Condolences from across the country continue to pour in for the family of Officer Sean Tuder and the Mobile Police Department (MPD), which has lost two officers in the line of duty in less than a year.
Tuder, 30, was gunned down on Sunday, Jan. 20, near the Peach Place Inn apartment complex on Leroy Stevens Road while attempting to serve an arrest warrant. According to Mobile Police Chief Lawrence Battiste, the suspect, 19-year-old Marco Perez, had been on the run from local authorities for outstanding warrants in state and federal court.
According to police, Tuder was off duty at the time but requested and received authorization to investigate a tip that Perez had been spotted at the apartment complex.
Battiste said Tuder coordinated with a supervisor and requested backup, but was alone at the moment he arrived. He said Perez approached Tudor, who was in plain clothes in an unmarked vehicle, before any other officers arrived.
“When Officer Tuder pulled into the parking lot of Peach Place, Perez approached his vehicle at a rapid rate and caused Officer Tuder to take action,” Battiste said. “They engaged in a scuffle, and at some point, Perez pulled a weapon and shot Officer Tuder multiple times.”
Battiste said Tuder had been working on Perez’ case for months, and investigators haven’t ruled out the possibility Perez recognized Tuder as an officer from previous encounters.
Police also confirmed reports responding backup officers were not immediately aware Tuder had been shot. How they became aware or how long it took is currently unclear.
Tuder was transported to Providence Hospital in a police cruiser, but ultimately died as a result of injuries he sustained. Police have declined to disclose where Tuder was shot or how many times.
At press conference Sunday night, Battiste said further details about the incident would remain sparse while officers investigate and prepare for prosecution. Perez won’t be arraigned until next Tuesday, Jan. 29, but Mobile County District Attorney Ashley Rich said he would be charged with capital murder.
Battiste said Tuder’s death has been difficult for MPD, noting the department is less than a year removed from the shooting of Officer Justin Billa, who was killed in the line of duty while responding to a domestic disturbance on Feb. 21, 2018.
“For the family of our officer, and the men and women who wear the uniform and badge, this is a time of grief for us. We’re trying to make sense of how we can have another brother lose his life in less than a year,” Battiste said. “We just ask the community to keep us in your prayers along with [Officer Tuder’s] family. This is going to be a difficult time.”
Officer Sean Tuder
Tuder joined the MPD in March 2016 and quickly made a favorable impression. After months of working MPD’s First Precinct, which the department identifies as a “high crime” area, Tuder was named the “Officer of the Month” in July 2017.
In a news release on his achievement, MPD said Tuder made numerous drug and gun arrests, adding some of his work led to federal criminal cases. That month alone, Tuder responded to 110 calls and 57 calls for backup and made 13 felony and 55 misdemeanor arrests.
Though he had been on the force less than three years, Battiste said Tuder had already started to have a positive impact, not just on the community but also on his fellow officers.
“He was one of those guys that certainly resonates in your mind as someone who’s a true leader and doing his best in this community to keep people safe and be a role model for others,” Battiste said. “He was one of those officers that believed in mentoring and helping to bring other officers along as well.”
Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson, who met Tuder when he was named MPD’s Officer of the Month in 2017, reflected similar sentiments.
Stimpson called Tuder an outstanding officer who had done great things despite only being part of the MPD for a few years. He described Tuder’s death in the line of duty as a tremendous loss for the department and the city of Mobile.
“He was really on a fast track — a very aspiring officer and one that was destined to do great things,” Stimpson added.
Prior to joining the department, Tuder began his law enforcement career in his native state of Florida. He graduated from Fleming Island High School, attended the criminal justice academy at St. Johns River State College and joined the Palatka Police Department. Tuder made national news in 2015 for his quick reactions during an armed confrontation with a teenage burglar in Palatka.
There, Tuder reportedly shot a 15-year-old robbery suspect after the suspect allegedly racked a shotgun and aimed at him while responding to a residential burglary. Tuder was not injured in the incident and the teenage suspect survived. He and another suspect were eventually arrested and charged with armed burglary.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigated the shooting and cleared Tuder.
As word of Tuder’s death spread this week, officers who worked with him in Palatka and in other Florida agencies joined residents in both states in mourning the loss and offering prayers. One resident shared a story of Tuder giving his own money to a child in need.
“I’ll never forget, when he found out a young mother here in Palatka was out of a few things for her baby, Officer Tuder took money out of his own wallet and made sure that baby had what it needed,” she wrote in a Facebook post Monday.
Aside from his time working with the MPD, Tuder was also a specialist in a local National Guard unit. Members of the 173rd Infantry Unit have expressed their condolences, and some appeared Monday alongside District Attorney Rich.
“Not only was he serving our community as a police officer, but he was also serving our country, because that’s the kind of man he was,” Rich said. “He was a man of service.”
Marco Antonio Perez
Marco Perez’s name was in local headlines long before Tuder’s family, the MPD and the Mobile community were left to mourn the young officer’s death. He was arrested three times in 2018, including once as a suspect in a rash of a vehicle break-ins throughout Mobile.
Perez was one of three suspects police believed to be connected to at least 18 break-ins in the city. Although all three suspects were juveniles, Perez was arrested just days before his 18th birthday and was granted “youthful offender” status in the case when it was adjudicated. He was tried as a minor on at least 12 charges of breaking and entering, according to court filings from an unrelated charge. However, because he was tried as a minor, the details of that case are sealed.
According to Mobile County Metro Jail records, Perez was also charged with unauthorized use of a vehicle in 2018. Most recently, he was arrested for leaving the scene of an accident — a charge he pleaded guilty to in September before being sentenced to six months of formal probation.
District Judge George Hardesty presided over that case. Lagniappe reached out to the court-appointed defense attorney who represented Perez during that case, but did not receive a response by this publication’s press deadline.
