A disgruntled Social Security recipient, shot dead after killing a Las Vegas federal building security guard and wounding a U.S. marshal, had a "lengthy" criminal history in Tennessee and California, including a conviction for killing his brother, authorities said Tuesday.
Johnny Lee Wicks, 66, faced murder and drug charges in Memphis, Tenn., in the 1970s, and sex assault-domestic violence charges in Sacramento, Calif., in the late-1980s, said Kevin Favreau, special agent in charge of the Las Vegas FBI office.
"Our investigation strongly indicates that Wicks acted alone, and that his motive was an overwhelming anger against the United States government," Favreau told reporters on the steps of the Lloyd D. George U.S. Courthouse and Federal Building, where Wicks opened fire Monday without saying a word.
Court records show Wicks complained of racial discrimination and lost a federal lawsuit last year challenging a $286 cut in his $974 monthly Social Security benefits after moving from California to Las Vegas.
He was accused of killing his brother, Leo Wicks, in Memphis in 1974. He was sentenced in 1976 to 12-15 years for second-degree murder and paroled in 1981, said Dorinda Carter, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Corrections.
He was accused of assault to commit rape in Sacramento in 1989, the FBI said. He served jail time after pleading no contest to domestic battery in Sacramento in 1995, court records there show.
Wicks also feuded with managers of a downtown apartment building for seniors and people with disabilities in Fresno, where his handwritten protest of his eviction and a small claims court filing in 1998 included an allegation that he was ousted "Because I am Black."
Favreau said Tuesday that investigators don't believe Wicks threatened violence before torching his apartment a few minutes after 5 a.m. Monday, and walking about three miles to the federal courthouse.
He never made it past security guards, opening fire with a Mossberg shotgun minutes after 8 a.m. just inside the doors to a two-story atrium rotunda, according to a chronology presented Tuesday by Las Vegas police, the FBI and federal marshals.
Stanley Cooper, 72, a court security officer and retired Las Vegas police sergeant, was shot in the chest at his post at metal detectors. Fatally wounded, he returned one shot, and six other guards and federal marshals unleashed another 80 rounds, officials said.
Wicks fired five times — pausing to reload after the first three blasts inside the courthouse entryway and firing twice after retreating across Las Vegas Boulevard with federal marshals and court security officers in pursuit.
A 48-year-old federal marshal whose name has not been made public was wounded by shotgun pellets — bird shot, according to the FBI. He was released from the hospital Tuesday, said Gary Orton, U.S. Marshal for Nevada.
Wicks died in the bushes outside the historic Fifth Street School about 250 feet from the federal building doorway. He had been wounded in the stomach and shot in the head, Favreau said.
Bullet holes still pocked the school's restored stucco front Tuesday, with a bullet-shattered window near the spot where Wicks died. The building was built in 1936 and is now used for offices and art education. No one inside was injured.
"This tragedy could have been much worse," Orton said.
Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie declared the shooting a sign of a violent time.
"There is no stronger reminder that the world has changed that when a man wearing a long black trenchcoat walks into a federal courthouse armed with a shotgun and opens fire," Gillespie said. "That man, John Wicks, was angry at his government over a dispute and decided that he would settle his disagreement by killing.