On Thursday afternoon, former college football star, and onetime NFL running back Joe McKnight was shot to death in what law enforcement officials describe as a “possible road rage incident” in Jefferson Parish, LA.
One day later, the white man who admitted to authorities that he’d fired the bullet responsible for killing McKnight walked out of a police station a free man. No charges had been filed.
Ronald Gasser, 54, was released from custody on Friday morning, and has “not been formally charged as of yet in the shooting death of Joe McKnight,” Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Col. John N. Fortunato told reporters.
The decision to release Gasser has baffled many, who saw McKnight’s death as a fairly straightforward case. According to NOLA.com, an unnamed witness described seeing Gasser shoot McKnight at Behrman Highway and Holmes Boulevard in Terrytown, LA, just outside New Orleans. The witness claimed that McKnight appeared to be trying to apologize while Gasser raised his voice at him. Following the shooting, the witness said, Gasser stood over McKnight and said “I told you don’t you fuck with me” before shooting McKnight once more.
According to law enforcement officials, once officers arrived, they “began CPR [on McKnight] as they awaited the arrival of [emergency medical services]. Soon thereafter, Mr. McKnight was pronounced dead on the scene.” Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand told NOLA.com that McKnight appeared to be entirely unarmed. Gasser admitted he had been the shooter.
On Twitter, fans, and fellow football players voiced their sorrow at his passing, and anger at Gasser’s unexpected release.
Despite the public frustration at Gasser’s release, Col. Fortunato told NOLA.com that the investigation into McKnight’s death is ongoing, and officers will consult with the district attorney to decide whether to formally charge Gasser moving forward.
Speaking at a press conference on Friday afternoon, Sheriff Normand pushed back against the growing outrage. “This investigation is not going to be moved, influenced, coerced or changed in any way by any external force, comments or otherwise,” he said. “I can’t control what’s on the social networks, and if we want to continue to be silly, that’s fine.”
Normand also rejected the notion that McKnight’s killing was racially motivated. “Everybody wants to make this about race,” he told reporters. “This isn’t about race.”
McKnight was widely considered a rising football star as a student at the University of Southern California in 2007. In 2010 he was drafted into the NFL to play for the New York Jets, spending two years with the team before being cut in 2013. He went on play briefly for the Kansas City Chiefs, and this year had joined the Canadian Football League’s Edmonton Eskimos and Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Joe McKnight was 28 years old.