In November, federal authorities indicted Perez on a single charge of possessing a stolen firearm. He was scheduled to go to trial in February, but police say Perez had since been on the run, trying to avoid that trial and a pending charge for probation violation in state court.
Perez made the local news again earlier this month after his mother, 38-year-old Tiffany Perez, was arrested over an alleged scheme to fake Marco’s own kidnapping and murder in what police say was an unsuccessful attempt to keep him from facing his pending criminal charges.
According to MPD, Tiffany Perez filed a missing person’s report in early January claiming she hadn’t seen her son since New Year’s Eve. A few days later, she told local TV reporters she’d received a text message indicating Marco was no longer alive.
However, MPD quickly called her claims into doubt. A department spokesperson notified local media officers had tracked down Perez shortly before his family began to suggest he had died.
Police said he ran from the officers who approached him, adding they didn’t believe Perez was “ever in any danger.” He and his mother were both charged with filing a false police report, but Perez remained at large for several more days … until the encounter with Tuder on Sunday. Tuder is believed to have been following up on a tip about Perez’s whereabouts when he was killed.
Crime and punishment
Only a few hours after Perez was brought into police custody Sunday, Rich said her office would be pursuing a capital murder charge against him for Tuder’s death. The killing of a peace officer, she said, meets the bar for filing the state’s most severe charge, which carries the punishment of life in prison or the death penalty. Rich said prosecutors will make a sentencing decision in consultation with Tuder’s family as the case progresses.
Rich said Perez, whom she described as homeless, spent several days before the shooting “running from police and living in the woods.” She also told reporters he was only a visitor at the apartment complex where Tuder was killed, but did not say whom he might have been visiting.
Rich also hasn’t addressed whether Perez’s mother may face additional charges related to Tuder’s death, though she didn’t specifically rule out that possibility.
“The evidence is still unfolding and this is still an active investigation,” she said.
Following the two previous deaths of police officers in Mobile, neither case required trials because the suspects died during the incidents. After fatally stabbing MPD Officer Steven Green in 2012, Lawrence Wallace Jr. was killed by officers in pursuit. Last February, Robert Hollie committed suicide after fatally shooting Officer Billa and barricading himself inside his house.
Regardless of the punishment sought, if Perez’s case goes to trial, he won’t be waiting for his day in court anywhere other than Metro Jail. On Monday, District Judge Joe Basenberg ordered he be held without bond.
Basenberg determined Perez’s criminal record and the danger he poses to the community make him ineligible for bond. Rich and Battiste, each of whom have recently raised concerns about the prevalence of judicial bonds, praised Basenberg’s decision.
“We are thankful and happy the district attorney’s office was able to convince the court that no bond was the appropriate action in this case,” Battiste said. “We’ve made it through the first hurdle and her office has done a great job in making sure Mr. Perez will remain incarcerated.”
Perez will be arraigned on charges of capital murder and filing a false police report at 8:30 a.m., Jan. 29. Rich said Perez is expected to plead not guilty.
A community mourns
After Billa was killed last year, Stimpson said the only thing worse than addressing the death of a fallen officer would be citizens failing to honor that officer’s sacrifice. He later said Billa’s city didn’t let him down. So far, the response to Tuder’s death in the line of duty has been on par.
Dozens of police cruisers escorted Tuder’s body to a funeral home Monday. Along the way, thousands of officers, firefighters, motorists and residents lined streets and bridges — some holding American flags, some saluting, others standing quietly with hands over hearts.
Tuder is the 20th officer to lose his life in the line of duty in MPD’s long history, but he was also the fifth law enforcement officer in the U.S. to be killed just this year and the second in Alabama.
Agencies around the state had already been mourning the loss of Birmingham Police Sgt. Wytasha Carter, who was killed Jan. 13 while confronting a burglary suspect. Another officer was wounded in the incident but survived.
Since Sunday, praise for Tuder has come in from local, state and national officials as well as other agencies across the country. U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne wrote Tuder was “a hero who put his life on the line so that others could sleep sound at night.” Gov. Kay Ivey called him “an exceptional young officer.”
“This senseless tragedy has sadly taken the life of yet another Mobile police officer, far too soon, and stands as a reminder of the sacrifices made by those who wear the badge,” Ivey said.
As she did when news of Carter’s death first broke, Ivey ordered flags at all of Alabama’s state buildings to be flown at half-staff through Jan. 27 in remembrance of Tuder. Locally, residents in Mobile have come together in a number of ways to help Tuder’s family.
Several business are selling bracelets and T-shirts while others are pledging portions of their sales with the proceeds all going toward Tuder’s final expenses or directly to his family. The Facebook page “Remembering MPD Officer Sean Tuder” is a centralized location to follow local fundraising efforts and memorial events. The MPD also accepting donations for the family through the Mobile Law Enforcement Foundation.
Understandably, Tuder’s wife, Krissy, has not said much publicly about her husband’s death, but she has extended an invitation to the public to come pay their final respects. Announcing the arrangements for her late husband, Krissy wrote “come give me a hug and say goodbye to our hero.”
Two visitations have been scheduled for Tuder, both of which are open to the public.
The first will be Thursday, Jan. 24, 5-8 p.m. at Dauphin Way Baptist Church. The second will be at the same location Friday, Jan. 25, 10-11 a.m.
A private funeral and graveside service at Mobile Memorial Gardens Cemetery on Three Notch-Kroner Road will follow.
Other than his wife, much of Tuder’s family lives in Florida. In a statement given to News4-Jax in Jacksonville, the family thanked those in Mobile and across the Gulf Coast who have reached out to offer prayers and support.
They also requested privacy as they deal with the loss of “our beloved Sean.”
Dale Liesch contributed to this report.
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