Biloxi, MS – The gunman accused of murdering Biloxi Police Officer Robert McKeithen in an ambush attack outside the city’s police department giggled and belched during his preliminary hearing in Harrison County on Tuesday.
During the hearing, Gulfport Detective Samuel Jewell took the stand to explain how the incident unfolded as Atkinson laughed, shook his head, and smiled, according to the Sun Herald.
Det. Jewell said that the accused gunman walked eight miles from his mother’s residence to the Lopez Quave Public Safety Center that night with the sole intent of murdering a police officer.
He arrived at the station at approximately 10 p.m. with a huge smile on his face, and sat down in the lobby near two women who were each holding small children, WDAM reported.
The women wanted to file a report about a domestic violence incident, and were told that an officer would arrive at the station shortly to take their complaint, Det. Jewell explained.
The women opted to wait outside, and Atkinson followed behind them moments later, security footage showed.
Within five minutes, Officer McKeithen pulled into the parking lot in his patrol car and began speaking with the women outside the building.
At one point, the veteran officer asked Atkinson if he was somehow involved in the incident they were reporting, but the suspect shrugged him off.
“Leave me alone. I don’t have nothing to do with it,” he responded, according to Det. Jewell.
He then wandered across the parking lot and loitered near a tree.
But a short while later, he walked back towards the officer and the women, drew a .40-caliber Glock from his pocket, and opened fire on Officer McKeithen from behind, the Sun Herald reported.
Officer McKeithen, a 24-year veteran-of-the-force who planned to retire at the end of the year, never had the opportunity to react, the detective said.
Within seconds, Atkinson had discharged nine rounds, striking the officer repeatedly from just feet away, WDAM reported.
One bullet grazed his head, several struck his body, and at least three impacted his ballistic vest, according to the Sun Herald.
Officer McKeithen died of blood loss at Merit Health hospital a short while later.
The women and their children fled through the parking lot and into the police station, where they alerted other officers about what had transpired outside, WDAM reported.
The entire ambush was captured by the department’s surveillance cameras.
Meanwhile, Atkinson took off from the scene on foot and headed back to his mother’s home, ditching the murder weapon and a magazine in a drainage ditch along the way, the Sun Herald reported.
Investigators later discovered that the weapon was purchased by one of Atkinson’s brothers in March, according to WDAM.
Sometime between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. on May 6, prior to Atkinson being identified as the alleged shooter, his mother called Biloxi police to report that he was causing a disturbance at her home, the Sun Herald reported.
But when officers arrived, Atkinson’s brother, Davian Atkinson, told them that he would make sure his brother had a ride to stay elsewhere.
Atkinson had also changed clothes and was eight miles away from the scene of the attack, so investigators did not initially recognize him as being the suspect seen in the surveillance footage.
Approximately five hours later, investigators returned to the woman’s home after receiving a tip that Atkinson was the person seen in photographs disseminated by the department.
Atkinson’s mother said she had also seen the photographs, and that she believed her son was the gunman who killed Officer McKeithen.
Investigators soon discovered that Davian and another brother, 20-year-old Wanya Toquest Atkinson, were both involved in helping Atkinson in his attempt to avoid arrest.
They have been charged with accessory after the fact to capital murder, along with 18-year-old Andre Sullivan, 21-year-old Joshua Kovach, and 20-year-old Dalentez Brice, the Sun Herald reported.
According to investigators, the five co-defendants all aided Atkinson in his attempt to escape, either by giving him rides, clothes, or access to a cell phone.
At approximately 6:30 p.m. on May 6, an off-duty Biloxi police officer spotted Atkinson in Wiggins, and contacted local law enforcement, WDAM reported.
The suspect was taken into custody without further incident, but refused to provide officers with his name.
Atkinson was positively identified as the accused gunman after Wiggins police provided Biloxi investigators with his photograph.
While the suspect was waiting for Biloxi police to come pick him up from Wiggins, he told the officers that they should “respect the shooter,” according to WDAM.
The accused cop-killer laughed and smiled as he was being escorted into the BPD upon his return to Biloxi, WPMI reported.
“Oh, the police are mad at me,” the smirking suspect told reporters on his way into the building, according to the Sun Herald. “Murder.”
Biloxi police have also confirmed that Darian was suspended from Biloxi High School for three days in 2018, after he allegedly told a fellow student that he was contemplating “shooting up” the school, WMPI reported.
During his hearing on Tuesday, Atkinson belched as his attorney questioned Det. Jewell, according to the Sun Herald.
Judge Gaston Hewes Jr. determined that there was enough probable cause to send the accused gunman’s case to a grand jury, and ordered that he be held in jail until the grand jury decides whether or not to indict him, WDAM reported.
Atkinson’s co-defendants were all due to appear in court for preliminary hearings on Wednesday.