Mayor Sandy Stimpson said the only thing worse than addressing the death of a fallen police officer would be the city of Mobile failing to honor the sacrifice he made in the line of duty.
However, Mobile Police Chief Lawrence Battiste said his department, while in mourning, has been receiving an outpouring of support locally and nationally in the wake of Officer Justin Billa’s death in the early hours Feb. 21.
Billa was killed while investigating a homicide at a home in the Toulminville neighborhood after a body was discovered nearby earlier that evening. He and another officer were setting up a perimeter and waiting for backup when the suspect, 72-year-old Robert Hollie, opened fire.Battiste said Billa was struck by at least one of the bullets and later died from his injuries at a local hospital. At the age of 27, Billa leaves behind a wife and 1-year-old son.
“A police officer dedicates their life to the principles of honor, duty and courage. Officer Billa exuded all of those qualities in his professional and personal life,” Stimpson said. “This is a difficult day, but we take strength in knowing that when an officer falls, our resolve to serve those in need is not diminished. Our dedication to protecting those in danger is not weakened.”
While reports of an officer being shot surfaced around 11:30 p.m. Tuesday night, the standoff that ensued with police and Hollie went on for several hours afterward. Police say he barricaded himself inside of a home at 2052 Avondale Court and didn’t respond to multiple attempts to communicate.
“Eventually, the SWAT team deployed other tactics that allowed them to gain access to the residence, where they were able to make a determination that Mr. Hollie was deceased,” Battiste said. “It would appear that he died from a self-inflicted wound.”
He said the early indication is that Hollie used a handgun to shoot both Billa and himself.
This morning, members of department’s executive staff, as well as a number of chaplains, reported to all of MPD’s precincts during first shift roll call. Battiste said he wanted to reach out to all of his officers on what has been a very tough day for many.
“We do have services to offer the men and women who work for us,” he said. “Sometimes in this job we like to think we’re Teflon and don’t ask for the help that we need, but we wanted to make sure everyone knows if they need something, the department is here to support them.”
Billa is the 19th officer killed in the line of duty in MPD’s long history and first since officer Steven Green was stabbed to death while transporting a robbery suspect to jail in 2012. Though he had only been with the MPD for two short years, Battiste said he was an “outstanding officer.”
In just his first year on the force, Billa was named MPD’s Officer of the Month in June 2016. When he received the award, Battiste said Billa spoke briefly about what led to his interest in law enforcement back when he was growing up in Louisiana.
“When he was in high school there was a law enforcement officer on the campus that consistently encouraged him to do good things within the community he came from,” Battiste said. “He then went on to choose a career in law enforcement for himself.”
While Billa’s death has made headlines across the country, Stimpson said it was important to remember the life of Hollie’s other victim, 58-year-old Fonda Poellnitz, whose body was found discarded along Ridge Road Tuesday evening. Her family says Hollie was Poellnitz ex-husband and claimed he “beat,” “shot” and threw her from a car before leaving her body in the road.
Stimpson noted that underlying cause of both Poellnitz and Billa’s deaths was domestic violence. Hollie sought a restraining order against Poellnitz in 2015, according to state court records, and she had also been jailed three times on domestic violence charges. But this time, it appears she was the victim.
“We know domestic violence cases are among the most dangerous calls to action policemen have,” Stimpson added. “They happen every day, not just in our community but all across America. Police officers go into dangerous situations and show great bravery while often dealing with people in the very worst moments in their lives.”
The mayor went on to encourage anyone “suffering in silence” through unreported domestic violence to reach out to authorities or to the other resources available in the community. He specifically cited Penelope House, which works with victims of domestic violence across several counties in Southwest Alabama.
Services and more information are available at 251-342-8994.
In honor of Billa’s “ultimate sacrifice” Stimpson said he’d ordered all flags on city property to be lowered to half-mast. He said Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey had given a similar order regarding flags on public properties throughout the state.
To assist Billa’s family as they deal with this loss, MPD also established a memorial fund for donations from the community and beyond. Battiste said MPD wanted to take point on the effort to ensure that no one attempts to take advantage of well-meaning residents through a scam.
Any and all donations to the Billa family can be through MPD’s official website or by clicking the following link: https://www.mobilepd.org/memorial-fund/