A Mississippi police chief who had just been suspended shot and killed himself in the police department’s parking lot, officials said, in what was described as “a bad day for law enforcement.”
Bay St. Louis Police Chief Mike DeNardo shot himself in the chest, Hancock County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Don Bass said. He said the Thursday shooting appeared intentional.
“Our initial finding is a self-inflicted gunshot,” he said.
Hancock County Sheriff Ricky Adam told CBS New Orleans affiliate WWL-TV that DeNardo was involved in an ongoing personnel issue. Adam said in comments aired by CBS affiliate WLOX-TV of Biloxi, Mississippi, that sheriff’s department staff were on hand to help escort the chief from the office.
“At that time, it just kind of went bad,” he said.
Bass said DeNardo was standing outside a vehicle when he shot himself. He did not have information on who found him and reported the shooting.
“It’s just a bad day - a bad day for law enforcement,” Bass said.
The mayor of the tourist-friendly beach community along the Mississippi Gulf Coast said DeNardo had just been suspended inside the police station when he went out to the parking lot and fatally shot himself. Specifics about the suspension weren’t available.
Mayor Les Fillingame told The Associated Press that DeNardo was under investigation by the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office. He wouldn’t give details but said he believed DeNardo would have been cleared of any wrongdoing.
“He was just a tremendous public servant, and he’s going to be greatly missed,” Fillingame said.
Bass said city administrators told the sheriff’s office that DeNardo had turned in some of his equipment earlier. He said he believes the police chief was still in uniform when the shooting happened.
Federal investigators had received “unsubstantiated criminal intelligence” about DeNardo but had not yet opened a formal investigation, according to Jason Denham, the resident agent in charge for the Gulfport field office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The agency received the allegations only a day or two before DeNardo’s death, Denham said. The agency had not confronted him about the allegations.
He said the agency would have moved forward to confirm or dispel the allegations. He could not go into details about what the allegations were.
During an emergency city council meeting Thursday, the council turned control of the police department over to the sheriff’s department.
The Sun-Herald reported that the move was temporary, as the city goes through a tumultuous period.
“Due to recent events, the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office will be assuming control of management and day-to-day operations of the Bay St. Louis Police Department on a temporary basis until a new chief is selected,” said Councilman Doug Seal. “This is a temporary situation for a period of healing for our fellow officers and employees.”
An interim replacement for DeNardo has been named but he will report to the sheriff’s department.
According to the police department’s website, DeNardo had been with the department since 2004 and the mayor appointed him police chief in 2010. Before coming to Bay St. Louis, DeNardo worked for 18 years at the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office in Louisiana, the website said.
The Mississippi Bureau of Investigation sent forensic technicians to the scene to assist the sheriff’s office in the investigation, said Warren Strain, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety.