Louisiana news briefs
State construction money available
BATON ROUGE — Louisiana has more borrowing capacity available under the state debt limit to keep money flowing for construction work than officials thought, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s chief financial adviser said Wednesday.
The recalculation could provide some immediate relief for the Jindal administration, which was faced with the threat of road work and economic development projects grinding to a halt within months.
Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols said the state can borrow enough to continue construction spending through June 2014. Previous estimates suggested the state would run out of money in less than half that time.
Bourgeois sworn in as magistrate
BATON ROUGE — Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard L. Bourgeois Jr. has become a magistrate judge in Baton Rouge.
Chief U.S. District Judge Brian A. Jackson and U.S. District Judge James J. Brady said Bourgeois took the oath of office on Wednesday.
As a prosecutor and deputy criminal chief of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Bourgeois won convictions in health care fraud cases, computer-crime cases, and others involving mortgage fraud and investment fraud.
The eight-year appointment as magistrate judge followed the retirements of former U.S. Magistrate Judges Christine Noland and Docia Dalby.
Judge: Port Allen mayor can’t fire CFO
PORT ALLEN — A state district judge has ruled that Port Allen Mayor Demetric Slaughter lacked authority to fire city Chief Financial Officer Audrey McCain and granted McCain’s request for a preliminary injunction nullifying Slaughter’s action.
Judge Alvin Batiste also ordered on Wednesday the mayor not to interfere with McCain’s job responsibilities as she continues her duties as the city’s chief financial officer and municipal clerk. The mayor had ousted McCain, employed by the city since Oct. 1, 2011, from both positions on Feb. 11.
Judge’s recusal asked in shooting
LAFAYETTE — A bail reduction hearing scheduled for 18-year-old Seth Fontenot was postponed Wednesday after prosecutors questioned whether the judge is too close to some people involved in Fontenot’s capital murder case.
State District Judge Herman Clause disclosed that he has distant connections to two people closely tied to the case where Fontenot is accused of shooting at a fleeing pickup truck Feb. 10, killing a 15-year-old high school freshman and injuring two other teens.
Clause disclosed that he was a family friend of the mother of one of the two injured teens.
Clause reset the bond reduction hearing for Thursday, but it is undetermined whether he will remain the judge.
Fontenot is being held on one count of first-degree murder, and two counts of attempted first-degree murder.
Trial set in ‘07 slaying of LSU grad students
BATON ROUGE — A state judge has set a June 24 trial date for two Baton Rouge men accused in the 2007 killing of two LSU graduate students from India after an attorney for one of the defendants requested a speedy trial.
Beau Brock, who represents Casey Jermaine Gathers, said he had been prevented from filing such a motion in the more than 5-year-old case until all outstanding motions were resolved.
East Baton Rouge Parish Assistant District Attorney Steve Danielson said during a brief hearing Wednesday he intends to try Gathers and Michael Jermaine Lewis together in the slaying of Kiran Kumar Allam and Chandrasekhar Reddy Komma
The two were shot to death at an apartment on the edge of LSU’s campus. Their bodies were found Dec. 13, 2007.
Man gets prison for defacing churches
LAFAYETTE — A Lafayette man has been sentenced to five years in prison for spray-painting racial slurs on two churches and lying to a federal agent.
U.S. District Judge Richard Haik also on Wednesday ordered 35-year-old Brian Toriano Crimiel to pay a total of nearly $4,000 in restitution to the St. James Baptist Church and to the insurance company of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church.
A three-count indictment accused Crimiel of defacing the two Lafayette churches in February 2011. Crimiel allegedly tried to frame his ex-girlfriend for the damage.
Prosecutors said notes with “hate-filled language” also were strewn about the churches.
Crimiel pleaded guilty in October.
Man allegedly steals phone booth
HOUMA — Police say a man stole a pay phone booth in Houma by putting it in the bed of his truck.
Houma police are trying to identify the man pictured in the video surveillance of Sarah’s Discount store.
Police say someone from the business made the complaint because the pay phone was located next to one of the store’s gas pumps.
The theft was reported on Feb. 6.
The video shows a man leaving the area in a black, single-cab pickup and the pay phone is in the back of the truck.
Group urges N.O.
NEW ORLEANS — The city should not be allowed to get out of a court-approved agreement to reform the New Orleans Police Department, a community group said.
Community United for Change filed papers in federal court Wednesday opposing the city’s move to vacate the agreement. Instead, the group says, the court should consider putting the police department into receivership under U.S. Justice Department supervision.
The agreement, known as a consent decree, was the result of long negotiations between the city and the Justice Department and will cost the city millions of dollars a year to implement.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu had invited a Justice Department review of the scandal-plagued department soon after taking office in 2010. When the consent decree was announced in July, he joined U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder at a news conference hailing the agreement.
