BALLWIN • A Ballwin police officer was in critical condition after he was shot in the neck during a traffic stop late Friday morning, police said.
The officer had stopped the car for speeding on northbound New Ballwin Road about 11 a.m., police said. As the officer went back to his car, the driver got out, “advanced quickly” and fired three shots at the officer, police said.
Said St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar: “Make no mistake, we believe that Ballwin officer was ambushed.”
St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch agreed.
“It was clearly an ambush, an attack,” he said. “There was no confrontation, no argument, no nothing.”
He also said it appeared that one of the shots might have been fired after the officer fell.
The gunman fled north on New Ballwin Road and was captured in Manchester several miles northeast of the shooting scene, after jumping out of the car and running, police said.
A semi-automatic handgun was recovered, according to St. Louis County Police, who are handling the investigation.
Police did not identify the officer.
The suspect, identified as Antonio Taylor, 31, of the 1200 block of Tower Grove Avenue in St. Louis, was charged with first-degree assault of a law enforcement officer, armed criminal action and unlawful possession of a weapon. Bail was set at $500,000.
Court documents said Taylor used a .22-caliber gun to shoot the officer. Authorities say he has a lengthy criminal history.
Police had no information about a motive.
The officer was taken to Mercy Hospital St. Louis, in Creve Coeur, where he was in critical but stable condition, “fighting for his life,” Ballwin police Chief Kevin Scott said at a press conference Friday afternoon.
“Today my heart aches for the men and women of the Ballwin Police Department and the entire law enforcement family,” Scott said.
Scott said this was a “devastating time for us emotionally.”
“Emotionally, our relationship with this officer and the fact that it was one of ours is very, very difficult to deal with,” Scott said.
The shooting happened within blocks of three schools: Woerther Elementary, Selvidge Middle School and Holy Infant Catholic Church and school. Single-story residential homes line one side of New Ballwin Road, and a small pond sits to the west of the road where the shooting took place.
Ballwin, with a population of about 30,000, is in west St. Louis County, along Manchester Road, west of Highway 141.
“We are inherently focused on safety,” Scott said. “Whether we have the title of one of the safest cities in America, it doesn’t make us immune to this happening.”
St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger called it a “tragic act.”
“We want (police) to know we appreciate work they do and risk they take every day,” he said. “We stand by those who have stood by us during difficult times like this.”
Belmar, the St. Louis County chief, said his department had gone to 12-hour workdays through the weekend as a result of a heightened sense of alert after all that has happened nationally and now locally.
“We need somebody out there to meet us halfway, because it is very difficult for police officers to do their jobs now,” Belmar said. “At some point, we need to tone down the rhetoric.”
A traffic stop, then shots
The officer had radioed in that he was stopping a car about 11 a.m., police said. Then 911 dispatchers began getting reports of an officer shot.
A woman living in the 300 block of New Ballwin Road, near the scene of the shooting, said she heard two gunshots and ran out her front door to see what happened. After seeing the wounded officer, she grabbed a towel to put on his neck to try to stop the bleeding.
“I tried to help the officer,” the witness said. “I just hope he’s OK.”
She said she wasn’t trained as a nurse or first responder. “I’m just a mom,” she said.
She said her friend called 911 while a nurse showed up from somewhere and performed CPR.
Other residents living near the scene of the shooting said they had heard gunshots but didn’t know what they were at first.
“I thought it was kids or firecrackers or something,” said a resident on the street. “I’m looking outside at many, many police officers. They all need our prayers.”
A camera in the police car caught the shooting on video, Scott said. He urged anyone else with any video of the incident to call police.
McCulloch said that police work was 99 percent routine and that “there’s no way to predict that something like this is going to happen.”
“This certainly illustrates just how dangerous the job can be,” said the prosecutor, whose own father was a St. Louis police officer slain in the line of duty about 50 years ago.
Suspect tackled, arrested
The suspect was arrested in the area of Burgundy Lane in Manchester, several miles from the shooting scene on New Ballwin Road.
