Lawyer, civil rights activist call for DOJ investigation in Gretna

May 26, 2017 | Updated: 4:11 p.m., May 26, 2017

GRETNA – The family of a man who died two days after a violent encounter with Gretna police is calling for a Department of Justice investigation into his death.

Kendole Johnson died on February 9, two days after officers from the Gretna Police Department cornered him behind the counter of a convenience store and forcibly subdued him using a stun gun and physical force.

Civil Rights activist Ja’Mal Green and attorney Michael Oppenheimer didn’t mince words when they spoke of the encounter today in a press conference in front of the Gretna Police Department headquarters, a day after the department released surveillance video of the encounter.

Video shows Gretna officers struggle with suspect before he dies in custody

“Today we are here because we saw that surveillance video that was released yesterday by the Gretna Police Department, and it’s appalling, to say the least, but it proves everything that we have been saying from the beginning,” Green said.

Oppenheimer said the police officers who can be seen on video attempting to subdue Joseph were “huge” and “looked like linebackers for a college football team.”

“I have just witnessed, as have all of you, a murder,” Oppenheimer said.

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Joseph was familiar with the store and went there for sanctuary, Oppenheimer said.

He “went into that store because he felt safe, because he was afraid of the police, he said ‘help me, they’re going to kill me,’” Oppenheimer said.

Joseph had been diagnosed as schizophrenic, according to his family, and had been having what the family described as “episodes” before his death.

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The day of his fatal encounter with the Gretna Police Department, the principal of a nearby school dialed 911 to report a man believed to have been Joseph acting strangely in front of the school.

When officers arrived, Joseph fled into the store, where the confrontation began.

“Kendole had a mental health issue,” Green said. “The Gretna Police Department did not know how to deal with that issue, so instead, they killed him.”

Far too often, Green said, members of the black community with mental health issues are treated as criminals instead of people who need help.

“This is not a man that had a record,” Green said. “He was not arrested before. He does not have a background. This is a man that was loved by his family.”

Oppenheimer said he wants the Department of Justice to get directly involved with the issue.

“I am calling upon and the family is calling upon an independent investigation,” he said. “Not Jefferson Parish, not Gretna investigating their own – that’s been going on for way too long, and everybody knows that – we are calling for an independent investigation. I am calling on the Department of Justice to come here and investigate this case.”