But last month, he tried to put the brakes on the agreement shortly before U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan approved it. Landrieu complained that the Justice Department in December made a separate agreement with the New Orleans sheriff for reforms at the city-funded jail — at a possible cost of $17 million.
Landrieu said the city can’t afford such costs.
The 124-page police consent decree spells out a series of strict requirements for overhauling the police department’s policies and procedures for use of force, training, interrogations, searches and arrests, recruitment and supervision.
Among the requirements: All officers are to receive at least 24 hours of training on stops, searches and arrests; 40 hours of use-of-force training; and four hours of training on bias-free policing within a year of the agreement taking effect. All interrogations involving suspected homicides or sexual assaults will have to be recorded in their entirety on video. The department also will be required to install video cameras and location devices in all patrol cars and other vehicles.
“The people of New Orleans are entitled to human, civil, and constitutional rights,” the Community United for Change filing said. “These rights are not dependent on the financial or political option of the government.”
Community United was critical of the agreement early on, saying community groups had been left out of negotiations. The group had sought unsuccessfully to intervene in the case as Judge Morgan decided whether to approve the consent decree.
The group is the latest to weigh in on the city’s move to vacate the agreement. Last week, the Justice Department urged the court not to vacate the consent decree and accused the city of inaccurately asserting that Justice officials withheld cost information about the jail.
Dabadie is interim B.R. police chief
BATON ROUGE — Officials say East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Kip Holden has appointed Lt. Carl Dabadie as interim police chief.
Dabadie, by virtue of his position as chief of staff, had been serving as acting police chief since Police Chief Dewayne White’s ouster.
White, who was accused of insubordination and violating departmental policy, was not officially terminated until Monday. But Dabadie had assumed the chief’s duties Feb. 6, the day White received a letter informing him of his proposed firing and cleaned out his desk.
William Daniel, Holden’s chief administrative officer said Dabadie’s appointment, which had not been made official late Wednesday, will last for up to three months and can be extended an additional three months as the city-parish searches for White’s successor.
Maryland man sentenced in child pornography case
LAFAYETTE — A 30-year-old Maryland man was sentenced in Lafayette to eight years in prison for possessing child pornography.
U.S. Attorney Stephanie A. Finley said Phillip Sessa Jr., of Essex, Md., was sentenced Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Richard T. Haik.
Prosecutors say an acquaintance of Sessa alerted authorities in November 2011 that Sessa’s personal computer at his Opelousas home contained child pornography.
When questioned about the images on his computer, Sessa allegedly told authorities some were of his girlfriend’s children who lived in the Baltimore, Md., area.
Over the course of the investigation, authorities seized more than 150,000 images and videos. Sessa was arrested in January 2012 and pleaded guilty July 23, 2012.
DA disbands drunk driver program
LAFAYETTE — A program that allowed some drunken drivers to wipe their records clean in near-record time has been halted after Lafayette judges balked at continuing the program amid an ongoing federal bribery investigation.
The program, which involved so-called “immediate 894” handling of cases, is at the center of a pay-for-privilege scandal. The investigation has led to four federal indictments, including bribery charges against a former assistant district attorney and two former secretaries in the district attorney’s office.
District Attorney Mike Harson said Tuesday in an email that the “immediate 894” procedures have been discontinued.
The FBI investigation is continuing in the bribery case. Federal prosecutors have said Harson is not a target of the investigation.
Widening of U.S. 190 to begin in April
MANDEVILLE — State highway officials say work will begin in April on a busy stretch of U.S. 190 that straddles Bayou Chinchuba in Mandeville.
The $11.3 million project will correct what many frustrated motorists have referred to as a hiccup in an earlier road improvement effort designed to ease east-west traffic flow through the heart of the city.
A 1.1-mile section will be widened from two to four lanes and a raised median will be added. The existing two-lane bridge over Bayou Chinchuba will be replaced with two new bridge spans, each with two lanes.
Preliminary work on the project will start soon, but actual construction will begin in early April.
The work should be completed by the spring of 2014.
Man faces weapons charges
NATCHITOCHES — Natchitoches Parish sheriff’s deputies say a 35-year-old Provencal man who allegedly wore a badge and gun to pull over motorists now is facing weapons charges.
The sheriff’s office began receiving calls Monday about the man.
When deputies stopped the suspect, Patrick Paul Miller, on La. 6 near Interstate 49, Authorities say Miller admitted that he had a badge and weapons in his car.
Deputies searched the car and found a novelty security badge, a loaded Smith & Wesson .38 caliber revolver, a loaded Jennings J-22 handgun, a holster and ammunition.
Miller was booked into the Natchitoches Parish Detention Center with one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
From The Associated Press.