The Pine Bluff police officer who fatally shot a robbery suspect in December after the suspect allegedly pointed a gun at the officer has been cleared of any wrongdoing in the incident, and was recognized Tuesday for his actions.
Another PBPD officer also was recognized for providing information that led to the arrest of several other suspects in the same incident.
Officer Bill Ablondi was among the officers assigned to a special robbery task force after a string of robberies of convenience stores and other businesses in Pine Bluff. Ablondi was part of a stake-out team conducting surveillance Dec. 6 at the Family Dollar store at 3000 W. 28th Ave., on Dec. 6 when he saw suspects wearing masks enter the store.
“He and Officer Roger Gray stood by and waited for the bad guys to do their thing,” Police Chief Jeff Hubanks said during the monthly Coffee with the Chiefs program, sponsored by Interested Citizens for Voter Registration and held Tuesday at Breath of Life Church.
“How many lives did they save by not going in and creating a potential hostage situation?” Hubanks said.
Hubanks added that when the suspects left the store, “one chose to point a weapon and there was gunfire.”
That suspect, Samuel Freeman, 23, was shot by Ablondi and taken to Jefferson Regional Medical Center. He died Dec. 15 as a result of his injuries.
“We don’t recognize officers because they shoot somebody,” Hubanks said. “We recognize officers because they survive and because they save lives.
“By acting calm and confident, he was responsible for helping catch the bad guys, “Hubanks said.
After the incident, Ablondi was placed on administrative leave with pay while two separate investigations were conducted, one an internal investigation by the department to see if department policies were followed and the second a criminal investigation by the Arkansas State Police. He has since returned to duty.
“The Arkansas State Police sent me the investigation file and I notified Chief Hubanks, after reviewing all the facts, that Officer Ablondi was justified in the actions he took based on Arkansas law,” Prosecuting Attorney S. Kyle Hunter said.
According to a probable-cause affidavit, Samuel Freeman was wearing a green Halloween mask and a revolver was found a short distance from where he fell after being shot. A mesh backpack containing money taken from the store also was recovered.
After the shooting, another suspect, Jerome Pridgeon, 20, allegedly ran and jumped into a waiting car driven by Robert Jordan, 22, and left the scene. The two suspects didn’t count on catching the attention of off-duty police officer Jalyndria Murry, who was in her apartment when she heard gunshots and saw blue lights flashing.
Hubanks said Murry grabbed her radio and gun, walked outside and saw a vehicle matching the description of the vehicle in which the suspects left the area.
“The suspects drove the back streets and there was lots of radio chatter and Officer Murry heard the chatter,” Hubanks said, getting Murry to admit that she was wearing pajama pants and rain boots when she walked outside her apartment.
“She saw the vehicle pull up and park and a lot of guys running,” Hubanks said. “We might never have known who the other bad guys were if she had not been there.”
Pridgeon, Jordan and Jeffery Freeman, 20, were all apprehended after an extensive ground search. A fifth suspect, Keyvis McCoy, surrendered to police Dec. 9.
Investigators have linked the group to a series of robberies in Pine Bluff in late November and early December, and Hubanks said the operation plan for the robbery task force was set up based on the previous robberies, all of which had occurred after 7 p.m.
“The task force officers were to begin surveillance at 7 p.m. but officers Ablondi and Gray were there 45 minutes early,” Hubanks said. “If they had been on time, they would have missed it.”