Last Thursday morning, April 6, 2023 at the Harrison County Courthouse, Rudy Desmond Toler (42), of Pass Christian, was sentenced to a term of 40 years in prison, after his conviction on nine felony counts, stemming from a road rage incident on Highway 90 in June 2021. The sentence was handed down last Thursday by Circuit Court Judge Christopher Schmidt, who presided over Toler’s jury trial in January of this year.
During the three-day trial, the jury heard that on June 12, 2021, four Hancock High students, ranging in ages 15 to 17, were traveling from Bay St. Louis to a fair at the Coliseum in Biloxi. While traveling eastbound on Highway 90 in Pass Christian, the four kids noticed a car, driven by Toler, tailgating them as they traveled in the left lane.
All four kids testified Toler pulled alongside them in the right lane, brandished a pistol and pointed it directly at them. The kids called 911, gave the dispatcher a description of Toler, the make and model of his car, and his tag number.
While the kids were still on the phone with 911, Toler pulled ahead of them, pulled over into a parking bay near Walmart in Pass Christian, and then fired upon them as they passed. The jury heard that the bullet fired by Toler struck the right front wheel well of the car, passed through the wheel well liner, and entered the right front tire, causing the tire to go flat. The shot and its impact could be heard on the 911 call.
Within seconds of the shot being fired, Long Beach Police spotted the two involved vehicles. Officers attempted to stop Toler’s vehicle with blue lights and sirens, but Toler immediately fled.
“Dash-mounted police body cameras were played for the jury showing the pursuit, in which Toler reached speeds of over 90 miles per hour, ran red lights and stop signs, and almost struck a small child on a bike on Woodward Avenue”, said Assistant District Attorney Ian Baker, who prosecuted the case, along with Assistant DA Chris Daniel.
Toler continued to flee at high speeds through the residential area around Memorial Hospital, and ultimately turned southbound on 43rd Avenue. As Toler’s vehicle made the turn from 43rd Avenue onto eastbound Railroad Street, the jury saw video from police body-warn cameras of two shots being fired by Toler at the pursuing Long Beach Officers.
The Pass Christian man continued eastbound on Railroad Street to 37th Avenue, where he made a U-turn maneuver and pointed his firearm directly at the pursuing officers.
Upon seeing Toler again point his weapon directly at the pursuing officers, the officers simultaneously fired upon Toler, striking him once in the head. Toler sustained a graze wound to the right side of his head, but immediately dropped his weapon, and was taken into custody.
Toler argued that he was depressed and suicidal at the time of the incident. The defense further argued that Toler did not intend to hurt the kids, but only intended to scare them, and that he did not shoot at the pursuing officers, but shot at the ground, in an attempt to commit “suicide by cop.”
The Jury deliberated for a little less than three hours before returning a verdict of guilty on nine of the ten indicted counts.
When pronouncing sentence, Judge Schmidt, explained the criteria used for sentencing violent offenders, to include “the nature and circumstances of the offense and the history and characteristics of the defendant, and the need for the sentence imposed to reflect the seriousness of the offense, to promote respect for the law, to provide just punishment for the offense, to afford adequate deterrents for the offense, and to protect the public from further crimes by the defendant.”
Addressing Toler directly, Judge Schmidt stated, “I’ve recalled the facts and the proof in this case and have compared those things to the analysis I just read . . . and what this case is distilled down to, is quite simply a series of choices that you have made that led you to where you now stand, convicted of nine felony charges.” Judge Schmidt recounted those choices to Toler, stating, “ . . . one of the first choices you made was to brandish your weapon to four children . . . then Mr. Toler, you chose to escalate that first bad choice by shooting at the kids . . . following that bad choice, you further led the officers who were simply trying to put an end to what had been doing on a high-speed chase through Long Beach and Gulfport endangering the lives of everyone in your path . . . finally, and perhaps the most serious and egregious of the bad choices you made, was to shoot at the police officers pursuing you. This was by far the most menacing and alarming act that you committed . . . . on any other day, (under) any other circumstances, they would have given their lives to protect you.”
When handing down the forty year prison sentence, Judge Schmidt further stated, “ It’s been said that every choice comes with a consequence. You cannot escape the consequences of your choices, whether you like them or not. In the end, we all make choices, and our choices make us.”
“The jury’s decision in this case is a result of four high school students, who had the presence of mind to call 911 when faced with danger, and the courage to come to court and testify against their assailant. I cannot say enough about the brave officers of the Long Beach and Gulfport Police Departments, who came to their aid, put themselves in harm’s way, and performed their duty to protect and serve with the utmost professionalism. The Court conducted a thorough analysis during sentencing and handed down an appropriate sentence given the Defendant’s actions that day,” said District Attorney W. Crosby Parker.