Month: June 2016

Juvenile Diversion’s restorative justice ‘largely positive,’ facilitator says

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 Lauren Trout (center), restorative justice facilitator for the Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s Office and Jefferson Parish Public School System, discusses the program for an audience gathered in New Orleans for “Rethink Discipline.” At the left is Kimbrielle Boult, a student, and at right is Lynette Adams of the Louisiana Supreme Court.  (JPDA photo)

Although concrete data is not yet available, the restorative justice approach to resolving disputes among participants in the Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s Office Pre-Trial Juvenile Diversion program is seeing successes, a program facilitator says.

During its first year of use in Juvenile Diversion, about 260 people have voluntarily used the restorative justice process as a means of resolving conflicts and undoing the harm the youths’ behavior caused, said Lauren Trout, a restorative practices facilitator working for the District Attorney’s Office and the Jefferson Parish Public School System.

“The outcomes and responses have been largely positive,” Trout told about 50 educators, school administrators, students and representatives of community groups from as far as Jackson, Miss., who are gathering in New Orleans this week for a regional conference called “Rethink Discipline.” Trout was among the speakers on Tuesday (June 7).

The participants convened to discuss and share ideas on finding alternatives to suspending or expelling students who cause disciplinary problems in public schools. Restorative justice, one of this week’s topics, is a method school officials began using nationwide during the past decade, as a means of trying to keep youths in school and out of criminal justice systems.

Trout is helping bring restorative practices to Jefferson Parish’s 81 public schools. Through restorative practices, the youths who cause the problem must confront their behaviors by sitting face-to-face with the people they’ve harmed in what’s called “talking circles.”

And in the schools setting, the often-used means of meting discipline, through expulsions, suspensions and even arrests, doesn’t solve the underlying problems. “We know suspending and expelling young people doesn’t resolve the conflict,” Trout said, as the offending youths eventually return to the classrooms.

The Jefferson Parish DA’s Office and public school system began working together during the 2014-2015 academic year through a cooperative endeavor to bring restorative practices to the schools. Jefferson’s program, along with those in Caddo and Orleans parishes, is funded the program with U.S. Education Department School Climate Transformation Grants.

Jefferson Parish Juvenile Court judges began looking at restorative justice in 2011, through its Families in Need of Services program. Over time, District Attorney Paul D. Connick Jr., authorized his office to implement the program through the Pre-Trial Juvenile Diversion Program, using grant money from the Baptist Community Ministries Foundation.

In Juvenile Diversion, restorative justice is used in cases involving fights, thefts from persons, property destruction, assaults and batteries. Youths involved with narcotics, inter-family incidents and thefts from the large chain stores aren’t allowed access to restorative justice.

Jefferson Parish’s youths were only able to access restorative justice after they entered the juvenile criminal justice system, Trout said. That’s why the program was extended to the public schools through the collaboration with the DA’s office, she said.

She said she’s seen successes and barriers to implementing the program in the public schools in its first year. “Real change, and systemic change in particular, is really slow,” she said of the barriers. “It takes time to work efficiently across so many systems.”

She sees the collaboration between the school system and criminal justice system as a success, and restorative practices is now in the school system’s disciplinary policies handbook.

While concrete data isn’t available, Trout cited as an example of success a public school, which she did not identify, that had a high rate of arrests among its students. The school then included on its staff a part-time restorative practices facilitator.

“There has definitely been a reduction in out-of-school suspensions,” Trout told the audience.

Educators, school administrators, students and community groups representatives from Louisiana and parts of Mississippi are gathering in New Orleans this week for “Rethink Discipline,” a conference designed to address means of disciplining youths other than suspending them, expelling them or even jailing them. Speakers include Lauren Trout, a restorative practices facilitator working for the Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s Office and the Jefferson Parish Public Schools System. Among those attending on Tuesday was Erin Valls, project grant manager for the Jefferson Parish Public School System. (JPDA Photos)

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Marrero man sentenced to 10 years for possession of child pornography

A Marrero man was sentenced to 10 years in prison after he pleaded guilty on Monday (June 6), to one count of possession of pornography depicting juveniles under the age of 13.

Sean A. Byers, 26, who lived in Westwego at the time of his arrest, appeared before Judge Lee Faulkner of the 24th Judicial District Court to enter the plea reached pursuant to negotiations.

