Officials were taking no chances Friday as 13 alleged members of a bloody Central City street gang sat together in an Orleans Parish courtroom. But while a swarm of deputies bird-dogged the purported members of the “3-N-G” gang, one defendant was nowhere to be found.
It turns out that Demetrich “Meechy” Robinson was mistakenly set loose four weeks ago, in another apparent communications failure between state corrections officials and Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s office.
Robinson, 31, remained on the lam late Friday.
He had been serving a five-year state prison sentence after pleading guilty to a heroin count in 2012. In the meantime, an Orleans Parish judge issued warrants for his arrest almost a year ago, when a state grand jury indicted Robinson and 19 other alleged 3-N-G members in a wide-ranging alleged racketeering conspiracy that wraps in several murders.
That meant state corrections officials should have turned him over to the Sheriff’s Office upon his release, to be held in lieu of the $1.6 million bail that Criminal District Court Judge Julian Parker set in June.
Pam Laborde, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Safety and Corrections, said Robinson was released from Ouachita Parish to “good time” parole supervision on April 11 after spending nearly two years in prison on the heroin count and for failing to register as a sex offender.
“It was discovered only recently that the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office had a detainer on the offender,” Laborde said in a statement issued Friday. “A warrant has been issued for Robinson’s arrest, and the department is working with the U.S. marshals and local law enforcement to take him back into custody. The department is reviewing the incident and will take any necessary personnel action.”
Robinson’s freedom appeared to surprise everyone Friday, when Criminal District Judge Camille Buras held a hearing to set future court dates for several of the alleged gang members.
His attorney, Anna Friedberg, told Buras she believed her client was still locked up in northern Louisiana.
“It was not until I had left Judge Buras’ court that I learned there was a possibility he had been released from Department of Corrections custody,” Friedberg said later.
Buras said she reviewed the court file and found that capiases, or warrants, were issued for Robinson on each of the five counts in which he is named in the 30-count indictment.
Laborde confirmed that a detainer was issued asking that Robinson be released to Orleans Parish.
District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro said it’s the sheriff’s responsibility to enter the warrants into a shared computer system and the state’s responsibility to check the system before a defendant walks out of prison.
“I do not know what exactly went wrong,” Cannizzaro said. “This is a pretty violent group of individuals we indicted. We spent a great deal of time with regard to this case. I am disturbed and upset that he is not in custody.”
Cannizzaro said Robinson should be considered dangerous.
The situation recalls a similar foul-up in February, when state corrections officials mistakenly released Kenneth Halley, who was accused of manslaughter, obstruction of justice and conspiracy in the hit-and-run death of NOPD Officer Rodney Thomas and a subsequent attempted cover-up last July. Halley roamed free for three weeks before he was booked into Orleans Parish jail on a parole violation in March.
In that case, a state Corrections Department spokeswoman said a staffer improperly canceled a Sheriff’s Office detainer on Halley after checking with New Orleans police and finding no outstanding arrest warrants for him.
Cannizzaro declined to say whether he thought the repeated errors justified a review of procedures by the state and the Sheriff’s Office.
Philip Stelly, a spokesman for Gusman’s office, said its records show Robinson was turned over to the state Nov. 5 and taken to Elayn Hunt Correctional Center in St. Gabriel. He referred questions about Robinson’s release to the state agency.
The indictment against 3-N-G is among a handful of prosecutions that Cannizzaro’s office is pursuing under a state racketeering statute, in a coordinated push with Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s office and federal authorities to uproot about 40 identified gangs in the city.
Prosecutors blame some alleged 3-N-G members for a host of killings in the city, including the 2011 slaying of toddler Keira Holmes in a courtyard of the former B.W. Cooper housing development. At the time of the indictment, Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas said half of the 20 indicted men had prior murder arrests on their records.
Robinson does not appear to be among them, at least not in Orleans Parish.
He was named in three of the 60 “overt acts” underpinning the indictment’s main racketeering charge and in four other charges, all related to alleged drug dealing.
Robinson was arrested in June 2011 and pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute heroin, receiving a five-year sentence the following year, with credit for time served, records show. That crime appears to be one of the overt acts in which he is named in the racketeering case.
He had prior convictions for carnal knowledge of a juvenile, simple robbery and being an accessory after the fact to simple burglary, according to the state.
The 3-N-G clan is named for their stomping grounds at Third and Galvez streets, according to the indictment.
Often, the group took aim at a rival gang known as the “Front of Town Killers,” or the “Calliope Projects Front of Town/A.D. Gang,” the indictment states. Some of the crimes cited in the indictment date back to 2005.
Among other killings, authorities link members of 3-N-G to the shooting death of Omar Breaux, whose body was found shot and pinned under the driver’s side of an overturned Lexus at Earhart Boulevard and South Roman Street in 2009. The indictment claims that two of the indicted men, Kentrell “Black” Hickerson and Quincy “Pizzle” Briggs, later bragged about that killing.
Briggs also is accused of murdering Ricky Cheneau, who was found shot several times in front of a house on South Prieur Street in 2013.
Another indicted man, McCoy “Rat” Walker, and associates murdered Jerome “Man-Man” Hampton and popular local rap artist Renatta “Magnolia Shorty” Lowe in December 2010, then bragged about it, according to the indictment.
Robinson last appeared in court for an appearance on the racketeering case on Jan. 24, online court records show. He is due back in court Aug. 1.
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.