In the aftermath of Will Smith’s shooting death, speculation has swirled about what may have motivated the accused gunman, Cardell Hayes, to pull his weapon on the former New Orleans Saints defensive end.
Hayes’ defense attorney has denied his client knew Smith before the Saturday night run-in in the Lower Garden District, and police so far have given no indication they think the men were acquainted.
But in a bizarre coincidence, Smith had dined shortly before his death with Billy Ceravolo, a former New Orleans Police Department lieutenant whom Hayes sued in federal court a decade ago after police shot and killed Hayes’ mentally ill father — an incident that, like Smith’s killing, drew national attention to the city.
City officials revealed Monday that they paid $100,000 to settle Hayes’ claim and an additional $100,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by Hayes’ sister Tyiece Baptiste-Howard.
That shooting happened Dec. 26, 2005, four months after Hurricane Katrina, near St. Charles Avenue and Felicity Street — a few blocks from the site of Smith’s shooting death at Felicity and Sophie Wright Place.
Police said Hayes’ father, Anthony Hayes, 38, had charged at Ceravolo with a 4-inch knife, prompting several officers to open fire.
The NOPD faced mounting allegations at the time that its officers had used excessive force on civilians in the wake of the storm, though the department’s most notorious post-Katrina scandals had yet to come to light.
A portion of the incident — though not the shooting of Anthony Hayes itself — was captured on videotape, and some observers suggested police could have done more to defuse the situation without using lethal force.
That afternoon, Anthony Hayes had caused a disturbance at a nearby Walgreens store on St. Charles Avenue, apparently after he tried, unsuccessfully, to use a credit card. An off-duty law enforcement official flagged down police, who responded en masse to find the man walking down St. Charles Avenue, waving a knife erratically.
In interviews days later, the officers involved told internal investigators that Hayes seemed highly unstable and that he had been asking for them to approach him.
“He wasn’t in control as a normal human being would be,” Jeffrey Hochman, a sergeant at the time, said in his statement to the department. “He wasn’t listening to anybody.”
The officers formed a semi-circle around Hayes as he continued down St. Charles. They said they pepper-sprayed him at least three times, which had almost no effect on Hayes, a large man.
“He took a rag out of his pocket and wiped his face off like nothing was wrong,” Hochman said.
Ceravolo had been among the officers trying to persuade Hayes to put down his weapon. Hayes, however, began jogging along the sidewalk and “flipped the knife around from a regular holding position — like where you would cut your meat — to what I would refer to as (an) overhand stab position,” Hochman told officials.
Three officers opened fire after they said Anthony Hayes lunged toward Ceravolo — a claim Cardell Hayes disputed in his civil rights lawsuit against the city.
“If we wouldn’t have contained him, then he would have hurt somebody else,” Officer Gary Kessel, who fired five times, told investigators.
The lawsuit, filed in June 2006 in U.S. District Court, alleged that the officers opened fire “without just cause or provocation and clearly in excessive use of deadly force.”
City officials settled the litigation about five years later, even after a deputy city attorney contended in court filings that “it cannot be said that the officers’ actions were anything short of heroic, let alone unreasonable.”
Ike Spears, the attorney who represented Cardell Hayes in the matter, previously had described the settlement as “large” but had not offered specifics.
Cardell Hayes’ defense attorney, John Fuller, has insisted Smith’s shooting Saturday had nothing to do with the 2005 case.
Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.