Officers recount fatal 2012 attack: Capital murder trial underway in Edgard

Published 9:01 am Tuesday, February 4, 2020

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EDGARD – Anthony Bullock, Sgt. Jason Triche and Lt. Chip Wale will never forget being caught in a hailstorm of gunfire in the early morning ambush that claimed the lives of two St. John the Baptist Parish deputies on Aug. 16, 2012.

Jeremy Triche

Brandon Nielsen

The three men shared emotional testimonies this week inside a high security Edgard courtroom on day three of the capital murder trial of Kyle David Joekel. They addressed a jury of seven men and five women selected from Rapides Parish and sequestered for the duration of the trial, a precaution made necessary by the lasting impact slain deputies Jeremy Triche and Brandon Nielsen have had on the St. John Parish community.

The prosecution, led by attorneys Hugo Holland and Lea Hall, alleges Joekel loomed over Nielsen with an AK-47 and fired shot after shot, leaving the deputy lifeless and drenched in blood. The defense, led by attorneys Kerry Cuccia and Dwight Dosky, said the witnesses’ earliest statements following the massacre identified the gunman standing over Nielsen’s body as Brian Smith, not Joekel.

Witness testimony pinpointed Smith as the first gunman in the altercation. Smith was found incompetent to stand trial, and he remains in a mental health hospital. His father, Terry Smith, was also involved. The elder Smith has since been sentenced to life in prison for an unrelated series of sex crimes, leaving Joekel as the sole defendant in the trial.

A conviction would be a death sentence for Joekel, and it would mark the first capital punishment case from St. John Parish to reach Louisiana’s Death Row since the year 2000. As with all trials, conviction is dependent upon a jury finding the defendant guilty beyond all reasonable doubt.

According to testimony, Bullock and Jason Triche (unrelated to Jeremy Triche) were responding to a medical call involving an individual with Alzheimer’s in the early morning hours of Aug. 16, 2012, when a startling call came over the radio. A frantic voice informed them that “PD 5” had been shot.

Daniell Nielsen Jenkins and Edie Triche hold framed photos of Deputy Brandon Nielsen and Deputy Jeremy Triche — their loved ones shot and killed in the line of duty.

Staffing changes under a new sheriff administration made it unclear who PD 5 was, and Bullock said panic ensued as multiple voices began talking over each other on the broadcast. When the details came into focus, detectives learned St. John officer Scott Boyington was shot on Bayou Steel Road while pursuing a tan-colored vehicle with four or five occupants.

Boyington told deputies the driver had “blue, blue eyes.” Moments later, a suspicious vehicle was reported at the nearby Scenic Riverview Trailer Park. That was the physical description Bullock searched for when he exited his car near the front of the trailer park at approximately 4:30 a.m. As he walked with Jason Triche and Brandon Nielsen, Bullock saw Jeremy Triche drive his unit further into the trailer park. According to testimony, Jeremy Triche parked near the back of the trailer park, and his headlights illuminated a tan vehicle parked in the woods.

Bullock came across a man, identified as Terry Smith, who matched the blue-eyed description. He behaved erratically and claimed he needed to leave to go to work at Noranda, while his wife inside the trailer told Bullock he’d just returned home from Valero.

The situation escalated to a small altercation, and Bullock put Smith in handcuffs.


Bullock saw Joekel for the first time inside of Smith’s trailer. According to testimony, Joekel was lying in a bed, sheets pulled up to his chin and his head turned toward a laptop. When Joekel jumped out of bed, Bullock saw he was wearing a gray shirt, jeans and steel-tip boots covered in grass.

Bullock said Joekel tried to take off running upon exiting the trailer. He allegedly tried to reach for a weapon behind his back as Bullock held him down. Other officers joined in, and Jason Triche recalled Joekel was put in handcuffs.

Meanwhile, Chip Wale was working an off-duty detail at River Parish Hospital when he heard an officer was shot. It wasn’t long before he joined, Bullock, Nielsen, Jeremy Triche and Jason Triche at the trailer park.

“Given how chaotic everything sounded, I knew it was time to abandon the detail and go help,” Wale said.

The gunshots started seconds after Wale pulled up in his unit. Gunfire started to rain on his car. He watched in horror as Triche went down and Nielsen fell to the ground in a slumped over position. It was unclear at the time if they were dead or alive.

As Bullock moved toward him, Wale caught sight of Joekel getting up off his knees. He noticed something shiny reflecting in his hands and mentally noted it as a potential weapon, though the defense said Wale was only seeing the reflection of handcuffs.

The tall, slender subject who initialized the shooting was identified as Brian Smith. He appeared to retreat around a trailer, and Wale and Bullock saw his feet underneath the trailer as shots continued to fire. The officers shot at Smith’s lower legs and watched as he flinched and gunshots ceased. Jason Triche had been shot in the crossfire with a force that felt like getting “hit by a truck.”

Triche would soon learn the shot disintegrated one of his kidneys and put the other into shock.

“Go,” Wale said, ushering him toward his unit. Jason Triche put Wale’s car in reverse and exited the scene, just as gunshots started again.

Wale grabbed Terry Smith and pulled him to a dark area behind a unit. Smith kept yelling, making Wale fear he would give their location away and get them both killed. He could hear Jeremy screaming in agony nearby.

Gathering the courage to look around the car, Wale saw a subject – who he and Bullock later identified as Joekel – standing over Nielsen with a rifle pointed directly downward. He was pulling the trigger again and again until Nielsen had been shot several times.

Wale fired in rapid succession at the subject and, based on the way he flinched and retreated, figured he’d been hit. Then he ran off, and Wale lost sight of him.

Wale made the decision to cut Terry Smith loose and look for Jeremy Triche. He and other officers arriving to the scene moved Triche and Nielsen to a vehicle.

Wale became visibly choked up on the witness stand as he recounted what had happened to Nielsen.

“I pulled his vest off and looked at the wounds to his chest and to his face, and there wasn’t much I could do,” Wale said. So he moved to Triche, who still had a pulse. After loading them in the car, they met up with an ambulance on Highway 628. However, Triche ultimately succumbed to his injuries.

Initially, both Wale and Bullock assumed the initial shots and the shots fired into Nielsen were coming from a single shooter, a brown shirted subject identified as Brian Smith. The defense pointed out that the officers’ statements in the hours and days after the shooting seemed to put Joekel in a different location than Brian Smith.

Wale testified that he came to the conclusion there were two shooters and the second was Joekel around Aug. 18, 2012, when he realized there were differences in facial features of the shooters. Joekel’s beard looked different, and he did not have a tattoo on his neck like the other shooter, according to Wale.

He added that he is familiar with subjects being nimble enough to maneuver through handcuffs.

“It took me time to process it,” Wale said. “As time goes on, you remember more and more.”

Bullock said he came to the same realization after reflecting on the chain of events. He added that he is now “1,000 percent” sure Joekel was the person standing over Nielsen, despite initially thinking Smith was the only shooter.

The defense maintains Joekel was simply caught in a storm of gunshots that left him hospitalized.

Jury members listened to radio recordings and viewed video of the walkthrough taken after the shooting, photos of evidence and a map of the trailer park. The trial continues this week in Edgard.