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Body Cam Footage Leads to Arrest of Two Deputies After Shooting

Just five days after Jefferson Parish, La., sheriff's deputies wearing new body cameras shot and killed a man in Marrero, the two officers have been fired and arrested on manslaughter charges.

(TNS) — Just five days after Jefferson Parish sheriff's deputies wearing new body cameras shot and killed a man in Marrero, the two officers have been fired and arrested on manslaughter charges.

It was the first major test of the technology's capabilities for the Sheriff's Office, and it resulted in Isaac Hughes, 29, and Johnaton Louis, 35, surrendering themselves to fellow officers on Monday. They are thought to be the first Jefferson deputies to face criminal charges for killing someone. Bond for each was set at $150,000.

Hughes and Louis are accused of using unjustified, deadly force when they shot and killed Daniel Vallee, a 34-year-old homeless man whom they encountered while responding to a noise complaint about a crack house. They found Vallee sitting in an SUV, but he refused their entreaties to get out.

Barely 12 minutes into the confrontation, one of the deputies opened fire after Vallee honked his vehicle's horn, Sheriff Joseph Lopinto said. The other fired in response to the first deputy's gunshots. Authorities have not said which deputy fired first.

"Their perception was that their life was in danger at that point in time. Unfortunately, the use of deadly force in this situation was not justified," Lopinto said.

Vallee's relatives questioned why the officers weren't facing a second-degree murder charge, more serious than manslaughter.

"We're not happy, but at least they're charged at this point," said Tara Phillips, 47, Vallee's aunt.

Community activists who've accused the Sheriff's Office of excessive and deadly force, especially against Black people, have long pushed for the agency to begin using body-worn cameras.

Michelle Charles, a lawyer who organized a series of demonstrations outside the Sheriff's Office in 2020, lauded the criminal charges against Hughes and Louis, but she and others could not help but note that the victim in the case, Vallee, is White, and the accused deputies are Black.

"The first case from which the community benefits from body cameras also resulted in the arrests of two Black deputies. The irony is not lost on me," she said.

Noise complaint

Vallee was shot Feb. 16 at about 2:15 a.m. in the 500 block of Wilson Street. Deputies found him sitting inside a sport utility vehicle that relatives said had been loaned to him by a friend, and in which he sometimes slept.

He was unarmed. Initial toxicology results showed several drugs in his system, Lopinto said.

Deputies asked Vallee to step out of the SUV, but he refused to cooperate with officers for more than 12 minutes. "Not only did they ask him to get out of the vehicle, they begged him, they threatened him, trying to get him to come out," Lopinto said.

Vallee had turned off the SUV's engine and locked the doors. But at some point, he restarted the engine, causing several deputies to draw their weapons, concerned he was about to drive off, Lopinto said. Of the two deputies who evenutally fired, one stood at the front of Vallee's SUV, the other stood to the side.

Vallee dropped his hands and hit the vehicle's horn.

"That horn, whether it scared my deputy, or whether my deputy reacts to the shot of horn, he ends up firing his weapon," Lopinto said.

Vallee was hit by multiple bullets. He died at the scene.

Sheriff's Office investigators arrested Louis and Hughes after reviewing video and interviewing witnesses. The body camera video didn't contradict the deputies, Lopinto said; it actually backed their statements of what happened but left in question their perception of the events.

"There was force that was certainly justified at this moment, but it wasn't deadly force," Lopinto said.

Patrol officers

Both Louis and Hughes were fired from the Sheriff's Office after their arrests.

Louis had been with the agency since 2020, said Capt. Jason Rivarde, a Sheriff's Office spokesperson. Before that, he was a patrol officer with the Gretna Police Department. Louis joined Gretna as an emergency medical technician in 2012 and began attending the department's nighttime police academy, Deputy Police Chief Jason DiMarco said. He graduated from the academy in 2013 and joined the department's patrol division in July 2014, DiMarco said.

Reached by telephone Tuesday, Louis' relatives said they are withholding comment until they can hire an attorney.

Hughes had been with the Sheriff's Office since 2013, Rivarde said. He worked as a corrections officer at the jail until he joined the patrol division as a deputy two years ago, Rivarde said. Hughes' family could not be reached for comment.

Though the two deputies are booked with manslaughter, the district attorney's office still must review the case and make a formal charging decision.

Options for DA's office

Prosecutors could file a bill of information charging Hughes and Louis with manslaughter, which carries a maximum penalty of 40 years in prison, or negligent homicide, which carries no more than 5 years in prison. They also could take the case to a grand jury if they decide the evidence merits the more serious charge of second-degree murder, which must be punished by a life sentence. Or they decide not to prosecute the deputies.

While Vallee's family questioned whether the deputies should face a second-degree murder charge, Charles said she thought the deputies had been appropriately charged with manslaughter.

"Second-degree murder rarely stands up in police officer-involved shootings because you have to have the specific intent to kill," Charles said. The assumption is that officers "didn't go there specifically with the intent to kill this man."

Manslaughter occurs under two circumstances, said LSU law professor Ken Levy: In the heat of passion, or recklessly without intent to kill.

Negligent homicide, Levy said, is the inadvertent or unconscious disregard that leads to the death of another.

Hope for justice

Unlike the New Orleans Police Department's set guidelines and timelines for the release of body camera videos, the Sheriff's Office has no such policy. It does not plan to release the shooting video at this time, Lopinto said Monday.

"It will be once the criminal investigation is over," he said.

Charles called that typical of the Sheriff's Office "arbitrarily making decisions with what the public should know."

Still, she said she is elated that body-worn cameras are in use, and they've at least provided some answers for Vallee's relatives.

"This is what the community asked for. They're being used as a tool for transparency and accountability in the police department," Charles said. "We hope that they will mean swift justice going forward in all cases."

Phillips said she's seen the chatter on social media, the complaints that Hughes and Louis were arrested only because they are Black. She said she doesn't think her nephew's killing was racially motivated, but she wants justice for him.

That should be a straight-forward matter, Levy said.

"If the body cameras show they were not justified in using lethal force, they should be prosecuted," he said. "They killed somebody."

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