DES MOINES, Iowa — They were each on overnight patrols early Wednesday, a rookie police officer and a veteran a few miles apart in the Des Moines area, when officials say they had the lethal misfortune to cross paths with an armed, disturbed man whose life was unraveling. Each officer was gunned down in the driver's seat of his patrol car, without so much as a chance to unholster his weapon.
Investigators quickly identified a suspect in the slayings, who then surrendered — a local man described as a troubled loner who was familiar to the police in his suburban town, Urbandale. He had a string of arrests and confrontations with officers and others, but nothing in his record approached the scale of violence that erupted here.
Just hours before the two officers were killed, a court had ordered the man, Scott M. Greene, 46, to move out of his mother's house, after she accused him of emotional and physical abuse. A few weeks ago, the Urbandale police had escorted him out of a football game being played by his daughter's high school, after he waved a Confederate flag in front of black students, leading to restrictions on his ability to set foot on school property.
But none of it added up to an explanation for the deadly assaults, said Sgt. Paul Parizek, a spokesman for the Des Moines Police Department, who added that the suspect appeared to have acted alone. "We may never actually know what motivated this act," he said.
The shootings were the latest of a spike in killings of law enforcement officers this year, a trend that has alarmed the police and their supporters, and that has intensified election-year debates about relations between communities and the officers who patrol them. President Barack Obama, in a statement, described the killings as "shameful acts of violence."
"Sgt. Anthony Beminio and Officer Justin Martin represented our best, most decent instincts as human beings — to serve our neighbors, to put ourselves in harm's way for someone else," he said, offering his condolences to the officers' families, fellow officers and communities.
Just after 1 a.m. Wednesday, the police in Urbandale, a city of 45,000, responded to reports of gunfire at the intersection of 70th Street and Aurora Avenue — the location of the football stadium Greene had been thrown out of, just a few blocks from his home. There they found Martin, 24, who became an officer just last year, shot to death.
Ross McCarty, the Urbandale police chief, said a gunman had walked up to the side of the patrol car and fired "over 15 and under 30" rounds, leaving .223-caliber shell casings scattered on the pavement.
At about 1:30 a.m., about a mile and a half away at Merle Hay Road and Sheridan Avenue in Des Moines, Beminio, 39, of the Des Moines police, was found killed in similar ambush. Officials said he was married and had children.
"It doesn't look like there was an exchange of conversation; there definitely wasn't an opportunity for these officers to defend themselves," Parizek said.
Within hours, officials had named Greene as a suspect; they would not say what evidence led to him, but said he was well known to the Urbandale police. "Most of our officers have some understanding of Mr. Greene," McCarty said.
On Oct. 14, school officials asked Greene to leave the Urbandale High School football game, saying he was creating a disturbance. The encounter, which was captured on video, showed police officers urging him to leave the school grounds and giving him a trespassing warning, as Greene insisted he had broken no laws.
The video, apparently shot by Greene and posted on Oct. 16 to a YouTube account in his name, does not show what set off the police intervention. But in the video, the man, who is referred to by an officer as Greene, repeatedly demands that officers return his flag and file assault and robbery charges against "the African-American people that were behind me," who he said hit him and took his flag.
That same day, the police were called to the home of his mother, Patricia Ann Greene, where Greene lived, along with his teenage daughter, the youngest of his three children. He was caring for a pit bull belonging to his older daughter, but his mother wanted the dog out of the house, and he accused her of grabbing him by a necklace and hitting him, according to court records, leading to her arrest.
Days later, Patricia Ann Greene accused her son of abuse and financial exploitation, and asked for an order of protection against him. In a hearing in District Court for Polk County, a judge granted that request, ordering Scott Greene out of the house by next Sunday, and to pay his mother $10,000.
It appears unlikely that Scott Greene could have paid the $10,000; he filed for bankruptcy in 2007, and fees he owed a court from a pair of 2014 criminal cases were recently referred for debt collection. He had worked part time at two hardware stores, but had quit, saying he hoped to find full-time work so he could support his daughter, said Gordon Sterk, owner of the stores.
He was a good employee, Sterk said, and "I've never known him as a hater of anyone or anything."
In April 2014, the Urbandale police charged Scott Greene with interference with official acts, after he resisted officers' efforts to pat him down for weapons. He was "known to go armed," the police report states, and was "noncompliant, hostile, combative, and made furtive movements towards his pockets." He fought with officers, who used a Taser to subdue and arrest him.
Just two days later, he was arrested again and charged with harassment, accused of approaching a man in an Urbandale parking lot, shining a flashlight at him, threatening to kill him and using a racial slur. He pleaded guilty to misdemeanors in both cases, and was fined and given probation
The Greenes live in a one-story beige house with a Trump-Pence sign in the front yard, in a leafy neighborhood where many people say they do not bother to lock their doors. But residents woke up Wednesday to the sight of a SWAT team surrounding the home.
Later that morning, on a gravel road along Interstate 80 in Dallas County, west of Des Moines, Greene flagged down a passing employee of the state's Department of Natural Resources, showed his identification and told the employee to call 911, Parizek said. Sheriff's deputies and state troopers responded, found him unarmed and took him into custody, the sergeant said, but Greene complained of a medical problem and was taken to a hospital.