NEW IBERIA — Attorneys for the family of a St. Martin Parish man killed by deputies last year say they may request a federal civil rights investigation into the shooting death, which happened as the deputies tried to wrangle the man into protective custody during one of his frequent mental episodes.
Michael Noel’s mother, along with his three children and their mother, joined New Iberia attorney Lucretia Pecantte for a Wednesday afternoon news conference almost three weeks after local prosecutors refused criminal charges against the two deputies involved.
“My clients believe that this was a senseless act of violence,” Pecantte told reporters called to her Iberia Street office, adding justice “failed them” and that she may contact the U.S. Attorney’s Office to explore whether the deputies violated Noel’s civil rights in his Dec. 21 killing.
Pecantte represents Noel’s mother, Barbara Noel, and his children’s mother, Cassandra Willis, in a wrongful death lawsuit filed in March in 16th Judicial District Court and against St. Martin Parish Sheriff Ronny Theriot, the St. Martin Parish Sheriff’s Office and the two deputies involved, Sgt. Pittard Chapman — who prosecutors say killed Noel — and Deputy Dylan Laneaux.
Pecantte said the family chose to file the suit in parish court instead of federal court, although they now are considering seeking federal intervention since no criminal charges will be filed against either deputy involved in Noel’s killing.
Willis seeks unspecified damages for mental and physical pain and suffering, wrongful death, medical expenses and loss of Noel’s love and affections, while Barbara Noel — who still lives in the home where Michael was killed — claims “intentional infliction of emotional distress.”
The lawsuit alleges the Sheriff’s Office did not train Chapman and Laneaux to properly encounter individuals suffering mental illness. It also alleges other deputies responded to a complaint about Noel a week earlier — during which Noel told the responding deputy “that he speaks to Jesus Christ” — so deputies should have taken into account Noel’s prior history when responding on the night of his death.
“We feel that police officers should be trained properly and should be equipped to handle certain situations with mental health patients,” said Xavier Alexander, an attorney at Pecantte’s firm who spoke to reporters at the news conference.
The St. Martin Parish Sheriff’s Office declined to comment Wednesday on the extent of its mental health training and procedures for deputies, citing the ongoing litigation.
St. Martin Parish prosecutor Chester Cedars, who announced in early May that no criminal charges would be filed in Noel’s death, also has said Barbara Noel requested other orders for protective custody for her son on April 28, 2015 — during which he was said to have been “abusing legal weed” — and on May 14 and June 28 of 2015, according to a memo Cedars released to reporters when announcing his decision.
Cedars said in the memo he found no evidence of criminal intent to kill Noel in his review of the State Police investigation into the death.
“His shooting was not the product of any evil or malicious intent, but rather, was a reasonable reaction to an extraordinarily intense and volatile situation which was brought on, solely and exclusively, by Michael’s conduct,” Cedars wrote.
Cedars did not present the case to a grand jury.
According to the State Police investigation cited in Cedars’ memo, Noel resisted the deputies’ entry into the home he shared with his mother. Investigators said he used the one handcuff deputies were able to latch around his wrist as a weapon — trying to stab Laneaux and ultimately chipping Chapman’s tooth and cutting his gum — and that three stun-gun shocks failed to subdue him. He also grabbed at the deputies’ Glocks, investigators found.
Chapman ended up on the living room floor and against the front door — which only opened inward — and, “as Michael started to re-engage,” he fatally shot him in the left forearm and the center of his chest, according to the memo.
Homicide is justifiable when committed in self-defense or for preventing a violent felony or great bodily harm, Cedars noted, adding that Noel’s mother and aunt, who witnessed the event, corroborated the deputies’ reports that he engaged in “violent resistance.”
“It is without equivocation that both police officers at issue were in a tense, highly emotional, dangerous environment which was not the product of any course of action which they adopted,” Cedars wrote.
Cedars also explored statues of malfeasance, inciting a felony and manslaughter but found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing under the statutes.
Follow Lanie Lee Cook on Twitter, @lanieleecook, or contact her by phone at (337) 534-0825.