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Sneed Drive standoff

Negotiators traveled to and from the home in this Baldwin Co. SO vehicle.

News Staff Writer

Special officers trained for such situations stormed an Atmore residence last Tuesday (April 21) and took custody of a heavily armed Atmore man, ending a standoff that had continued for nearly 12 hours.
Members of Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams from Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) and nearby Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) were able to overwhelm 42-year-old John Bradley James and take him into custody without injury.
“We were very satisfied with the outcome,” said Atmore Police Chief Chuck Brooks, whose officers were the first of an estimated 75 law enforcement officers who responded to a Sneed Drive address, where an already tense situation became more tense as the day wore on. “At the end of the day, the situation ended peacefully, with nobody hurt. That’s always the outcome you want to see.”
Dozens of officers streamed into Atmore’s southwestern quadrant at a steady pace as the morning progressed, in answer to an APD call for backup. By noon more than 30 marked and unmarked vehicles — including those from ALEA, BCSO, Monroeville Police Department and Escambia County Sheriff’s Office — and two ambulances on stand-by filled the parking lot of Brooks Memorial Baptist Church, where a command center had been established, and lined nearby streets.
“We were very fortunate that the teams and officers from the other agencies responded so quickly,” said Brooks, who revealed that the Sneed Drive incident actually began as a hostage situation, more than three and a half hours before police knew anything about it.
“The whole thing actually started around 5:30 that morning,” said the police chief. “(James) and his father got into an argument outside the house, and things escalated.”
The initial call relayed by APD dispatchers around 9 a.m. was that “a man, armed with a weapon and extremely agitated with his family,” was acting in a threatening manner.
Brooks said James, who lives in the home with his parents, fired a shot from a handgun into the air and accosted his father after the apparently heated debate. The two then went inside, where James’ mother and two young children were, and James quickly accumulated a small arsenal.
“He had handguns, a shotgun and a high-powered rifle,” the police chief said. “He had plenty of fire power.”
James’ mother was able to sneak the children out of the house around mid-morning, and James allowed his father to also leave about an hour later.
Escambia County Emergency Management Agency Director David Adams was contacted by police and used EMA maps to notify most of the neighbors by phone and advise them to quietly and quickly leave their homes.
Alone in the house, with the small army of lawmen surrounding it and others manning all possible escape routes, James stubbornly held his ground.
Authorities tried several times to reach him by phone. Also, SWAT team negotiators in a special BCSO vehicle approached the house several times and used the vehicle’s public address system in an attempt to talk James from behind his barricades.
Each attempt was either preceded by or followed by an explosion, similar to that of a flash-bang grenade, but Brooks said no flash-bangs were used.
“It was tear gas every time,” he said. The fourth round did the trick, as James was overcome by the gas spewing from the small metal canister. “SWAT officers stormed the home and took him into custody before he could react.”
James, who reportedly threatened to kill police during the standoff, remained this week in the Escambia County Detention Center. Bond was set at $500,000 on four counts of first-degree kidnaping and one count each of second-degree domestic violence and making terroristic threats.
Brooks said the suspect was apparently not under the influence of any drug during the hours he and police remained at an impasse.
“There was no evidence that he was under the influence of any drug, and he was not tested for any drug,” the APD chief said.
Brooks noted that James, who was involved in a similar incident in Florida more than a year ago, was able to follow to some degree the attempts by authorities to end the standoff. But, he pointed out, the suspect likely knew he wasn’t going anywhere.
“He had a television, Internet, a lot of communication with the outside,” the police chief said. “He could see that we had a large number of officers and that we could have waited him out for days if we had to.”