Louisiana Man Charged in Fatal Shooting of Two Unarmed Black Men

Image: Kenneth James Gleason is escorted by police to a waiting police car in Baton Rouge
Kenneth James Gleason is escorted by police to a waiting police car in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on Sept. 19, 2017.Gerald Herbert / AP

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
/ Source: Associated Press

BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana officials on Tuesday arrested a 23-year-old white man accused of killing two black men and firing on a black family, and one law enforcement official said they had found a copy of an Adolf Hitler speech in the suspect's home.

The man, Kenneth James Gleason, was led away in handcuffs moments before law enforcement officials announced that he would be charged with first-degree murder in the shooting deaths last week of a homeless man and a dishwasher who was walking to work.

Kenneth James Gleason is escorted by police to a waiting police car in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on Sept. 19, 2017.Gerald Herbert / AP

"I feel confident that this killer would have killed again," the interim police chief, Jonny Dunnam, said.

Authorities found a copy of the Hitler speech during a search of Gleason's home over the weekend, according to one law enforcement official, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing.

Authorities say they are looking into whether race was a motive for the shootings.

"We're looking at all possibilities at this time, so we're not going to just pinpoint that," said Sgt. L'Jean McKneely.

The Morning Rundown

Get a head start on the morning's top stories.

Related: White Suspect Arrested in Killings of Black Men, Police Say Likely 'Racially Motivated'

East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore said his office could seek the death penalty.

"It appears to be cold, calculated, planned (against) people who were unarmed and defenseless," he said. "We don't need to prove motive. There are a lot of things that are unanswered."

No one was injured when Gleason fired multiple times into the home of a black family in his neighborhood, authorities said. It's not clear if Gleason knew the family.

In the other shootings, Gleason fired from his car then walked up to the victims as they were lying on the ground and fired again multiple times, police said. Neither victim had any prior relationship with Gleason.

The first fatal shooting occurred Sept. 12 when 59-year-old Bruce Cofield, who was homeless, was shot to death. The second happened last Thursday night when 49-year-old Donald Smart was gunned down while walking to his job as a dishwasher at a cafe popular with Louisiana State University students.

Related: Man Questioned About Killings of Black Men is Freed From Jail

Police initially arrested Gleason over the weekend on drug charges, but he was bailed out of jail late Sunday even though authorities considered him a "person of interest."

The attacks came at a time when Louisiana's capital already was in the grips of a surge in violence. The number of homicides in East Baton Rouge Parish has already surpassed last year's total of 62, The Advocate newspaper reported earlier this month.

"Baton Rouge has been through a lot of turmoil in the last year. Has there not been a swift conclusion to this case, I feel confident that this killer probably would have killed again," the police chief said. "He could have potentially created a tear in the fabric that holds this community together."

Gleason didn't appear to have any active social media profiles. A spokesman at Louisiana State University said a student by that name attended the university from the fall of 2013 to the fall of 2014 before withdrawing. He had transferred to LSU from Baton Rouge Community College.

During the search of Gleason's home, authorities also found 9 grams of marijuana and vials of human growth hormone, according to a police document.