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Month: May 2015

District Attorney Warren Montgomery Highlights First 100 Days

He Praises High-Quality Staff, New Screening Program and Policy Manual

In his first 100 days on the job, District Attorney Warren Montgomery has added a diverse group of experienced professionals to his staff, improved the screening of cases for prosecution, and developed a manual that lays out employee benefits, office policies, and ethical guidelines.

Montgomery was sworn into office Jan. 12 in the 22nd Judicial District and will mark 100 days (including just weekdays) on May 29.

“From day one, I have focused on building a team that operates with the highest degree of ethics, professionalism, and competence,” Montgomery said. “We are taking the politics out of the District Attorney’s Office and creating a true meritocracy.”

Montgomery said he is especially proud of his 26 new hires so far—11 attorneys, nine investigators (two of whom are part-time), four secretaries, a Victim Assistance Program coordinator, and a public information officer. The newcomers include three female section heads: Francesca A. Bridges, who is head of the new Screening Division; Caroline Barkerding, supervisor of the Misdemeanors and Juvenile Divisions; and Margaret E. Laurent, a Victim Assistance Program Coordinator.

Bridges spent nearly 12 years as a prosecutor for the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office and served as lead counsel in 10 of the 12 sections of court, where she prosecuted criminal defendants charged with sex crimes, crimes of violence and weight narcotics. Barkerding, who was raised in Covington and graduated from St. Scholastica Academy, worked for a private law firm before moving to the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office. She spent nearly six years there, prosecuting cases in the Magistrate, Municipal, Felony, Juvenile, Child In Need Of Care, and Domestic Violence divisions. Laurent spent 16 years through 2007 as an administrative assistant for the City of Compton in California, where she served as the liaison to the mayor and city council. In more recent years, she has worked as a records archivist, supervisory records analyst, office manager, and owner/president of a vocational training academy.

Adding more diversity to the office has been a goal, Montgomery said. Among the new hires are four African Americans, who are in “crucial, professional, decision-making roles,” he added. Montgomery also has beefed up his investigative unit. The new investigators include:

– Two former New Orleans Police Department veterans—a captain who served 38 years, including the last two as Commander of the department’s Public Integrity Bureau (Tami A. Brisset); and a retired officer who served 29 years, the last three assigned to the F.B.I.’s Violent Crime Task force (John O. Duzac)

– The former LSU Chief of Police, who also worked as a state trooper, Jefferson Parish sheriff’s deputy, Supervisory Special Agent for the U.S. Customs Service, and senior instructor at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (Matthew L. Issman)

– An eight-year veteran investigator for the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office, who also retired from the New Orleans Police Department after 25 years (Warren J. Fitzgerald, III)

– A retired Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent with 24 years experience, conducting complex investigations and helping to supervise a high-intensity drug trafficking area, and 10 years experience as a Louisiana State trooper (Vincent R. Saltaformaggio)

– An Air National Guard veteran who retired with 35 years experience as an aircraft electrician and later at age 55 became a police officer in Wareham, Massachusetts, serving as a patrolman, accreditation manager, background investigator, crime scene photographer, and public information officer (William Fihlman)

– A 23-year law enforcement veteran and former Supervisor of the Washington Parish Sheriff’s Office Criminal Investigation Division (Tommie Sorrell)

– Two retired FBI agents with extensive investigatory experience (James Collignon and Jerome DiFranco)

The new employees joined a talented group of attorneys, investigators, and support staff who were retained from the previous administration.

Twenty-one people have left the District Attorney’s Office for a variety of reasons in the transition, Montgomery said.

In addition to hiring high-quality staff, Montgomery also created a new Screening Division, headed by Bridges. The purpose of the new unit is to evaluate cases earlier in the process to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to support prosecution. The division decides whether to accept what law enforcement has booked, add, refuse, or change charges, or refer them to another jurisdiction. The goal is to be able to properly charge a defendant with a crime as soon as possible after an arrest so that prosecutors are ready for trial and can avoid unnecessary delays.

To assist in this endeavor, local law enforcement agencies have agreed to provide their investigatory records to the District Attorney’s Office much sooner in the process. Prosecutors will have electronic access to police reports, jail reports, and crime lab reports as soon as the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office completes them. The Slidell Police Department and Washington Parish Sheriff’s Office also have agreed to provide electronic access to their reports.

“I applaud the local law enforcement agencies that are working with us even more closely to assure that we are able to present the strongest possible cases,” Montgomery said.

Finally, Montgomery said his chiefs have worked diligently to complete the policy manual, which is undergoing a final round of employee feedback and is expected to be approved by June 1.

The new manual establishes clear policies on sick leave and vacation, particularly for investigators and non-exempt employees, who do not accumulate leave under the parish system. It establishes a one-year probationary period for all new employees and bans them from using office resources, identifications, and logos to support any political purpose (though they may participate in the process as private citizens).

