Police have arrested three suspects and were seeking a possible fourth accused of stealing several handguns as part of a ‘substantial, credible threat’ to harm police officers in the Baton Rouge area.
Authorities in Baton Rouge discovered the alleged plot while responding to a burglary at a pawn shop early on Saturday morning, Baton Rouge police Chief Carl Dabadie said in a press conference.
Officers had responded to an alarm at the Cash America Pawn on Government Street at around 2am.
They arrested one suspect – Antonio Thomas, 17 – at the scene with a handgun and a BB gun.
During questioning, Thomas said that he and three other suspects stole the firearms and ‘were going to get bullets to shoot police,’ authorities said.
Another suspect, Malik Bridgewater, 20, was apprehended on Sunday and a third suspect – a 13-old boy – was apprehended on a street.
On Tuesday, the chief also confirmed that Thomas told police that ‘the reason the burglary was being done was to harm police officers.’
Dabadie said the suspect did not give any details about when or where a possible plot would be carried out.
They called on the fourth suspect, who remains at large and has not been identified, to turn himself in.
All of the suspects are from Baton Rouge and all are black. They face charges including burglary, simple burglary, and theft of a firearm; they have not been arrested on any charges related to plotting to kill police.
Another man was arrested for allegedly purchasing two of the stolen guns illegally on the street, but he hasn’t been linked to the alleged plot, a police spokesman said.
Trashone Coats, 23, was charged with illegal possession of a stolen firearm.
Six of the eight stolen firearms have been recovered and two are still at large, authorities said.
In a statement, Louisiana State police said surveillance video showed the suspects using a ladder to climb the roof of the building to get in. Eight handguns and one airsoft BB gun were missing from the store.
State Police Col. Mike Edmonson called it a ‘substantial, credible threat’ to police.
Several law enforcement agencies are now investigating, including East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office, Louisiana State Police and the ATF.
The arrests come at a time of heightened tensions after the deadly police shootings of black men in Baton Rouge and Minnesota and the killing of five police officers in Dallas last week.
Alton Sterling, 37, was killed outside the Triple S Food Mart in Baton Rouge during a scuffle with police on July 5.
Then on Wednesday, Philando Castile, 32, was shot by a white police officer in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, during a traffic stop on Wednesday.
His girlfriend Diamond Reynolds live streamed the gruesome aftermath of his death on Facebook.
Protests spread across the country as people expressed outrage over the deaths.
Most have been peaceful, but in Dallas last Thursday, a Black Lives Matter protest turned deadly when Army veteran Micah Johnson, 25, opened fire amid the demonstration.
He killed four Dallas police officers and a Dallas Area Rapid Transit officer, as well as injuring several more, before he was killed by police using a remote-controlled bomb on a robot in the early hours of Friday morning.
Since then, the Baton Rouge police department has come under criticism for the tactics it’s employed to deal with protesters, using riot police and military-style vehicles on the streets of the city.
Over a three day period, police arrested about 200 protesters.
‘We have been questioned repeatedly over the last several days about our show of force and why we have the tactics that we have,’ Dabadie said on Tuesday.
‘Well, this is the reason, because we had credible threats against the lives of law enforcement in this city.’
Police said they have increased their presence in Baton Rouge due to the ‘very real and viable threats’ to law enforcement in the area, CNN reports.
The alleged plot was the main reason they were quick to become aggressive when they believed protesters in the city were becoming disruptive over the weekend.
‘We can’t take anything for granted anymore,’ East Baton Rouge Sheriff Sid Gautreaux said.
‘What you saw in the law enforcement response is because of the very real and viable threats against law enforcement.’
He added: ‘Look what happened in Dallas. A very peaceful protest and then some crazy madman.’
A week after Sterling, was shot and killed by two white police officers in Baton Rouge outside a convenience store, tension remain high in the city.
The Justice Department has opened a federal civil rights investigation into Sterling’s shooting.
But while protesters demand justice for Sterling, the shootings in Dallas last week and other attacks on police around the country have put the police on edge.