An older-model blue Ford Taurus with an Illinois temporary license plate, believed to be the car the gunman used, was found in that area, where it had knocked down a mailbox post. The suspect was captured nearby after a foot chase.
A landlord from Phoenix, Danny Luster, was doing work on a home he owns at Valley View Drive and Lenjer Drive in Manchester when he saw the suspect run behind some houses. He said pursuing police had tackled the man and subdued him with a Taser.
He said he had overheard police say they had found one gun but were looking for another.
Luster said the arrest had been made in the backyard of Liz Lavin’s nearby home, in the 700 block of Valley View.
Lavin said she was watching CNN coverage of the Dallas police killings when she heard her kitchen door open and close, causing her dog to bark furiously. She said she initially thought it was her boyfriend, and within seconds saw police swarm her backyard.
She heard an officer shout, “We found the weapon!”
Lavin said she never saw the suspect and had no idea who had opened the door. She said police had checked inside her house, kept part of her yard roped off into Friday afternoon and searched nearby woods.
At Friday afternoon’s press conference, police said they weren’t sure whether the suspect had tried to enter Lavin’s home or if that could have been an officer checking the area.
Taylor spent roughly two-thirds of the past decade behind bars, according to available court records.
In 2006, Taylor was charged and convicted in Beckham County, Okla., on charges of second-degree robbery and unauthorized use of a vehicle, online records from the Oklahoma Department of Corrections say. He was sentenced to five years in prison and released on Jan. 29, 2009.
In July of that year, Taylor was back behind bars after St. Louis prosecutors charged him with unlawful possession of a firearm for a July 7 incident.
He pleaded guilty, but his prison sentence was suspended and he was placed on probation by St. Louis Circuit Judge Michael Mullen, online court records show. Mullen also ordered him to have mental health and substance abuse evaluations.
On June 14, 2010, St. Louis police tried to arrest Taylor for tampering, charging documents show. He fled and was arrested, triggering federal and state charges.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Mehan, who prosecuted the federal case, said Taylor had been caught with a gun in a car that had been carjacked the day before.
When he pleaded guilty to the federal charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm, Taylor admitted running when stopped by police and discarding a handgun.
U.S. District Judge Jean Hamilton sentenced him on Jan. 14, 2011, to 30 months in prison.
He received a two-year sentence in St. Louis Circuit Court for a gun charge and resisting arrest, to run concurrently with the federal sentence.
In early June 2013, after Taylor left prison and was put on supervised release, he wrote a letter to U.S. District Judge Jean Hamilton asking her to end his supervised release early. Taylor wrote that he wanted to pursue an acting career. He said he had been working, had been free of violations and had not failed any drug tests.
But in a June 27 report, his probation officer said that Taylor had repeatedly failed to show up for those drug tests, failed to report to the probation office, left eastern Missouri without permission and had been accused of assaulting his girlfriend when she refused sex.
She also said that Taylor had contact with the police in Los Angeles on June 20, 2013.
In that incident, Mehan said Taylor had been a passenger in a car that was stopped for not having license plates. Taylor became extremely agitated after the stop, screaming and waving his hands. After he was arrested, police found a loaded 9 mm pistol, Mehan said.
In April 2014, Taylor admitted violating his supervised release, and Hamilton sentenced him to 15 more months in prison.
He was released in March 2015.
Officer cautious, careful
Ballwin Alderman Raymond Kerlogan, of Ward 4, said the officer who was shot had taken him on a ride-along Tuesday.
“I spent about four hours with him,” Kerlogan said. “Just watching him, how cautious he was.”
Kerlogan said he remained in the police car when the officer stopped someone and checked the person’s drivers license. He recalled the officer being “very conscious” of safety when approaching the vehicle.
Kerlogan called the officer “caring” and a “great guy.”
Ashley Lisenby, Robert Patrick and Natalia Alamdari of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.