A police officer has been shot in his face and the top of his head after responding to a shoplifting call at a department store.
The incident occurred on Friday, March 12 at approximately 3:27 p.m. at a JC Penney’s department store in Omaha, Nebraska, when Officer Jeffrey Wittstruck was dispatched to a report of a shoplifter who had been detained by security after they allegedly observed him taking a package of t-shirts and placing them in his backpack before attempting to exit the establishment without paying for them, according to the Omaha Police Department.
Authorities say that the suspect, later confirmed to be 21-year-old Kenya Lamont Jenkins Jr., initially gave store security a fake name and was not forthcoming or cooperative after being stopped.
The situation escalated quickly after Officer Wittstruck, who has been with the Omaha Police Department since September 2016, arrived on the scene.
“Officer Wittstruck directed Jenkins to remove his backpack at which time Jenkins stood up and placed his right hand in his sweatshirt pocket,” said Police Chief Todd Schmaderer of the Omaha Police Department said in a statement. “Officer Wittstruck asked Jenkins to show his hands multiple times but Jenkins refused. Officer Wittstruck informed Jenkins he was under arrest and Jenkins remained uncooperative, pushing Officer Wittstruck away while he attempted to place handcuffs on Jenkins.”
According to the Omaha Police Department, Wittstruck and Jenkins got into a brief struggle before Wittstruck drew his taser and Jenkins placed his hand back into his sweatshirt pocket.
The police officer then deployed the taser but it was ineffective in stopping the situation with Jenkins.
Wittstruck attempted to arrest Jenkins for a second time in a brief struggle when the suspect pulled a gun out of his sweatshirt pocket and fired four times at Wittstruck, who was hit in his face and the top of his head.
Officer Wittstruck's firearm had not been removed from its holster and was not fired at any point in the altercation with Jenkins.
“Officer Wittstruck fell to the ground and Jenkins ran out of the office,” said Schmaderer. “There were no security cameras in the office but Officer Wittstruck's body-worn camera recorded the entire incident. Security cameras recorded the suspect fleeing out of the store and driving away in a white BMW.”
Officer Joseph Kunza subsequently arrived on scene and, along with JC Penney employees, provided aid to Wittstruck before he was transported to the Nebraska Medical Center in critical condition.
According to Schmaderer, with the help of the Nebraska State Patrol, a perimeter was placed around the area to search for Jenkins after he fled the crime scene.
“At 5:22pm a Nebraska State Patrol Trooper discovered the suspect vehicle being driven near [a] gas station, a traffic stop was initiated and the vehicle fled at a high rate of speed,” authorities said in their statement. “The suspect vehicle reached speeds in excess of 140mph and continued to drive westbound on I-80 in a reckless manner.”
Authorities were able to successfully deploy stop sticks on the suspect’s vehicle causing it to eventually become stuck on some railroad tracks before the Omaha Police Department were able to take Jenkins into custody as well as locating the Taurus .380 firearm that was allegedly used in the shooting.
The Omaha Police Department said that Jenkins has a “previous history of resisting arrests and escape.”
The suspect will be charged with attempted murder and use of a weapon to commit a felony.
Officer Wittstruck is now in stable condition and recovering from the gunshot wounds suffered in the altercation.
Said Police Chief Schmaderer: "Our prayers are with Officer Wittstruck and his family for a full recovery. On behalf of all Omaha Police Officers, thank you for the showing of support and concern. Omaha Police Officers answer 911 calls over and over again throughout the day to keep Omaha safe. It is important to remember the dangers officers put themselves in on each and every call; calls that must be answered because someone was in need.”