The manual also forbids Assistant District Attorneys from accepting the civil representation of any private client involved in any matter pending in the District Attorney’s Office. The manual discourages secondary work outside of the office and requires those seeking to obtain outside work to get prior approval from the District Attorney.

“Our employees deserve to know what is expected of them in every area from their professional behavior to the amount of leave they can accumulate,” Montgomery said. “Every professional operation lays out these guidelines. They help to even the playing field so that everyone is playing by the same set of rules.”

Other highlights of Montgomery’s first 100 days are:

– Improved transparency.  Montgomery hired a full-time public information officer (Lisa Frazier Page), who spent nearly 30 years as a reporter and editor at two major newspapers, to provide information about the office’s activities to the media and the public. She also helps to handle public records requests and serves on his Executive Advisory Committee.

– New pilot program to assist indigent defendants.  Montgomery has approved a pilot program to examine how to help low-income, first-time offenders gain access to the office’s Diversion Program if they meet the qualifications but cannot afford the fees.

 

Two St. Tammany Parish Men Found Guilty of Sex Crimes

Lewis Galloway

Alfred Gaines

COVINGTON—The District Attorney’s Office won back-to-back victories Wednesday (May 20) and Thursday (May 21) when prosecutors got a guilty verdict from a jury and then a guilty plea in two separate cases that involved sex crimes against victims younger than 13.

A St. Tammany Parish jury deliberated just a half-hour Wednesday before finding Lewis E. Galloway, 70, of Covington, guilty of two counts of molestation of a juvenile under 13 and one count of sexual battery. Galloway faces up to 99 years in prison.

Over a three-year period, ending in March 2012, Galloway molested two girls, who were 9 and 10 years old when the abuse started. One of the victims testified that Galloway touched her inappropriately and made her touch him. She said she also witnessed him do the same to the other girl, who did not testify. The victim who testified said Galloway gave both girls money and played a game that required them to lift their shirts to reveal themselves to him when he used a certain word.

Another victim, now 22, also testified that when she was 9 or 10, Galloway molested her multiple times. She said it started with the same game and progressed over time to his taking her to work with him in the Tchefuncte Country Club Estates neighborhood in Madisonville. Once there, he sometimes parked in an isolated area, tried to remove her clothes, and performed a sexual act on her.

The St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office investigated the incidents that occurred in the Tchefuncte neighborhood, while the Covington Police Department investigated the later crimes. Assistant District Attorney Nick Noriea prosecuted Galloway in a two-day trial before Judge August J. Hand.

Noriea had selected a jury and was prepared to go to trial in Hand’s courtroom again Thursday, when Alfred M. Gaines Jr., 50, of Hickory, pled guilty to forcible rape and sexual battery of a 4-year-old girl who had been left in his care. Hand sentenced Gaines to 40 years on the rape charge and 40 years on the sexual battery charge. The sentences will run concurrently.

The girl’s mother trusted Gaines to care for the child for a short time while she ran errands. But once the mother left, Gaines played pornographic movies and performed an oral sexual act on the child. The crime came to light later when the girl told her mother what happened. The St. Tammany Sheriff’s Office investigated the case.

Slidell Man Found Guilty of Manslaughter in 2012 Stabbing Death and Fire

Katelyn Lusich

Devin Baham

Andrew Sumner

COVINGTON – A sentencing hearing will be held June 22 for Devin Baham, 24, of Slidell, who was convicted by a St. Tammany Parish jury late Friday (May 15) of manslaughter, aggravated arson, and obstruction of justice for fatally stabbing a woman and setting her apartment on fire to cover up the crime. As a multiple offender, Baham faces life in prison.

“I want to thank the jury for their time and attention in this very difficult case,” District Attorney Warren Montgomery said at the end of the weeklong trial. “I believe justice has been served for the victim and her family by the jury’s unanimous verdicts.”

Assistant District Attorneys Julie Knight and Jay Adair prosecuted Baham before Judge Allison H. Penzato. Slidell police officers Jim Davis and Sgt. Sean McClain and former Slidell police officer Robert Chadwick investigated the murder.

Baham was one of three defendants charged in the death of Ashley King, who was stabbed 13 times and set on fire in her home in the early morning hours of Feb. 23, 2012. Andrew J. Sumner, 22, of Slidell, pled guilty March 9 to manslaughter, aggravated arson, and obstruction of justice for his role in King’s death and the fire. Sumner’s wife, Katelyn Lusich, 20, pled guilty in November 2014 to obstruction of justice and has been sentenced to 40 years in prison.

On the afternoon of Feb. 22, 2012, Baham and Sumner, who were best friends at the time, acted on a plan they had concocted to rob King of prescription pills and money. Sumner, who testified last week for the prosecution, said that King had sold him pills multiple times before and that he had helped to arrange the robbery so Baham could score money to buy a car.

