NEW ORLEANS (AP/WGNO) — An assistant prosecutor wrongly decided to drop prosecution of more than a dozen illegal gun possession cases arising from Mardi Gras season arrests in exchange for the suspects’ agreeing to forfeit their weapons, New Orleans District Attorney Jason Williams said Thursday.
Williams’ statement was issued about the same time New Orleans Police Superintendent Michelle Woodfork told reporters her cousin was shot to death Tuesday night outside a neighborhood bar, a victim of sporadic, deadly gun violence that marred a largely peaceful weekend of Mardi Gras celebrations.
Williams’ office had come under sharp criticism when local news outlets reported the non-prosecution decision affecting 15 misdemeanor suspects and one felony suspect who were making their first court appearances on the weapons charges. LSU wide receiver Malik Nabers was among those arrested on misdemeanor charges, according to New Orleans news outlets.
“Violent crimes have wreaked havoc in New Orleans, especially with innocent victims. Dismissing these charges sends a message to criminals that they won’t be held accountable,” said Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry. “It’s no wonder the Crescent City is experiencing a surge in violent crime and leads the Nation in mass shootings. Residents, tourists, and the law enforcement officers responsible for these arrests and seizures deserve better from the District Attorney.”
“The Assistant DA’s strategic decision to refuse these misdemeanors in exchange for forfeiture of the weapons at first appearance was improper and does not represent our office policy or procedure,” Williams said in a news release. His office did not identify the prosecutor and said there would be an internal investigation.
It was not immediately clear whether authorities could choose to renew the prosecution of the suspects.
Woodfork referred all questions about the prosecution decision to Williams’ office during an afternoon news conference to discuss Mardi Gras safety. She said police confiscated more than 200 guns from the French Quarter, central business district, parade routes, and other parts of the city during Carnival season.
She praised city police, state police, and departments that provided law enforcement manpower from other jurisdictions in the state to help keep order during a citywide celebration that draws hundreds of thousands of locals and visitors to the streets.
But she also noted violence that broke out in spots of the city — including gunfire that erupted among parade watchers as the popular Bacchus parade rolled Sunday night, causing a panic that sent revelers running for cover. A teenager was killed and one man has been arrested in that case.
Less publicized was the death of a woman identified by the coroner as Nicole Williams, 50, who was shot to death Tuesday night. Woodfork confirmed at Thursday’s news conference that Williams was her cousin.
“Fifty years old,” Williams said, asking for prayers for her family. “Lost her life and she was doing absolutely nothing.”
Woodfork gave few details and said nothing of the suspect, another woman, arrested in the case. The shooting happened near Kermit’s Treme’ Mother in Law Lounge. The nightspot is off the beaten tourist path but is known among New Orleans music lovers. It’s owned by trumpeter Kermit Ruffins and once belonged to rhythm and blues singer Ernie K-Doe.
Woodfork said police faced numerous day-to-day challenges in the final weekend of Carnival season besides the usual crowd control duties.
She noted that even as parades rolled and revelers jammed the French Quarter, police were involved in a standoff with a man who barricaded himself in a house Tuesday morning after threatening to kill family members. At one point during the standoff that lasted past midnight, police said, the man fired at officers in an armored vehicle. There were no injures and the man was taken into custody early Wednesday.