A West Memphis police officer had a military-style rifle in his vehicle when he and another officer were killed May 20 at the side of Interstate 40 by a teenager wielding a powerful AK-47.

Following that tragedy, West Memphis police will for the first time equip some patrol officers with AR-15 semiautomatic rifles, but not because the weapons would have saved the two officers, officials said.

Rather, police officers carrying the rifles in patrol cars would have been better equipped to stop the two suspects who were cornered in a West Memphis Walmart parking lot about 90 minutes after Officer Bill Evans and Sgt. Brandon Paudert were murdered.

“It wouldn’t have saved Brandon and Bill, but we would have been in a better position to save lives at Walmart,” West Memphis police Capt. Donald Oakes told the City Council recently .

With Councilman James Pulliaum absent during the recent vote and Herman Coleman and Willis Mondy passing, the remaining seven members voted to approve a new policy allowing AR-15 rifles for some West Memphis patrol officers that the department will select.

As a member of the West Memphis SWAT team , Evans was equipped with an AR-15 rifle but apparently saw no need for it as he made a traffic stop during his work with an interdiction unit scouring area highways for drug traffickers and other felons.

Evans and Paudert, who had arrived that morning to back up Evans, died after 16-year-old Joseph Kane shot them with an AK-47 rifle, according to police sources.

The teenager and his father, Jerry R. Kane, 45, an anti-government extremist from Ohio, were killed in the store parking lot after wounding the Crittenden County sheriff and his deputy chief.

Oakes said West Memphis officers armed with Glock 22 pistols and body armor that would not stop AK-47 bullets would have been defenseless in the shootout.

“We would have not been able to stop those guys from getting into that store,” Oakes said.

An Arkansas Game & Fish Commission officer armed with an M-4 rifle and SWAT team officers with AR-15 rifles made the difference.

By Kevin McKenzie for The Commercial Appeal.

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