Baton Rouge police Chief Carl Dabadie on Tuesday said officers have arrested three people they believe were planning to kill police in the Louisiana city.
The threat emerged after the shooting death of Alton Sterling last week by Baton Rouge police, which has prompted weeklong protests by people concerned about police use of deadly force.
The “credible threat” was why law officers were quick to take aggressive action when they believed protesters were becoming unruly, Debadie and other top law enforcement officers told reporters.
“We can’t take anything for granted any more,” said East Baton Rouge Sheriff Sid Gautreaux. “What you saw in the (law enforcement) response is because of the very real and viable threats against law enforcement. Look what happened in Dallas. A very peaceful protest and then some crazy madman.”
Police said they learned of the plot when an officer responded to a burglary at Cash America Pawn early Saturday morning and arrested Antonio Thomas in the store, Debadie said.
Police said Thomas, 17, had one handgun and one airsoft BB gun, and told investigators he and three others stole firearms and were also seeking bullets to shoot police officers, the chief said.
One of the three suspects was released from jail Wednesday. He said he wasn’t involved in any such plan, CNN affiliate WBRZ reported. Trashone Coats said he was approached on the street by youths who tried to sell him guns, and was caught with the weapons when the police arrived and they ran off.
“I was looking at the guns. That’s how my fingerprints got on the guns,” Coats told WBRZ.
During the investigation Coats was charged with Illegal possession of a stolen firearm after detectives recovered two handguns that he allegedly bought illegally on the street.
“I want them to know that my intentions were never to kill no police officer,” Coats told WBRZ.
Surveillance video showed people using a ladder to climb to the roof to break into the pawn shop, police said.
Thomas was accused of burglary and theft of a firearm and booked into parish prison.
Since Saturday, detectives have arrested two other suspects in the case, including a 13-year-old boy. A fourth suspect possibly remains at large, police said.
Malik Bridgewater, 20, was arrested on Sunday at his home and was charged with burglary and theft of a firearm. Detectives recovered three of the stolen handguns with Bridgewater.
The 13-year-old boy was arrested Monday and charged with burglary and firearm theft, police said.
Eight handguns were stolen from the pawnshop, six of which have been recovered, Debadie said.
“Our officers have been working around the clock to get these firearms off the streets of Baton Rouge,” he said.
It was unclear Wednesday whether any of the suspects had retained attorneys. The office of the public defender said it had not been contacted.
CNN’s Artemis Moshtaghian contributed to this report.