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Man Sheriff Said Killed Former NFL Player Had Prior Road-Rage Arrest

Photo: ABC News Twitter Screenshot

The alleged confessed shooter of a former NFL player in an apparent road-rage incident was released from custody without charge, sparking outrage especially as a prior altercation from the armed driver’s past was revealed.

Joe McKnight, 28, was shot to death at about 3 p.m. Thursday at an intersection in Terrytown, a suburb of New Orleans. Ronald Gasser, 54, was taken into custody and questioned about the killing. Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand said McKnight was not armed, nor did they find any gun in or near his vehicle.

Knight, a running back, played with the New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs before spending time in the Canadian Football League.

In a news release, the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office said McKnight’s gray Audi Q7 was “stopped on Behrman Highway facing south along the right shoulder” and Gasser’s blue Infinity “was stopped in the right lane, parallel to and immediately east” of McKnight’s SUV.

Gasser “discharged three rounds from a .40 caliber semiautomatic handgun from the driver’s seat of the blue Infinity through the open passenger window,” where McKnight had been standing. The football player was struck once in the chest, once in the right shoulder and once in the left hand. The sheriff added there was “a substantial commercial grade folding ladder resting on the passenger seat” of Gasser’s car.

“Witnesses collectively observed McKnight and Gasser in a heated verbal exchange from their respective vehicles at the intersection. Shortly thereafter, the witnesses heard gunfire in rapid succession, which redirected their attention to the two vehicles,” the statement said, adding that Gasser had gotten out of his car, gun in hand, and was moving around the rear of the vehicle when a bystander intervened to administer CPR to McKnight.

Later in the day, in response to a question asked at a news conference, the sheriff’s office released a statement confirming that Gasser was involved in a road-rage incident on Feb. 20, 2006, in the same area.

In that incident, a man called 911 to report a red pickup driving erratically. The pickup had a phone number on the back to report unsafe driving, so the man then called that number. Gasser himself picked up and said he was the one driving the truck.

“A verbal altercation began between the victim and Gasser at that time. Once the victim reached the service station, he pulled in to begin refueling his vehicle. It was at that time Gasser, who had followed him into the station, confronted him and began to strike him with a closed fist several times. After doing so, the victim reported Gasser drove out of the service station, at which time he called 911,” the sheriff’s statement said.

“Investigators at a later date located Mr. Gasser, at which time he was issued a misdemeanor summons for simple battery. The charge of simple battery was ultimately dismissed. We will continue to research this matter in order to determine the reason for the dismissal. Once we are able to determine same, we will report the outcome of our review.”

The Times-Picayune reported that Gasser was released overnight Thursday; a sheriff’s spokesman said investigators were consulting with the district attorney’s office on whether or not to charge Gasser with a crime.

NAACP members were protesting outside of the sheriff’s office Friday over Gasser’s release, fearful that he would be let off on claims of self defense. “If you review the revised statute, there is nothing that could’ve happened at 3 p.m. in broad daylight on a Louisiana highway in front of many people passing back and forth, that would make this man feel in danger of his life from a man who was unarmed. You have to be in imminent danger,” one told ABC affiliate WGNO.

In response to the criticism, the sheriff said at a news conference that “external influences will not motivate this office one way or another as to how we are going to conduct this investigation strategically.”

“People can Monday morning quarterback what we’ve done. Mr. Gasser is not going anywhere,” Normand said. “He has been completely cooperative with us in every request that we’ve made. The issue at the end of the day is that we will do a very thorough and deliberate investigation.”

While there is video of the aftermath captured by bystanders, sheriff’s officials said they hadn’t found any video of the shooting.