Gregory A. Rongey, of Booneville, was convicted of first degree battery of a law enforcement officer Tuesday in Booneville. He was sentenced to 20 years in the Arkansas Department of Corrections with a 15 year enhancement for the use of a firearm to commit the battery.
Rongey, 49, was also convicted of possession of a defaced firearm, the .40 caliber Smith and Wesson pistol with which Booneville Police Chief Al Brown was shot in early in the morning of April 26 of last year.
Testimony in the case was heard by a jury of six men and six women. The jury selected on Jan. 19 was originally comprised of seven men and five women but a one man was excused due to illness and the spot was filled by a female alternate, one of two selected to hear the case.
Defense attorney Ernie Witt had also contracted the flu delaying the testimony from its planned Jan. 22 date until Jan. 30.
The jury was out just 27 minutes before notifying the bailiff they had reached a decision. Deliberation on the recommended sentence for the crime actually took slightly longer, about 32 minutes.
Brown was the final witness called by prosecutors.
He testified he was notified of a 911 call in which a Booneville resident had expressed a desire to die and wished to have law enforcement assist in that endeavor, commonly referred to as suicide by cop.
Brown said Rongey called again while he was at the BPD and that Brown offered to help him by contacting family members for him, but said Rongey refused the offer.
The chief also testified he told Rongey officers had no intention of shooting him and when he asked Rongey why he wanted that to happen, he said Rongey told him, “‘I want to go out in a battle.’”
Brown said he told Rongey if he wanted to have such an incident with a BPD officer he would have to find one.
Afterwards he and officers Dale Sharp and Trey Stokes decided it would be better if the situation ended at that time rather than to take a wait-and-see approach so the three went to the Locust Street apartment address Rongey had provided dispatchers.
At the residence Brown said he and Stokes sneaked around the side of the complex on the end of Rongey’s apartment and Sharp was on the opposite end of the multiplex.
Brown testified he saw Rongey exit the apartment once and walk along the sidewalk but the chief couldn’t tell if he was armed and Rongey made no rash movements.
When Rongey exited the apartment a second time, Brown told the jury, he was carrying a rifle which was pointed at the ground and the chief said he could see Rongey’s right hand but couldn’t tell if he had a weapon in it or not.
With Rongey facing the opposite way, Brown said, he decided it was the safest time to end the situation and proceeded to tackle Rongey.
“When I lunged at him he was at about a 90 degree angle and I made contract with his left shoulder and when I made contact I heard a shot and felt the bullet hit me,” said Brown. “When we went to the ground I felt my should er go out of place.”
Brown said Stokes arrived from behind and tossed the rifle away and a female at the residence pointed out the presence of the pistol beside Rongey’s foot. The chief also said he held Rongey’s hand while Stokes cuffed him.
Brown said he advised Stokes he had been hit and Stokes called for emergency assistance. Brown was then, as he lost consciousness, assisted into Sharp’s police vehicle and taken to Mercy Hospital in Booneville — though he had no memory of the ride — where he was stabilized and taken on to Fort Smith, where he stayed about a day and a half, he testified.
On redirect Witt asked Brown if he recalled telling State Police investigators had didn’t know how he was shot because he didn’t see the pistol. Brown said he did not recall making the statement but did not dispute it.
Prior to Brown, state prosecutors Tyler Barham and Ben Caruth called Dr. Thomas Kelly, who treated Brown after the bullet wound, Logan County 911 operator Terra Stovall, Booneville Police Department dispatcher Mikle Smith, BPD patrolmen Sharp and Stokes before a lunch break.
The dispatchers testified of the initial and subsequent calls from Rongey in which he said he wanted to die and jurors heard the call audio. In that audio Rongey, who speaks with a tracheotomy device, said he was tired of living, feared his cancer had returned, could not get in to see a doctor and was tired of being used.
Rongey, in the audio, said he would shoot first to induce officers to return fire if that became necessary and on a subsequent call asked if officers were outside his residence.
At one point Rongey said his name was Frank, but later admitted that was not true. He refused offers of help and did not want to be transferred to a BPD dispatcher, though he was.
When transferred to the BPD Rongey spoke with Smith and later Sharp, who then requested Stokes return from his recently ended shift and notified Brown of the situation.
After a lunch break Arkansas State Police investigators Phillip Pierce and Cory Mendenhall took the stand followed by Arkansas State Crime Lab weapons expert Steve Hargis.
Hargis testified of the certainty of the gun taken from outside Rongey’s apartment was the one that fired the bullet for the casing found at the scene where Brown was shot.
Pierce and Mendenhall testified about the analysis of the crime scene and an interview with Rongey, which was also played for the jury, in which he claimed ownership of the gun confiscated at his apartment.
The interview audio, because of its, at times, difficulty to make out everything, Witt had Mendenhall restate Rongey said he did not intend to shoot a cop, recount his medical condition, and that he had drank a bottle of Amaretto and two or three beers, and that he didn’t remember being tackled by Brown.
On redirect from Caruth Mendenhall also testified that Rongey said he did indeed shoot Brown and that he wanted to die.
Witt called no witnesses in defense of Rongey, who exercised his right to not testify on his own behalf.
Witt had sought a directed not guilty verdict because he claimed the state had not proven Brown was acting in the line of duty as a law enforcement officer, that the state had failed to prove Rongey’s actions were purposeful or that Rongey had acted with extreme indifference to life. Fifteenth Judaical District Judge Jerry Don Ramey denied all motions.
In addition to those called to the stand, in attendance during testimony last week were at least 10 other law enforcement officers representing the BPD, Logan County Sheriff’s Office and State Police seated in the court room at various times.