Dropped criminal charges during Mardi Gras sparks mother’s call for fair treatment

NEW ORLEANS, La. — Orleans Parish District Attorney Jason Williams has ordered an “extensive internal review” of each dropper case from Mardi Gras 2023.

“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,” said Williams in a statement.

It comes as a Baton Rouge mother is calling for equal treatment after an LSU football player and 19 others had charges dropped, including illegally carrying a gun, during New Orleans’ Mardi Gras celebrations.

LSU wide receiver Malik Nabers was arrested on Bourbon Street on one count of illegal carrying of a weapon.

He was scheduled for a bond hearing on Mardi Gras day, but the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office refused charges on the condition that he surrender the firearm. After he agreed, Nabers was released with no bond.

Ericka Banks said her 21-year-old son Jon’Travius Banks was arrested on Bourbon St. for having his gun with him the weekend of the Bayou Classic, Nov. 2022. The gun was properly registered and her son had a permit to conceal carry his gun. His mother said her son had not gotten into any trouble. Banks said unlike what happened with Nabers, her son’s charges were not dropped despite him thinking he was legally carrying due to his concealed carry permit. He is scheduled for a hearing on Feb. 24.

“My son had that same charge and we had to pay $2,500 to get him out of jail,” she said. “It was his first time going out there (New Orleans) and he didn’t know he couldn’t have his gun on him on Bourbon. Just because he (Nabers) plays for LSU, they dropped his charges. I just don’t think it was right. Everybody should be treated the same.”

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According to Orleans Parish records, 20 cases were refused at first appearance in court with nine of the cases only involving illegal use of weapons charges. In those cases, the state refused the charges with the condition that the defendant hand the gun over to authorities. Some of the other charges dismissed included unlawful possession of a machine gun, domestic abuse battery and sexual battery.

The New Orleans Police Dept. promised they would attempt to reduce crime during Mardi Gras by doubling down on anyone illegally carrying guns to the parade routes or to the Mardi Gras celebrations. NOPD even promised any violators would be arrested and prosecuted but the DA’s office is now accused of not doing their job.

“It’s embarrassing,” said Louisiana Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser. “We’re working hard to try to clean up the city and make it safer. The police are doing their jobs. And what a slap in the face to the law enforcement officers. We need a DA that wants to fight crime, not give us cheap lip service.”

In total, NOPD got 157 guns off the streets during Mardi Gras 2023.

Even if anyone has a concealed carry permit, Louisiana law prohibits carrying at “a parade or demonstration for which a permit is issued by a governmental entity.”

A senior assistant district attorney at the Orleans Parish DA’s office is who is accused of refusing all the charges leading to no bond. District Attorney Jason Williams told the president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission in New Orleans Rafael Goyeneche that he “did not even know his ADA refused the charges.”

“I’ve never seen this happen before,” Goyeneche said. “At the bail hearing, the district attorney’s office refused charges in 19 misdemeanor cases and one felony case.”

“He (DA) didn’t even wait for the reports from the police,” Nungesser added. “It stinks. There’s no good reason. Is it political connections? I don’t know. But there is no good reason and the public deserves a reason.”

Goyeneche said typically you get all your property back if the district attorney’s office refuses charges but the condition to drop charges for the Mardi Gras arrests was that they do not get their guns back.

“The case involving 19 refusals at the hands of ADA Emily Maw, along with a high OPDA staff turnover rate in just one year and the timeline violations for instituting charges against juveniles and adult felony offenders are symptoms of mismanagement within the district attorney’s office,” Goyeneche said in a statement. “Not only do you have Ms. Maw, the head of the civil rights division, refusing charges without reviewing police reports, but she also did so without informing the district attorney himself of her actions. The urgency to fix these internal problems at the DA’s office should come with the same urgency we’ve applied to the NOPD.”

FULL STATEMENT FROM DA WILLIAMS OFFICE:

“Taking guns off the street through aggressive enforcement and prosecution under existing gun laws is a top priority of our office. Prior to Mardi Gras, the DA met with our law enforcement partners at LSP and NOPD to reaffirm our joint support for this work.

The DA’s Office is committed to a thorough screening process for each charge delivered from law enforcement, the Assistant DA assigned to the initial review of these cases during first appearances deviated from our standard practice. We communicated this to our law enforcement partners and reaffirmed our shared commitment to the importance of prosecuting gun crimes to abate violence in our streets.

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. DA Williams has ordered an extensive internal review of each matter brought before magistrate court on this date, as well as appropriate remedial measures to prevent similar unauthorized activity in the future. This instance will otherwise be handled as an internal personnel matter.

DA Williams remains resolute in his commitment to seek justice for the people of this city and extends his sincere gratitude to all the men and women in law enforcement, locally and from afar, who worked tirelessly this past week, risking their own safety, to ensure a swift response to potential threats this Mardi Gras season.”

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