Mobile, AL – A Mobile Police Department (MPD) officer was fatally shot on Tuesday night, after he attempted to apprehend a murder suspect, the police chief said.
Officer Justin Billa, a two-year-veteran of the department, was murdered as he and other officers were setting up a perimeter around the home of 72-year-old Robert Hollie, MPD Chief Lawrence Battiste said in a press conference.
Hollie was a suspect in the murder of his ex-wife, 58-year-old Fonda Poellnitz, who was killed earlier that evening near her own home, the chief said.
After shooting Officer Billa, Hollie barricaded himself in his residence, and began shooting at other officers at the scene and Officer Billa was hit.
The officers returned fire, and found Hollie dead inside the house approximately three hours later.
Officer Billa was rushed to a hospital, where he later died.
“As officers went to Mr. Hollie’s residence to set a perimeter, and await for other officers to arrive to talk to him, he fired shots at the officers, striking one of our officers,” Chief Battiste said. “Officer Billa did not survive his injuries.”
He said that investigators do not know if Hollie was killed by a self-inflicted gunshot, or by rounds fired by police.
The incident was still under investigation, and only basic details were available, the chief said.
“The hardest thing that we’ll ever do as law enforcement officers is talk about the death of one of our own,” Chief Battiste said. “This is a sad time...”
The chief said he wanted to get to the hospital to speak with Officer Billa’s wife before he told the public anything else about him.
“I need to do that before I start taking about this officer, and who he is, and his character. Please allow me to do those things,” he said.
Officer Billa joined the MPD in January of 2016, and was chosen as the department’s Officer of the Month in July of the same year, WALA reported.
In an August of 2106 interview with WALA, Officer Billa, a married father with a one-year-old son, said that he and his wife always shared the same exchange before he headed out on shift.
“She tells me she loves me every day before I leave for work, and I make sure I do the same,” he said.
"We need to go back to helping people instead of just taking them to jail and creating bigger problems," Officer Billa said in the interview. "That's my ideal of good policing and I feel like that's what the chief is working towards."
Officer Billa leaves behind his young son, Taylor, and his wife, Erin.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Mobile Police Department Officer Billa, both blood and blue. Godspeed, we will take the watch from here. Thank you for your service.
Officer Justin Billa, your life mattered.