KSLA Investigates: A Thin Grey Line

KSLA Investigates: A Thin Grey Line
(Source: KSLA News 12)
(Source: KSLA News 12)

SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - The voice of the 9-1-1 caller was urgent.

"Boy's got the knives in his hand right now," he told the operator.

The boy was, in fact, a man - reportedly Kenny Ruffin, a 31-year-old convicted felon well known to Shreveport police.

According to the 9-1-1 caller, Ruffin had just attacked an AEP/SWEPCO worker.

The caller was desperate to get police to his neighborhood to help the defenseless utility crew working on his street.

"Hit him with his fist and he has two butcher knives, too," the caller explained.  "You all need to get the police out here."

It was June 29, 2017.

Officers raced to the scene on East Dudley Drive as the frantic caller continued describing the scene to the operator.

"He's walking over this way with the knives.

"Going back down the street with them now."

Three Shreveport police officers arrived at East Dudley at Alexander Avenue almost simultaneously.

Neighbors pointed out Ruffin, who was sitting on the porch of a nearby home wearing a black shirt.

Dash cam video from a police cruiser show the officers sizing up the scene and walking up the block toward Ruffin.

That is when Ruffin left the porch, walked into the middle of the street and quickly confronted police, yelling and waving two 10-inch knives, according to official reports.

On the dash cam video, you can hear the officers repeatedly command Ruffin to drop his weapons.

"You better drop that knife," yells one officer.

"Don't do this," pleads another as Ruffin comes closer. "Don't do this man."

Just as a third officer screams, "Drop the knife," Ruffin suddenly lunges.

All three officers open fire, shooting him multiple times.

Wounded and lying on the ground, Ruffin tried attacking one last time, sitting up and throwing a knife at one of the officers.

"Do not move," one officer commanded.

Having survived the officer-involved shooting, Ruffin got medical treatment at University Health.

Shreveport police then took him into custody and eventually charged him with one count of simple battery and three counts of attempted murder for the knife attack on police.

Seven months later, in January 2018, the charges of attempted murder are dropped when Ruffin agrees to plead guilty to a single count of resisting arrest by force.

"The evidence just did not support any other charge," said Penya Moses-Field, second assistant district attorney for Caddo Parish.

She didn't prosecute Ruffin.

But during an interview at the district attorney's office in downtown Shreveport, she spoke about the case to KSLA Chief Investigative Reporter Stacey Cameron.

"Some people are going to look at that video and say, his intent was to kill those officers," Cameron said to Moses-Field, speaking about the dash cam video capturing the knife attack and shooting.

"But we have to base that decision based on the totality of the evidence," said Moses-Field, defending the plea deal that sent Ruffin to prison for three years.

"Everyone would be able to look at a video and come to their own conclusion," she said, turning to discuss other facts in the case.

"When you look at the distance between the officers and the defendant, we have to weigh all of those things into consideration," Moses-Field said. "In this particular matter, resisting an officer by force was more appropriate."

Former Shreveport Police Chief Jim Roberts begs to differ.

"The prosecutors, in my opinion, in this case let the police officers down and the citizens of Shreveport down."

Roberts recently watched video of the attack with Cameron for the first time.

"They had no choice but to open fire," Roberts said, referring to the actions of the three police officers, who were all cleared of any wrongdoing in the officer-involved shooting.

"I think any competent jury in Caddo Parish would have found this man guilty of at least one count of attempted murder," Roberts concluded.

Despite the threat of violence against the officers, Moses-Field disagrees.

It is not clear that Ruffin wanted to kill the officers, she said.

"If that's not the case, why did the officers shoot?" Cameron asked.

"Well, now we are getting into speculation," Moses-Field said.

"As far as the video and what took place, all I can say is basically we have files that come into the office, and we have to look at what we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt.

"And it can't be just on speculation."

Reading the prosecution's file through a public records request, KSLA Investigates discovered a handwritten note on the inside of the folder that states" "Defendant may have bipolar schizophrenia."

So Cameron asked Moses-Field if the district attorney's office thinks Ruffin is mentally ill and whether that played a role in dropping the three counts of attempted first-degree murder.

"Sometimes when certain information is provided to an ADA, they will write those notes down to see if the defense is going to present something," Moses-Field said. "But there was nothing provided that would support that."

"If it would have been, there would have been a sanity commission," she continued. "There would have been additional steps that would have been taken through the legal process to support it."

J. Antonio Florence said "that's a crock" in reacting to the notion that only defense attorneys and the courts should raise matters of a criminal defendant's mental stability.

"Prosecutors bring cases, defense lawyers don't. So, therefore, the prosecutor should be the quote-unquote master of that file, of that case."

The criminal defense attorney with a decade of trial experience knows prosecutors are busy.

But they still have a responsibility to serve justice for everyone in the community, including criminal defendants, he said.

"I understand you have a caseload of 200 cases. Triaging your cases is the kind of the rule of the day," Florence said.

"But, ultimately, what's going to happen is this guy's going to get back on the streets, somebody's going to die."

Florence said he is worried that sometimes district attorneys are more concerned with closing cases than solving a bigger problem.

"In their minds, it's quicker, easier, cheaper."

In reference to the Ruffin case, Florence said: "He didn't have specific intent to hurt, to kill to harm.

"But there was something there that caused him to do this thing. Let's find out why."

KSLA Investigates reached out to Ruffin's public defender and Shreveport police. Neither office replied to a request for comment.

Officers with direct knowledge of the case and Ruffin's criminal background spoke with Cameron on background, a conversation that Cameron relayed to Moses-Field.

"They're concerned that this was an instance where a gentleman who has a serious mental illness wasn't dealt with properly in the system," Cameron said.  "It was simply charge him with the least thing we could. push this away."

Moses-Field asked: "And are those officers trained medical professionals, or are they law enforcement?" .

"They are officers who are on the street and have had much contact with the individual," Cameron told her.

"OK, but the thing about it is, as far as our file and our case record, we have to move forward based on the evidence," Moses-Field said. "And nothing was provided to us that would support a medical history."

"Nothing's been solved," Florence said, referring to Ruffin's conviction and three-year sentence.

"We all lose. Nothing's been solved. So how's that a victory?"

In January, prosecutors also dismissed the charge of simple battery charge that Ruffin faced for allegedly punching the AEP/SWEPCO worker.

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