Murder Suspect Escapes Medical Transport By Pepper-Spraying Deputy

Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office
Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office

A murder suspect is on the run in Louisiana after he pepper-sprayed a deputy and stole a police cruiser Sunday in what turned into a medical transport gone terribly wrong, authorities in Jefferson Parish announced.

The manhunt is for Leon Ruffin, who was charged with second-degree murder, aggravated assault, and for possessing a gun as a felon. He’d been in custody since July awaiting trial.

Jefferson Parish Sheriff Joe Lopinto said Ruffin was able to escape after a deputy pulled over her cruiser at a hospital because Ruffin had created “some kind of disturbance” in the back of the vehicle. This prompted the deputy to exit her SUV to address Ruffin, who somehow managed to pepper-spray her.

From there, Lopinto said, the situation spiraled and Ruffin charged at the deputy. He said Ruffin got rid of a walking boot he had on and managed to get in the driver’s seat of the police cruiser and sped away as the deputy opened fire on him.

Lopinto said he’s “activated pretty much our whole department” to track Ruffin down. At the time of a news conference, around 9 p.m. local time Sunday, the sheriff said deputies were yet to recover the stolen cruiser, a 2014 Ford Explorer. The escape happened around 6:30 p.m., Lopinto said.

The sheriff said he “really don’t believe” Ruffin “has anything to lose.” He suggested the whole escape was premeditated, saying he thinks Ruffin had been faking injuries—including seizures—at jail to be taken to a hospital.

“He’s in for a second-degree murder, for life in prison at this point in time, so I definitely consider him armed and dangerous by all means,” Lopinto said.

The sheriff said his deputy’s gun wasn’t stolen, but that Ruffin is unpredictable. He said he doesn’t know how the murder suspect got his hands on pepper spray in the first place, saying the deputy involved still had hers after the escape.

Lopinto said the deputy fired three shots at Ruffin, but it’s unclear if any of them struck him. She was briefly hospitalized but is fine and is in “good spirits,” the sheriff said. She was not identified.

Ruffin is awaiting trial of shooting and killing longtime friend Gannon Johnson in Avondale, Louisiana, a suburb of New Orleans. Prosecutors allege that Ruffin shot his pal dead with several shots to his body and two to his head.

The Times-Picayune reported that prosecutors claim Ruffin tried to pretend he wasn’t the alleged shooter in that case, returning to the scene and acting as if he was a grieving friend.

Lopinto said he’s confident that Ruffin will be caught, though they don’t have a set area where he believe he may be just yet.

“If he’s moving around, we’re going to find him,” he said. “Hopefully we can get this guy in custody as quickly as we can.”

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