Byers must serve the sentence without the benefit of probation, parole or suspended sentence. He also must register as a sex offender for 25 years starting with the day he’s released from prison, Judge Faulkner said.

He was arrested Aug. 6, 2015, after the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office and U.S. Department of Homeland Security agents served a search warrant of his residence at the time in the 400 block of Celotex Parkway.

Sheriff’s Office Detective Nick Vega had opened the investigation a month earlier, as part of an ongoing undercover search of people engaged in the distribution and possession of child pornography on the internet. Byers shared with the detective three videos depicting prepubescent girls engaged in sexual activities with adult males, according to the arrest affidavit.

During the search of Byers’ home, police found a flash drive containing those three videos in addition to 16 other images and videos depicting child pornography, according to the arrest affidavit. Byers confessed he downloaded the videos and images.

Byers posted a $10,000 commercial bond two months after his arrest, records show. He surrendered to authorities on Monday to begin his sentence.

Assistant District Attorney Michael Smith prosecuted the case.

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Metairie man sentenced to 30 years in prison for sexual battery of young girl

A former Metairie resident was sentenced on Monday (June 6) to 30 years in prison for the sexual battery of a girl.

Alejandro Bravo, 45, was convicted last month of inappropriately touching the child on at least three occasions, the last of which occurred on March 9, 2013, when she was 7 years old.

The child was visiting her step-grandmother’s home on Severn Avenue, when Bravo touched her as she sat on his lap. The child spoke out, leading her step-grandmother to call her own mother before alerting the victim’s parents, who in turn notified the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office, according to testimony during last month’s trial.

The child testified during the trial that Bravo touched her three times, and that she did not understand that his behavior was wrong until police were notified.

“You made my daughter a victim, but my daughter refuses that label,” the girl’s mother said in an impact testimony letter that a prosecutor read aloud in court on Monday.

After the Sheriff’s Office initiated its investigation and obtained an arrest warrant, Bravo vanished. He was arrested two years later in Minnesota and was extradited to Jefferson Parish to face charges, according to testimony. He testified during the trial that the child “obviously” was lying.

Sexual battery involving a juvenile under age 13 carries a sentence of 25 years to 99 years in prison. Judge Lee Faulkner of the 24th Judicial District Court, who denied Bravo’s attorney’s request for a new trial last week, cited Bravo’s being a middle-age man in handing down the sentence without probation, parole or suspended sentence.

Judge Faulkner also ordered that Bravo register as a sex offender for the rest of his life from the day he’s released from prison. The registration must be updated every six months, the judge told Bravo.

Assistant District Attorneys Lindsay Truhe and Michael Smith prosecuted the case.

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Third defendant in auto theft racketeering case pleads guilty

A New Orleans man was sentenced to 15 years in prison on Thursday (June 2), after he pleaded guilty to his role in an alleged auto theft ring that accounted for almost one-third of vehicle thefts in Jefferson Parish during a two-year period.

Jason Mercadel’s guilty plea brings to three the number of people who’ve admitted to being part the alleged ring. The thefts caused a net loss to the community valued at more than $2.5 million in 2014 and 2015, according to the bill of indictment a state grand jury handed up on May 5.

Mercadel, 38, pleaded guilty as charged to racketeering, conspiracy to commit theft and 11 counts of theft. As part of the negotiated plea agreement, prosecutors dismissed a charge of altering or removing a vehicle identification number.

Mercadel, also known as Jason Mercadal, is one of 13 people who were charged by a grand jury on May 5. According to the indictment, Mercadel both facilitated auto thefts and directly participated in the thefts. He was charged with designating vehicles to be stolen, transported others to steal the vehicles and stealing them himself.

Vehicles, primarily pickup trucks, allegedly were stolen for several reasons. In some cases, enterprise members allegedly transferred vehicle identification numbers from wrecked inoperable or salvaged trucks with little or no value that were legally purchased to vehicles that were stolen.

In other instances, enterprise members allegedly stole vehicles for parts. The stolen vehicles were sold for scrap based on the weight or simply abandoned, according to the indictment.

Judge Adrian Adams of the 24th Judicial District Court sentenced Mercadel to 15 years for racketeering, 15 years for conspiracy, five years for each of the nine counts of theft of vehicles valued at between $5,000 and $25,000, and five years for each of two counts of theft of vehicles valued at between $750 and $5,000. The sentences were run concurrently.

