Deputy, son help foil store robbery

Published 6:00 pm Sunday, September 18, 2011

Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department Sgt.Damian Gatlin was a perfect example of an officer’s sworn duty toserve and protect – no matter his personal situation – Thursdaynight in McComb.

    Gatlin was off-duty that night and driving in his civilian vehiclewith his wife and three sons. They were returning to Brookhavenafter choir practice at the church they attend in McComb and haddecided to get some supper.

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    The family was traveling east on Delaware Avenue and passed aRaceway gas station on the way to Wendy’s. That is when one ofGatlin’s sons, Landon, 11, spoke up.

    “We passed and my son said ‘Dad! I think that man in the gasstation is getting robbed. He’s got his hands up.’

    “I made a U-turn and pulled into the station, and sure enough theguy had his hands in the air,” Gatlin said. “And I noticed twopeople kind of huddled together inside the store.”

    After Gatlin pulled into the Raceway parking lot, the suspect ranout the door. Gatlin decided to pursue the suspect on foot, so hegrabbed his weapon and told his wife to dial 911.

    “He had run behind the Raceway, and I saw that he gainedsignificant ground so I decided to get back into my truck,” hesaid.

    Gatlin found the suspect in the Comfort Inn behind the Racewaygetting into a white four-door sedan, which had two other subjectsinside waiting.

    The car left the Comfort Inn and Gatlin followed in his truck.

    His wife in the passenger seat was all the while on the phone withlocal police giving turn-by-turn descriptions of what washappening. Minutes later, McComb police had the car pulled over andthe subjects were apprehended.

    “I wasn’t thinking about anything,” Gatlin recalled. “I was justminding my own business. My son was the one who spotted it. Himsaying something is what started it all. I would’ve neverknown.”

    Gatlin thought of his training in recollecting Thursday night’sevents.

    “They teach us (in training) that we’re never actually off-duty.And this is a prime example,” he said. “We’re supposed to step upeven out of uniform if we see someone committing felony offenses.On-duty officers can’t be there at all times so it’s a blessingthat we are sworn by that oath.”

    Gatlin said he would have acted differently if his family had notbeen with him. But because they were, as a father and husband, hewas thinking about their safety.

    “Then again, it was my son who saw it, so if they weren’t with me,I wouldn’t have known,” he said.

    Gatlin said protecting his family is a priority.

    “But I’m obligated by oath to do my job. I didn’t think twice,”Gatlin said. “I just made sure my family was safe and I respondedhow I’m trained to respond.”

    The three suspects were all from McComb.

    Nineteen-year-old Aunjanique B. Miller and Tamario Z. Hodges, 23,were both charged with conspiracy to commit robbery. Dion A.Vontress, 18, was charged with armed robbery.

    Gatlin, who joined the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department in 2008,was promoted to sergeant in August.

    “I think he (Gatlin) was fortunate enough to be in the right placeat the right time,” Sheriff Steve Rushing said. “I’m glad he wasable to help out another agency in another area. Really, we’reon-duty 24/7, and it’s part of the job and our duty to help when wesee something going on. And from what I understand, he did a goodjob with it.”

    Gatlin expressed similar sentiments.

    “We have good people who are able-bodied and ready to serve andprotect not just in Lincoln County,” Gatlin said. “Nobody (in thedepartment) would’ve responded differently.”