Once the men were inside the apartment, though, King detected right away that something was awry and started asking questions. Baham then punched her, grabbed her from behind, and began stabbing her. Sumner testified that he fled to the kitchen and listened in panic as King screamed and eventually went silent.

Sumner said he fled the apartment a short time later with the pills and wad of cash taken from King’s purse. He left the scene with his then 17-year-old girlfriend, Lusich, who had climbed into the driver’s seat while waiting in the car. Once the couple made it to the upscale Slidell home that they shared with Sumner’s mother, Lusich stashed the pills and cash in a safe.

After receiving a call from Baham, who had stayed behind to clean up the murder scene, Sumner returned and picked up his friend from Heritage Park, located near King’s apartment. The men made their way back to Sumner’s house, siphoned gasoline from a boat in the yard, and then backtracked about 4 a.m. to King’s apartment to cover up their crime.

Sumner testified that Baham doused King’s body and the apartment with the gasoline and set them on fire. Firefighters, responding to the blaze at the occupied apartment building, discovered quickly that an accelerant had been used on King’s severely burned body and that the fire had been set intentionally. Phone records led them to Sumner, who later implicated Baham.

The jury rejected Baham’s claim that he was not at the murder scene and had nothing to do with the fire. The verdict on all three charges was unanimous.

Let’s Talk About It…

Wednesday, May 27th at 7:00PM
Faith Bible Church
1148 N. Columbia St.
Covington, LA 70433

From A. Nathan Young, Pastor of Faith Bible Church

In light of the growing unrest and disunity in our country, it is important that we become proactive in our approach to law enforcement and community relations. In the past, we have witnessed the tension that negative relationships between citizens and the police can create, even in our own community. We have also witnessed, more recently, in other parts of our nation, what can happen when the two do not work together to create good working relationships.

The purpose of this event will be to be proactive in our approach to law enforcement and citizen relationships. We desire to create awareness and understanding in West St. Tammany. Join us on Wednesday, May 27, 2015, 7pm at Faith Bible Church as we interact with top law enforcement officials in our area. You will have the opportunity to ask them your questions and share your concerns.

Law Enforcement Panel
Police Chief Tim Lentz
Sheriff Jack Strain
District Attorney Warren Montgomery
Public Defender John Linder
Other Community and Political Leaders will also attend.

Please note that questions for the panel will be written and handed in. Pastor A. Nathan Young will also moderate the event.

16-Year-Old Pleads Guilty to Second Degree Murder

Morales Eduardo

COVINGTON— Sixteen-year-old Eduardo Morales pled guilty Wednesday (May 6) to second-degree murder in the death of a 28-year-old man, who was gunned down during a pre-dawn argument that involved several men in a Slidell neighborhood in August 2013.

Morales was charged as an adult and faces an automatic sentence of life in prison for the shooting, which resulted in the death of Clarence Adams of Slidell. Because of Morales’s age, he can be considered for parole after serving 35 years.

A co-defendant, Daquan Ratliff, 20, pled guilty Monday to accessory after the fact for fleeing the scene with the weapon. He faces a five-year suspended sentence with five years of probation. A third defendant, Raheem Jamal Willis, still faces a second-degree murder charge and two counts of aggravated assault with a firearm.

The murder occurred just before 3 a.m. on Aug. 18 at Walnut and Beechwood Streets in Slidell, after a dispute in a neighborhood bar spilled into the streets. Willis fired a rifle in the direction of Adams but put the weapon down to engage in a fistfight. Morales then picked up the rifle and fired it. Adams was struck four times—once in his left arm, two in his left abdomen, and once in the head. Ratliff, Willis, and Morales then fled the scene.

Assistant District Attorneys Louis Butler and Joey Oubre handled the case, which was investigated by the Slidell Police Department. Judge Peter J. Garcia accepted the plea agreements.

District Attorney Warren Montgomery Supports Justice System Study

District Attorney Warren Montgomery joined other St. Tammany Parish justice system officials in a press conference Wednesday (May 6) as the Northshore Business Council and Metropolitan Crime Commission announced a yearlong study of the criminal justice system in St. Tammany and Washington parishes.

 

Metropolitan Crime Commission President Rafael Goyeneche said his organization will conduct the study, called the St. Tammany Parish Criminal Justice System Accountability Project, for the first time in St. Tammany to provide valuable information about how the system is working. He praised the array of public officials, representing every area of the justice system, for standing with him to support the study.

 

Montgomery said he is thankful to the Northshore Business Council, a group of area business leaders, for financing the study, which is expected to cost $100,000 the first year. He said he also is excited about the wealth of information the study will provide. The study will follow every 2014 felony case from arrest to resolution, examining the performances of the offices of the Sheriff, District Attorney, Clerk of Court, and the judiciary. Goyeneche said all of the public agencies have agreed to open their records for the project.