JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A 43-year-old Georgia man wanted in connection with a carjacking near Macon fired a shot at a Jacksonville officer Wednesday morning before the officer returned fire, killing him, police said Thursday.
Jacksonville Sheriff's Office Asst. Chief Scott Dingee said Jason Emerson Connell, a felon who was released from Georgia prison earlier this year, had vowed to family members that he would never return to prison.
Witnesses told Sheriff's Office investigators that Connell fired a shot at a Jacksonville officer in the parking lot of a Motel 6 on Dunn Avenue.
Dingee said Field Training Officer C.K. Jimenez, a 12-year veteran with JSO, then fired 15 rounds from his department-issued weapon, killing Connell.
Dingee said the incident began about 10:15 a.m. Wednesday when Jimenez and Officer Joseph Stillwell -- who is in his third month of field training with JSO -- were on routine patrol at the Motel 6 and noticed a red Chevrolet Cruze with its trunk open backed into a parking space with no one around.
The officers investigated, running the license plate and learning it belonged to a truck and not the red car. When they ran the VIN, they learned the Cruze had been reported stolen in a Dec. 7 carjacking in Bibb County, Georgia, Dingee said.
A woman then approached the officers and said the car belonged to her boyfriend, Dingee said.
Stillwell began to take the woman into custody for questioning, but she resisted being placed in handcuffs, Dingee said.
He said while Stillwell was engaged with the woman, Connell came out of the hotel room carrying a large black purse with one of his hands hidden inside it.
According to several witnesses, Connell approached the officers aggressively and was repeatedly told to stop and drop the bag, Dingee said.
The witnesses said Connell got within about 5 feet of Jimenez, dropped the bag, pulled out a revolver and fired a shot at Jimenez, Dingee said. Jimenez was not hit and returned fire, shooting 15 rounds and hitting Connell multiple times, Dingee said.
Jimenez was taken to a hospital with bruising and abrasions to his knees but was released the same day in good condition, Dingee said.
Dingee said police initially thought Jimenez and Connell had gotten into a physical struggle before the gunfire, but later determined that did not happen.
Both Jimenez and Stillwell were placed on administrative leave while the incident is investigated, following protocol for police-involved shootings.
Dingee said Connell's 26-year-old girlfriend was not charged with any crimes. He said she told investigators that she and Connell saw the officers when they were looking at the car, and Connell sent her out to talk to them.
“Prior to this incident, Connell told (his girlfriend) and other family members that he would never return to prison, and that if he was confronted by police, he would kill the officer and others that were around," Dingee said. “We believe that if Officer Jimenez had not been alert and seen the suspect approaching, the suspect would have shot one or both officers, leading to a much different outcome.”
Dingee said Connell has an extensive arrest history in Georgia and was convicted of robbery in Pasco County in 2006. He was released on parole from a Georgia prison earlier this year and was wanted on parole violation in addition to charges of hijacking a motor vehicle, attempted hijacking of a motor vehicle and aggravated assault related to the theft of the Chevy Cruze.
Dingee said a .38-caliber handgun was recovered at the scene with five live rounds and one spent round, backing up accounts that Connell fired one shot.
Police said neither officer was wearing a body camera, but investigators are looking at surveillance footage from the motel, and they ask anyone with information that they have not yet spoke with to call 904-630-0500.
The Motel 6 shooting was the start of a violent day for Jacksonville police. Later in the day, officers were shot at while working with the FBI in the Grand Park neighborhood, and Wednesday night an officer shot and killed an 18-year-old who was carrying what turned out to be a revolver-like BB gun.