HARVEY, Louisiana — The man who gunned down former NFL running back Joe McKnight in a road rage incident last week has been charged with manslaughter.
The arrest late Monday of Ronald Gasser came four days after the shooting, and after he had initially been released. The delay had touched off allegations online of racial bias and that the Jefferson Parish Sheriff was dragging his feet. Gasser is white and McKnight is black.
But Sheriff Newell Normand insisted the delay was driven by the need to allow investigators to speak to as many witnesses as possible and gather enough evidence to deliver the strongest case to prosecutors.
“This isn’t about race,” he said. “Not a single witness to this day said there was one racial slur uttered during the course of these events. Unfortunately, a life was lost. But you want you know something, folks? Two people engaged in bad behavior that day. Why? I don’t know.”
Gasser, 54, was held on $500,000 bond.
Normand said the deadly encounter began when McKnight — who appeared to have been driving erratically — cut Gasser off as they drove over a bridge. That enraged Gasser who told police he “set out after Mr. McKnight,” with the two engaging in a running game of cat and mouse over several blocks, weaving around cars and screaming at each other from their cars.
When the two stopped at a red light, McKnight got out of his Audi Q7 SUV and approached Gasser’s Infiniti G37 from the passenger side.The two exchanged more words, and Gasser pulled out a gun and shot McKnight three times, killing him, Normand said.
He said Gasser’ told police he acted out of fear of McKnight’s “threatening statements.”
“That’s why on Thursday evening, only faced with, and only having Mr. Gasser’s statement, that we thought it best that an arrest not be made for strategic reasons, until we could get other witnesses,” Normand said.
He said the delay in making the arrest was part of an effort to make sure that investigators could interviews witnesses who hadn’t been tainted.
“The Stand Your Ground law gives us an obligation to get it right,” Normand said. “For those who have criticized us – tough, I don’t care. I can put my head on my pillow at night knowing I did the right thing.”
He leveled particular criticism at a witness who falsely told a local newspaper that Gasser had gotten out of his car and opened fire at McKnight as he tried to apologize and then stood over his body and screamed,“I told you don’t you f— with me,” and then fired again.
“Shame on that individual,” he said.
Normand revealed for the first time that McKnight had a gun in the car he was driving, but that it belonged to his stepfather and he never displayed and that Gasser was not aware it was there.
In 2006, Gasser was involved in a road rage incident at the same intersection in which he struck another motorist several times. He was charged with battery but the charges were later dropped.
McKnight was selected in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL draft by the New York Jets. He played for the Jets and Kansas City Chiefs, both as a running back and kick returner. McKnight, 28, most recently played for the Edmonton Eskimos and Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League.