Mercadel also pleaded guilty to being a repeat offender under Louisiana’s habitual offender law for a previous conviction of conspiracy to commit theft over $25,000. He received a 15-year sentence for as a second felony offender, which was run concurrently with the other sentences he received on Thursday.

On May 20, another of the 13 indicted people, Jimmie “Black” James, 28, of New Orleans, pleaded guilty to racketeering, conspiracy to commit auto theft, seven counts of theft and one count of altering a vehicle identification number. His sentencing is set for September.

Another man, Brandon Lane, 29, of Marrero, was charged separately last year in connection with the same auto theft ring. He pleaded guilty on March 18 to racketeering, conspiracy to commit auto theft, 17 counts of theft and illegal possession of stolen things. Lane was sentenced to 10 years as a second felony offender.

Others named in the May 5 indictment are Parrish Norris, 41; Oliver D. Green, 46; Patrick N. Robinson III, 28; Patrick N. Robinson Jr., 49; Cardell E. Torrence, 39; Ronnel A. Kyles, 29; Kevin A. Martin, 29; Brandon P. Evans, 30; Keith A. Nero, 29; Shon R. Claiborne, 27; and Ronald J. Johnson, 29.

The Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office Auto Theft Unit and the Louisiana State Police handled the investigation.

Assistant District Attorneys Doug Freese, Lindsay Truhe and Thomas Sanderson are prosecuting the cases.

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River Ridge man who tried to carjack deputy pleads guilty

A River Ridge man who tried to carjack an undercover Jefferson Parish detective was sentenced to 15 years in prison on Thursday (June 2), after he pleaded guilty to that crime and to possession with intent to distribute cocaine for the crack rocks that deputies found stashed between his buttocks.

Jonas Kelly, 33, also pleaded guilty to being a double offender under Louisiana’s habitual offender law, because of a 2006 burglary conviction. Judge Stephen Grefer of the 24th Judicial District Court, who accepted the guilty pleas, ran the sentences concurrently for a total of 15 years.

Kelly pleaded guilty to attempted carjacking and possession with intent to distribute cocaine. The latter offense stems from the 11 rocks of crack cocaine deputies found hidden between his buttock cheeks after he was arrested for the carjacking attempt.

Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office Detective Patrick Evans was dressed in plain clothing and in a black Ford Mustang parked near Wilker Neal and Newton streets in River Ridge, conducting patrol operations in the high-crime area, when Kelly approached him about 10 p.m., according to the arrest affidavit.

Kelly approached the passenger’s side and pulled on the door handle with his left hand while holding his right hand behind his back in implying that he had a weapon, according to the affidavit. Kelly told the detective to “open the door.”

Evans asked the suspect what he wanted, and Kelly responded by saying he wanted the car. Evans then pulled his pistol out, leading Kelly to back away. Kelly then walked into a crowd of people, and Evans called for assistance of other deputies, who arrested the suspect.

During the search on the scene, the deputies found the crack cocaine that later was weighed at 1.9 grams. The deputies also found $61 in cash in denominations consistent with narcotics sales.

Kelly was scheduled to stand trial on the two charges on Thursday. A panel of potential jurors was lined up outside Judge Grefer’s courtroom, waiting to being jury selection when deputies escorted the people away.

Kelly then pleaded guilty. He entered both pleas under North Carolina vs. Alford, named for a 1970 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. Kelly refused to admit that he was in fact guilty but that he was pleading guilty because the prosecutors had sufficient evidence to prove the charges at trial.

In comments to the judge, Kelly denied trying to carjack the deputy. But he said the crack cocaine was his.

Prosecutors filed the double bill on the attempted carjacking charge, citing the 2006 burglary conviction for which he was sentenced to eight years in prison.

In that case, he burglarized a Newton Street apartment just three blocks from where he attempted to carjack the detective. He also pleaded guilty in that case to possession with intent to distribute cocaine and two counts of witness intimidation.

At the time of his arrest for the attempted carjacking, he was on probation for his 2012 conviction of possession of alprazolam. On March 21, he stipulated he violated his probation because of the latest case, and the original sentence of four years in prison was imposed. That sentence is run concurrently with the 15-year sentence he received on Thursday.

Assistant District Attorneys Matt Clauss and Thomas Sanderson prosecuted the case.

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