MURRAY – Calloway County Sheriff Sam Steger has been engaged in numerous standoffs in his long law enforcement career.
However, he said the one that he and law enforcement personnel from multiple agencies faced early Saturday morning at a Murray motel – in which a Tennessee man wanted on federal warrants reportedly brandished a gun while his girlfriend and newborn child were in the room with him – is one he was afraid would end tragically. In the end, though, all ended well, first with the man allowing the woman to carry the baby to safety, followed by his surrender at about 7 a.m., about an hour-and-a-half after he let his family members go free.
“This ranks right up there with the ones I’ve been part of when it simply came to intensity and danger. This was a very intense standoff,” Steger said Saturday afternoon, several hours after the man, identified as Jesse Derrick Branham – who the sheriff said is from eastern Tennessee – emerged from a room at the Murray Inn & Art Gallery motel (formerly the Murray Plaza) on South 12th Street.
“There’s no feeling, though, for a law enforcement officer to have something like this end the way it did, getting somebody who was quite volatile to come out on his own and end this without anyone getting hurt, him or any of us. I’m going to tell you, this is one that could have gone the other way real easily.”
Steger said the events that led to Saturday morning’s events began sometime Friday after United States Marshals had informed the Calloway County Sheriff’s Office that it had information Branham was in the area. Steger said marshals indicated they had been pursuing Branham for as long as a year, maybe two, on a federal probation violation warrant. He said Branham has a lengthy criminal record.
After the marshals informed CCSO of the situation, Steger said the search began. He said the first stop was a residence in the eastern part of the county near Kentucky Lake, but after several hours of surveillance, this operation was aborted because there was no sign of Branham.
Soon, though, the marshals had more information, and by evening, another surveillance stakeout was underway at the Red Roof Inn at the southern edge of the Murray city limits. Steger said investigators watched the hotel, again for several hours, but this time and based on information they had, decided to make a forced entry between 9 and 10 p.m. Friday to a room at the hotel. No one was present, though.
“However, you could tell that someone had been there, and it had not been long since they had left, and it appeared that whoever had been there had left in a hurry. We believe someone tipped him off that we were coming,” Steger said. “So we went back to gathering more information and, finally, we came upon the Murray Plaza (now the Murray Inn & Art Gallery) and we confirmed with people there that they were there and confirmed their room number. So we decided to develop a plan and we got information that he was armed.
“So at about 12:25 in the morning, we, Murray police and a couple of detectives from Marshall County decided to try and make contact.”
Steger said the first attempt brought the first nervous moment. He said as his assembled team asked the man to come out of the room, he shut the window blinds, then opened the door and, while hiding himself behind the door, pointed what Steger said was a .380-caliber handgun at his team.
“He could’ve been shot or we could’ve been shot right there,” said Steger, who immediately began asking for assistance from other agencies after the man’s reaction. This included the Marshall Special Response Team, Kentucky State Police and Calloway County Fire-Rescue, which deployed about five vehicles to block all intersections between Sycamore Street and Glendale Road. “The marshals had already gone back to Paducah, but one of them turned around and came back to join us soon after that.
“There were several other interesting moments. He opened the door several times with the woman and the child with him and they would actually come outside, but then he’d have them go back inside again. But he was desperate.”
Eventually, communication lines were established with Steger, along with Marshall County Detectives Tim Reynolds and Jody Cash, a former teammate of Steger’s with KSP, forming a three-person tag team as negotiators. As the bitter cold night continued, Steger said he could begin to sense this had a chance to end peacefully.
“We just had to keep him talking and we finally had a stretch where we had a good hour of negotiations,” he said. “We just told him, ‘Look, no matter what you’re feeling, it’s not worth doing this. You’ve got to own up to what you’ve done. It might cause you a little grief, but it’s going to be OK.’ Now, keep in mind, he probably is facing several years in prison, but, even after how all of this started when we first approached him, I really didn’t have any fear that he would hurt them.”
At about 5 a.m., Steger’s belief was rewarded. The man released his family members, who would later be examined by Murray-Calloway County Ambulance Service personnel at a nearby staging area. This initially was met by the man going back into the room and promptly shoving a bed against the door as a barrier to a possible breach attack. However, soon after the woman and child were examined, Steger said they were brought back to the scene as a way of showing the man that something good had come from the situation.
“The idea was that by showing him his family, that they were safe, we could tell him, ‘Hey man! They’re safe, now you need to think about them and end this,’” Steger said. “So, we get to about 6:45, 7 o’clock and he says that he won’t come out until about 9 or 10. So he stops talking. Then, all of a sudden, a few minutes later, he says he’s ready to come out. He changed his mind just like that. We told him what we’d need from him and it wasn’t long after that that he opened the door.”
The man was given a simple condition … come out and relinquish the gun. After a few steps, the man, dressed in a blue sweatshirt, dark gray baseball cap and ripped blue jeans, with arms raised, dropped the gun. After Steger ordered him in a calm voice to turn his back to the assembled officers – all with their guns drawn – and drop to his knees, the man did as asked. Other officers moved in to complete the arrest, all using the same calm voices Steger had used.
“We didn’t have to be hard on him,” Steger said of how the arrest was not executed with great force. There was no yelling and the man was not taken to the ground face-first. “He dictated how we would act and, by doing exactly what he said he would do and sticking to it, we treated him with respect. He had been very cordial to me on the phone.”
Steger said Branham will not face any charges in Calloway County. He was taken to the Calloway County Jail after his arrest, where he will remain until Monday. That is when Branham will be taken to Paducah and turned over to marshals.
Steger added that an armored vehicle from the Paducah Police Department was on its way to Murray to breach the door if necessary, but the standoff ended before it arrived. In addition, no guests had to be removed from adjoining rooms at the motel, he said, though Marshall SRT personnel were ready to provide escort for any guests trying to walk to their vehicles.
Individuals facing charges are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.