Evansville Police say the three suspects involved in a shootout with a rival gang member had orders to 'shoot on sight.' The brazen shooting has the department on high alert as officers try to break the cycle of retaliation.
The shooting in the parking lot behind Hammerhead's Sports Bar and Nighclub early Saturday morning left one man with life-threatening injuries and three other men in custody. Evansville Police saw the three gunmen step out of an SUV near Fourth and Locust, walking toward SE 3rd St. According to an affidavit, that's when known 'Wag Block Gang' membersTorrance Mimms, Tony Johnson and Luther Lawton opened fire on Timonthy Rice, a known member of the 'Savage Life' gang. Mimms and Johnson were later arrested after leaving the scene in an SUV, according to police. Officers later arrested Lawton after a brief foot chase.
Evansville Police Sergeant Jason Cullum said the city's typical gang-related violence is confined to the particular house or apartment in which the rival gang-member lives. That wasn't the case on Saturday, Cullum said.
"It could have happened anywhere so that part is alarming," Sgt. Cullum said. "The three suspects had some type of standing order from within their gang that they were to shoot on sight. If they would have encountered him at a shopping center or near a school or anything like that, that same thing could have happened."
The stray bullets hit several cars and neighboring buildings. First Security Bank had several windows shot out as well as bullet holes above the main entrance. All in all, investigators found 22 spent shell casings in the parking lot.
"We haven't seen anything like we saw over the weekend where [the shooting] was outside of a business," Sgt. Cullum said. "There were a lot of people there that had nothing to do with gang activity or affiliated with anybody that was involved."
Records show the victim in Saturday's shooting, Timothy Rice, had been questioned following a shooting in mid-January on Oregon St. Rice was subsequently cited for possession of marijuana, according to records.
Based on other information, Sgt. Cullum said investigators believe Saturday's shooting was just the latest incident in a long cycle of retaliation that could continue. Sgt. Cullum said the department will continue to address the gang issue through surveillance, prevention and, in Saturday's case, being at the right place at the right time.
"There's a very good possibility that had those officers not been there and had not intervened, [Timothy Rice] would have been our first homicide of the year," Sgt. Cullum said. "[The suspects] would have had no reason to stop shooting at him."
The branch manager of First Security Bank tells Eyewitness News that he spent much of the weekend making repairs to the building. Crime scene investigators have also collected surveillance video of the shooting, police said.