Grand Jury determines deputies justified in shooting suspect who killed Lt. Michael Boutte

Published 10:47 am Wednesday, November 24, 2021

By Geoff Belcher

Sea Coast Echo

A Hancock County Grand Jury has determined that Hancock County deputies acted in a legal manner in the incident that led to the shooting of Joseph Michael Rohrbacker, who is accused of murder in the death of Lt. Michael Boutte earlier this year.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“The grand jury has investigated the circumstances leading up the shooting of Joseph Michael Rohrbacker by deputies of the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office on Feb. 1,” according to a statement issued Friday by District Attorney W. Crosby Parker’s office.

“After full and deliberate consideration of all the facts and circumstances leading up to the … shooting of Joseph Michael Rohrbacker, and the circumstances as they existed at the time of the shooting, the grand jury finds no criminal conduct on behalf of the deputies involved from the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office,” according the report.

In September, Rohrbacker pled not guilty to one count of capital murder, one count of aggravated assault and one count of aggravated assault against a police officer.

According to Count One, Daniel said, Rohrbacker is accused of “feloniously and without the authority of law killing and murdering Michael Boutte, who was employed as a law enforcement officer with the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office.”

On Count Two, Assistant District Attorney Chris Daniel said at the time, Rohrbacker was charged with aggravated assault for firing a shotgun at a person. On Count Three, he was charged with aggravated assault on a police officer for firing a shotgun directly at Sheriff’s Deputy Braxton Manuel.

Circuit Judge Lisa Dodson set the first non-evidentiary hearing in the case for May 12, 2022, with follow-up hearings on June 17 and July 20, and an anticipated trial date of Aug. 15.

Rohrbacker has also been charged with three counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor and one count of aggravated animal cruelty.

In a preliminary hearing in March before Hancock Court Judge Trent Favre on the capital murder charge, Master Sgt. Jason Gazzo, the leader of the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation’s probe into the case, testified that on the day of the shooting, Boutte and Deputy Braxton Manuel were called to the scene as a “welfare concern” after Rohrbacker allegedly made “suicidal threats.”

“To the best of my knowledge, the defendant … had become verbally combative with friends and family and started making suicidal threats toward himself and … sliced the family dog’s throat,” Gazzo said.

Boutte and Braxton first stopped at Rohrbacker’s brother’s home a short distance away to get more information before proceeding to the scene, Gazzo said.

Boutte reached the scene first, he said, and “When Boutte pulled into the yard, he was immediately met by gunfire from the defendant.”

When Manuel arrived on the scene, Gazzo said, “The defendant fired a shot at deputy Manuel, striking his patrol vehicle.”

The defendant then allegedly fired a shot at a neighbor who was walking by, allowing Manuel a moment to get out of his car and grab his rifle.

Manuel ordered Rohrbacker to put down his weapon, but the defendant then pointed it back at the deputy.

“Deputy Manuel fired two rounds, striking the defendant’s abdomen,” Gazzo said.

Manuel was then able to approach Rohrbacker and kick the shotgun away, Gazzo said. However, Manuel still had to use a Taser on the the defendant to get him under control, Gazzo said.

Both Boutte and Rohrbacker were airlifted to a Louisiana hospital, where Boutte was pronounced dead.

Gazzo said Rohrbacker “stated he had attempted suicide by cop and he admitted to randomly shooting at the deputy,” but insisted that he hadn’t intended to actually kill Boutte.

In an earlier hearing, officers testified that the Feb. 1 incident that led to the shooting began when Rohrbacker informed he had been reported to Mississippi Child Protective Services for allegedly molesting a teenage girl. That reportedly “enraged” Rohrbacker, setting off the day’s events.

Rohrbacker’s family members have said he suffers from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Since then, he has been held in custody at the Harrison County Adult Detention Center, where he is being held without bond.

If convicted in the capital murder case, Rohrbacker could face either life in prison or the death penalty.