A Mobile police officer was shot and killed while attempting to confront a murder suspect Tuesday night, leading to an hours-long standoff that ended with the gunman’s own death.
According to Mobile Police Chief Lawrence Battiste, Officer Justin Billa was killed when suspect Robert Hollie opened fire on officers who were setting up perimeter around his home on 2052 Avondale Court just before 11 p.m.Hollie was a person of interest in the murder of 58-year-old Fonda Poellnitz, whose body was found discarded along Ridge Road earlier the same evening. Family members said Hollie was Poellnitz ex-husband and had “beat” and “shot” her before throwing her out of a car in the area.
After Hollie was identified as a person of interest, Battiste said officers were preparing to enter the residence on Avondale Court to question and potentially arrest Hollie. Before backup could arrive, though, Hollie opened fire on officers at the scene.
After being hit, Billa was transported to the nearby University of South Alabama Medical Center, where more than a dozen officers waited for hours as he was treated. Battiste, who was visibly emotional when addressing the media around 3 a.m., said Billa “did not survive his injuries.”
“If you’ll be patient with us, we’re dealing with the loss of one of our own,” he said. “The hardest thing we’ll ever do as law enforcement is talk about the loss of one of our own.”
Battiste said he would have more details about the standoff around midday on Wednesday but declined to speak about Billa’s death until he had an opportunity to go to the hospital to meet with and “comfort” his family.
However, Battiste did confirm that Hollie was shot and died during the standoff, though he said it was too early in the investigation to say whether those fatal rounds were fired by officers or Hollie himself.
“We don’t know if he died as a result of a self-inflicted injury,” he said. “We do know one or two officers fired shots on the scene, but we don’t know if those rounds actually struck Hollie and we just made entry and secured the residence.”
According to an MPD profile of Billa, was hired by the department in January of 2016 and has worked in the Third Precinct that entire time. He was also named the MPD “officer of the month” in June 2016.
Wednesday morning Mayor Sandy Stimpson released a statement about Billa’s death, saying he’d served the citizens of Mobile with “honor and distinction” until his career with the department was tragically cut short.
“Officer Billa’s death affects more than just the Mobile Police Department. The death of a first responder in the line of duty is a loss that affects the entire city,” Stimpson said. “This morning we grieve for the family and friends of Officer Billa who have lost a father, a son, a husband and a trusted colleague. I offer my prayers in addition to the full support of the city as we deal with this tragedy.”