuckraker. Previously, he worked in Arizona, first as a staff reporter for a local newspaper and later as a freelance journalist. He also ran the news blog Heat City. Contact him: nick [at] talkingpointsmemo.com