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Police: Defendant in shooting of 5-year-old was trying to pre-empt retaliation

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    MOBILE, AL (WALA) — A man who fired into a vehicle in February and critically wounded a 5-year-old boy was trying to pre-empt anticipated retaliation for a fatal shooting last year, a Mobile police investigator testified Monday.

Cpl. Joshua Coleman testified that Reginald Paul Pryor later told police that “he was gonna get them before they got him.”

That was in reference to the fatal shooting of April Ruggs that occurred in November on the same road, Farnell Drive.

Mobile County District Judge Zackery Moore determined prosecutors had presented enough evidence to send the charges to a grand jury. Pryor, 21, faces four counts of attempted murder and shooting into an occupied vehicle.

The Feb. 27 shooting took place just outside of Demarcus Austin Sr.’s home. He was inside of a red Chevrolet Malibu in his driveway with his son and two others, including a 6-year-old child when Pryor drove up.

“He exits the vehicle and begins immediately firing into the vehicle before speeding off,” he testified.

Coleman testified that a bullet struck 5-year-old Demarcus Austin Jr. The officer said the child is in the “long stages of recovery.”

A relative of the child told FOX10 News that the boy has a long physical road to recovery but “mentally, is all there.” He said people in the neighborhood were celebrating the life of the November homicide victim on Facebook when Pryor posted a laughing emoji. That prompted an angry response to from Austin Sr.

Police in January charged Lashaun Lamar Pruitt with Ruggs’ murder. They alleged that he fired shots into a house on Farnell Drive, striking the 41-year-old woman. She later died from her injuries.

Pryor has not been charged in connection with Ruggs’ death. But Assistant District Attorney Louis Walker said he had been rumored to be involved with her death.

Coleman testified that fear of a violent response prompted Pryor to take a shot when he saw it. The officer testified that the defendant fired a total of 15 shots. Some of those bullets went into a blue Dodge Journey that was in the street near Austin’s home. It is the first time that police have revealed more than one vehicle was shot at.

The Dodge Journey had four people inside, including two children, Coleman said. But he testified that no one in that SUV was hurt.

Coleman said that the victims in both vehicles were not able to identify who was shooting at then. But he said police were able to identify him from surveillance video that captured the shooting.

Detained for questioning, Pryor initially denied that he shot at the vehicles, Coleman said.

“When confronted with evidence of the video, he confessed that there has been an ongoing dispute,” the officer testified.

Defense attorney Marcus Foxx declined to comment as he left the courtroom Monday.

Demarcus Austin Jr. was the first of three young children this year to become collateral damage in violence directed at others.

Less than a week later, another 5-year-old child suffered a gunshot wound on Marine Street. Police say a woman who had been staying at the house became angry when asked to leave and started firing indiscriminately.

On March 29, a 3-year-old was injured by flying glass during a shooting in Mobile’s Maysville community.

For Pryor, this is the third time he has faced charges of shooting into an occupied building to vehicle.

Authorities charged him in April 2017 with assault and firing into an occupied building. He pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of reckless endangerment, and a judge sentenced him to a one-year suspended sentence and two years’ probation. Prosecutors have said the lenient plea deal was the result of the victim’s failure to cooperate with the prosecution.

Police arrested Pryor again in July 2019, charging him with assault and firing into an occupied vehicle. Authorities said a woman suffered injuries during the incident on Macks Street. But a grand jury decided not to indict him.

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