HARRISON COUNTY, Miss. (WLOX) - Wearing a red jumpsuit, a smiling Darian Atkinson appeared in court Tuesday morning for his preliminary hearing. A Gulfport detective took the stand, testifying about Atkinson’s role in the May 5 shooting of Biloxi Police Officer Robert McKeithen.
Atkinson is charged with capital murder in that shooting, which happened outside the Biloxi Police Department.
In court, Det. Samuel Jewell laid out how the investigation unfolded, including the events leading up to the shooting, a police report taken at Atkinson’s mother’s home before officers knew he was the suspect, and the information that eventually led them to identify and arrest Atkinson.
Around 10 p.m. on May 5, authorities say Darian Atkinson walked into the Biloxi Police Department and sat down. A man and woman also entered the building with their children and asked to file a police report for a domestic violence incident. The couple was told an officer would arrive shortly to speak with them, so they walked outside while they waited. Shortly after, surveillance video showed Atkinson walking out of the building.
At approximately 10:05 p.m., Officer Robert McKeithen arrived in the parking lot in his patrol car. He began talking with the couple standing outside about the report they wanted to file. McKeithen asked Atkinson if he was involved in the domestic complaint somehow. The man and woman told authorities later that Atkinson responded to McKeithen’s question by saying something to the effect of, “Leave me alone. I don’t have nothing to do with it.”
Atkinson kept walking, going over to a tree on the west side of the parking and just standing there. A few minutes later, Atkinson reportedly approached McKeithen from behind on his right side. When he came within arm’s reach of the police officer, Jewell said Atkinson pulled out a handgun from his waistband and fired multiple shots at McKeithen’s back.
The couple and children turned and ran through the parking lot, into the building, alerting officers about the shooting. Jewell said several cameras were placed both inside and outside the building, showing the shooting. Everything the witnesses told authorities matched up with what the videos show, he said.
According to Jewell, McKeithen was in full uniform and wearing a protective vest. He was shot six times, with two injuries to his upper back, one on the left and one on the right side of his body. Jewell said the round that entered his body on the left traveled through his body and came out the left side of his chest; the other round came out the right side of his chest, striking an artery that caused massive bleeding and loss of blood.
Other shots were also fired that struck McKeithen's protective vest, leaving bruises, said Jewell. Relaying the medical examiner's report, Jewell said McKeithen also had a nonlethal graze wound on the right side of his forehead. McKeithen was rushed to Merit Health, where he was pronounced dead around 11 p.m.
As investigators began to process the crime scene, they found nine 40-caliber shell casings which were consistent with the weapon that shot McKeithen, said the detective. They also found a spare magazine in the middle of the parking lot just north of where the shooting took place.
As officers spread out to search the area for the shooter, they received information from a witness on Porter Avenue who said he saw a man matching the suspect’s description running north to the railroad tracks. The witness told officers the man was carrying a handgun and was headed northeast. Police were not able to find the suspect. Shortly after that, authorities released the surveillance images to the media, asking anyone who could identify the suspect to contact police immediately.
Between 3-4 a.m., before the suspect had been identified, police officers were called to the home of Atkinson’s mother. When they arrived, she reportedly told them that her son was creating a disturbance and was trespassing. Darian’s older brother, Davian Atkinson, was there and told officers he would make sure his brother had a ride to leave the house.
A few hours after that between 8-9 a.m., Det. Jewell said they received a tip from someone with the Biloxi School District who identified Darian Atkinson as the suspect. After reviewing his police record, FBI agents noted his mother’s address and went to her home. Jewell said after identifying themselves to Atkinson’s mother, they asked if she knew why they were there and she said yes because she had seen the photos released of her son through the media.
Jewell said the mother told the agents that Darian had been at her home in the early-morning hours and had left with his brother. She told them she had received a phone call just after midnight from her younger son, Wanya Atkinson, asking if she had seen the photos of the suspect accused in McKeithen’s death. After looking at the photos on her phone, she told the agents she believed it was Darian. Shortly after that, she contacted Biloxi Police with the trespassing complaint against Darian.
After Darian had been identified, officers noted that he had changed his appearance before they arrived hours earlier for the trespassing complaint so they did not recognize him from the surveillance photos.
“He was approximately eight miles from the scene, it was six hours [after the shooting], and he had changed his appearance,” said Jewell.
While talking with FBI agents, Darian’s mother gave them the name of one of his friends, a teenager who went to Biloxi High. Officers went there to interview the juvenile. Jewell said the teenager told them Darian called her around 4:30 a.m. She said she had seen the photos and recognized the clothing Darian was wearing because she had purchased some of them. She said Darian asked if he could use her car but she said no, lying to him because she was scared. She also reportedly asked him why he shot the police officer, to which he allegedly responded with something to the effect of, “because I’m crazy.”
After finding out where Davian worked, officers went to his place of employment in Stone County, bringing him back to Biloxi to be interviewed. During that interview, he told police he received a call from his younger brother, Wanya, between 1-1:30 a.m. asking if he had seen the surveillance photos on the news. Davian said he thought Darian was in the bedroom next door since he had been sharing an apartment with his brother.
When he went to check, Davian said Darian was not there and a 40-caliber Glock handgun was missing from his own bedroom. Once he realized the gun was gone, he contacted his mother and went to her house. He said he saw Darian there but didn’t remember what he was wearing, telling officers that Darian told him and their mother that he didn’t do it.
Around 6:30 p.m. on May 6, an off-duty officer was traveling in Wiggins to the grocery store when he saw a man matching the description of the suspect in the surveillance photos. He parked his car nearby and contacted Wiggins Police to investigate. Officers responded and placed Darian in custody. Initially, Darian lied about his age, refusing to identify himself or allow himself to be photographed. Biloxi Police asked Wiggins to send them a photo of the suspect so they could identify him.
Once he had been identified, several officers were sent to Wiggins to bring him back to Biloxi. While waiting for the transport, several officers reported hearing Atkinson say, “Respect the shooter.” He was then taken back to Biloxi Police Department. Upon arriving at the station, several people reported hearing him mumbling about the murder while getting out of the police car with a smile on his face.
A search warrant was conducted at the apartment shared by Davian and Darian that night. Officers found a Glock gun case with two additional magazines, one of which was loaded with 40-caliber rounds. The case also had a sticker with Davian’s name on it and the gun’s serial number. ATF investigators were able to track the serial number to show that Davian had purchased the gun in March 2019. In the meantime, officers continued to search Porter Avenue and surrounding areas looking for evidence.
That search continued on May 14. The next morning, officers found a handgun magazine for a 40-caliber Glock near Benachi Avenue. Moments later, the weapon authorities believe was used to shoot McKeithen was located in a drainage ditch 10-15 feet away from where the magazine was found. The serial number on the gun that was found matched the one belonging to Davian.
Accessories After the Fact
Andre Anderson Sullivan Jr., Joshua Michael Kovach and Dalentez Latavian Brice are also charged with accessory after the fact. Authorities say they provided clothing to Darian after the murder.
What Comes Next
Judge Gaston Hewes Jr. said there’s probable cause to send Darian Atkinson’s case to a grand jury. Darian was sent back to Harrison County Jail to be held until a grand jury hears the case and decides whether or not to indict him.
“This is why we have the death penalty in Mississippi,” said prosecutor Herman Cox, describing the surveillance video of the shooting as “explicit.”
The five suspects charged with accessory after the fact are set to appear in court on Wednesday, June 19, for their preliminary hearings.