HARVEY, Louisiana — The gunman who admitted shooting ex-NFL player Joe McKnight in a road rage incident was released after questioning pending further investigation, police said.
Ronald Gasser, 54, was allowed to go free hours after shooting McKnight three times during an altercation on a road just outside of New Orleans. But he has not been cleared, police said.
Police say the two men got into “a heated verbal exchange” at the intersection which led Gasser to pull a gun and shoot three times through the passenger window of his Infinity G37, striking McKnight in the hand, shoulder and chest as he stood in the street outside the car.
Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand said the fight began when someone “recklessly” cut off the other while driving on a bridge nearby which was followed by a chase through the streets, ending in the shooting.
Normand said initial accounts in local media that cited an unnamed witness describing McKnight trying to apologize to Gasser who opening fire and then stood over McKnight and said “I told you don’t you f— with me,” before firing again were untrue.
“None of that is true,” Normand said. “We have no witness account of an apology being made by Mr. McKnight to Mr. Gasser.”
Normand said three shell casings were recovered inside Gasser’s car, suggesting he was inside the vehicle when he fired. And Coroner Gerry Cvitanovich said McKnight’s wounds were not consistent with someone being hit by shots fired from above.
Still, the decision to release Gasser, who is white, as the investigation into the shooting of McKnight, who is black, sparked outrage from the former NFL running back’s teammates and family members.
“We think a black man was lynched yesterday,” said Morris Reed, the president of the New Orleans branch of the N.A.A.C.P. “We are demanding some answers.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” former teammate Damon Harrison, wrote on Twitter. “Shoot in the air and you’re in jail for at least a week. Lord help us all.”
Normand said investigators simply hadn’t gathered enough evidence yet to make a decision on whether to charge Gasser.
“The easiest thing for me would have been to say, ‘Book him Dano,’ but the fact of the matter in trying to flush out all these details and not have rush to judgement, we chose not to do that,” he said. “Everybody wants to make this about race. This isn’t about race.”
He noted that the man that raised McKnight, who was a local high school football star, had once worked as a deputy in the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s office. McKnight played as a running back and return specialist in the NFL for four seasons — three with the New York Jets and one with the Kansas City Chiefs. He then played in the Canadian Football League.
Normand warned that any protesters who strayed outside a designated area outside the sheriff’s office would be arrested.
Gasser, who owns a telecommunications and real estate business, had remained at the scene after the shooting and had handed his .40 caliber handgun over to police when they arrived. Normand said he had cooperated with investigators.
Later in the day, police released details of an earlier road rage incident involving Gasser dating back to 2006, where he was charged with punching another motorist several times after an argument about Gasser driving recklessly. A charge of simple battery was later dismissed and police said they are investigating why that happened.