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By Paul Purpura, West Bank bureau

Two days after Hurricane Katrina plunged New Orleans into chaos, police Detective Kevin Thomas and his partner confronted four men at an Algiers convenience store, who told them that armed men had looted the business several times that day.

Shortly after, the four men returned, and a confrontation ensued outside the Chevron at 2601 Gen. de Gaulle Drive.

"(One of the men) told my husband, 'Man we've been going into this store all day, and we're going in again,' " said Thelma Thomas, Kevin's wife. "My husband said, 'You'd better respect my partner and me. You're not going in again.' And that's when one of them shot him."

The shooting triggered a gunfight between Thomas' partner and the men, one of whom was shot in the arm. Thomas never fired his weapon.

Two months and two surgeries later, the 17-year New Orleans police veteran was back home in Algiers.

"I can't remember a lot about the shooting," Thomas, 41, a 1982 graduate of Alcee Fortier High School, said Tuesday.

The robbery detective was a newlywed. He and his wife, a recent Dallas transplant, had married in May and blossomed into a family of seven: She had two teenage children from a previous relationship, and he had three teens, all of whom were sent to Texas before the storm.

She was at their Algiers home when she heard about the shooting on her battery-powered radio.

"All my life I thought if something like that happened to me, I would just feel it," Thelma Thomas said. "I didn't feel anything."

About 10 minutes after the radio broadcast, three police officers arrived. They didn't say anything, but they backed her into her living room just inside the front door, she said.

"Right then, I knew it was my husband," Thelma Thomas said. "I thought he was dead."

Kevin Thomas underwent surgery at West Jefferson Medical Center in Marrero. The bullet entered his left ear and exited through his forehead, fracturing his skull.

Four suspects were booked with attempted first-degree murder: Vincent Walker, 43; Jamil Abdul Willis Joyner, 22; Sye Carter, 32; and Montanez Thomas, 26.

Joyner is accused of shooting Thomas, said New Orleans Police Department spokesman Capt. Marlon Defillo. Walker was shot in the arm in the shootout, he said.

The suspects, who are from the east bank of New Orleans, evacuated to a relative's Algiers home near the convenience store, police said.

They were arrested within minutes of the shooting at that house by Gretna police officers and Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office deputies who heard the call for help on the one police radio channel that was working after Katrina, Defillo said.

Thomas showed his commitment to his job and the city, Defillo said. "He was willing to sacrifice his family for the betterment of this community," he said. "He should be commended for his actions."

But Thomas' career is in question. He will mark his 17th year on the force Dec. 7, he said, and he hoped to serve 20 years to be eligible for retirement benefits.

"I had my life planned," he said. "It just stopped."

His wounds have left him vulnerable to seizures and strokes, and he faces a third surgery to remove bullet fragments from his head.

But he's able to smile. He recalled how two young boys in a store recently fixated on the ¾-inch-wide swoop-shaped scar on his head.

He said he thrust his head toward the boys. " 'See, see,' " he said he told the boys, forcing them to look at what he calls the "permanent part in my hair."

"I can laugh about it now, but I didn't laugh about it then," he said.

The community is pulling together to help Thomas. Police opened an account for his family at First Bank and Trust. State Rep. Jeff Arnold, D-Algiers, and his father, Assessor Tom Arnold, contributed the first $1,000 donation, Jeff Arnold said.

"This is our own Algiers officer who was responding to a looting call," Arnold said. "It's one of the sad stories of some of our people who chose to take advantage of a bad situation. (Thomas) is missing out on overtime. He's missing out on details."

Thelma Thomas, an unemployed executive assistant, said she doesn't want her husband to return to the Police Department, even though he loves the work.

"I begged him Sunday (Aug. 28) to leave with me, but he would not leave," she said. "He said, 'Nope, I have a job to do.' "
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