A troubled Gentilly teenager who a year ago seemed poised to right himself was instead arrested as a fugitive from a murder rap early Thursday morning after a chase that ended when he made the mistake of diving for safety straight into a Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office dumpster, deputies said.
Deputies said when they pulled the youth out of the trash, he refused to give his real name and said, “It’s your job to find out. It’s my job to lie.”
Authorities quickly did just that, unmasking 17-year-old Nas Jackson as a suspect in a fatal daylight shooting three months ago in New Orleans’ 7th Ward.
Jackson remained in custody Monday at the Gretna lockup on counts of illegal possession of stolen things, criminal trespass, resisting arrest and as a fugitive from Orleans Parish.
Four other young men were arrested along with him, including a teenager who told investigators that he somehow shot himself in the forehead during the chase.
The pursuit began about 1:30 a.m. Thursday, according to an arrest report by Jefferson Parish Deputy Paul Carmouche, when a state trooper spotted a Honda Odyssey zipping westbound on the elevated portion of the West Bank Expressway.
Before the trooper could turn on lights or a siren, the arrest report says, the minivan crashed into the expressway’s side wall near Maple Avenue. The vehicle’s three occupants got out of the vehicle and jumped off the upper portion of the expressway onto the lower portion, then fled toward the Mississippi River on Maple Avenue.
What the three teens may not have known is that they were heading straight toward a public safety complex that includes the JPSO Academy and Investigations Bureau.
State Police called in the JPSO for backup, according to the report, and deputies set up a wide perimeter around the area.
Algiers resident Cornell Lewis, 19, was found hiding in boxes under the JPSO evidence dumpster, according to the arrest report. Lewis was booked on illegal possession of stolen things worth more than $10,000 and criminal trespass.
Inside the JPSO carwash dumpster, deputies said, they found Robert Bates, an 18-year-old from New Orleans East, together with a Glock .45-caliber pistol magazine and several cellphones.
As authorities began to take the three teens into custody, according to the arrest report, the cellphones began to light up with messages from two more men who deputies allege were trying to help them escape.
Bates, who appeared to be suffering from a gunshot wound to the forehead, was taken to University Medical center for treatment. JPSO spokesman Col. John Fortunato said Bates later told investigators that he shot himself while in pursuit of another vehicle on the West Bank Expressway, then refused to answer any further questions.
Bates was booked on counts of illegal possession of stolen things worth over $10,000, criminal trespass and marijuana possession.
Authorities said they observed a vehicle circling the area and arrested its occupants, Alphonso Jones, 24, of New Orleans, and Derrick Madison, 25, of Gretna. Both were booked on a count of illegal carrying of weapons. They posted bail and were released from the Jefferson Parish Correctional Center in Gretna.
Deputies turned their attention, meanwhile, to the third teenager, who claimed he was 16 and gave his name as John Jackson. He was being booked into the Rivarde Juvenile Detention Center when he told medical personnel that his first name actually was Nas, authorities said.
The correct first name as well as a fingerprint revealed that Jackson was wanted in the Oct. 12 shooting death of 34-year-old Clarence Johnson, which left the 1300 block of Annette Street in the 7th Ward covered with shell casings.
New Orleans police said in a warrant that video showed Jackson leaving the area in the company of Jerry Pipkins, 17, who was arrested in November in connection with the slaying. The warrant does not make clear whether police believe either teen actually shot at Johnson, but Jackson himself was shot near North Claiborne Avenue and Laharpe Street minutes later.
WVUE-TV featured Jackson in a February segment about troubled offenders in the city’s Youth Study Center trying to reform their lives through the assistance of a spiritual coaching program co-founded by Ameer Baraka, a former prisoner who turned his life around to become an actor on shows like “Treme.”
“In New Orleans, everybody wants to be gangsters, but that ain’t really the life to live because that only gets you dead or in jail,” Jackson told the station. “I want to be a mechanical engineer. I used to want to be a chef, but I still got time to think about that.”
Baraka said that at that point, Jackson seemed on his way to straightening out his life despite legal troubles that got him kicked out of school, as well as a lack of male role models.
Baraka said he was shocked that Jackson, who he said did not seem to have a propensity toward violence, is accused of participating in a murder.
“He was doing extremely well in the program, and it seemed to me that he had an insatiable appetite to learn more about what we were teaching him,” Baraka said. “It’s sad. I’m heartbroken by this kid.”
New Orleans police said they intend to arrest Jackson on a murder count. They have not revealed a potential motive in the killing of Johnson on Annette Street, but neighbors complained shortly after the shooting about drug dealing in the area. No other suspects have been named in the case, but police have released surveillance images of four men wanted for questioning.
New Orleans Police Department spokesman Officer Frank Robertson said police are still investigating the theft of the Honda Odyssey involved in Thursday’s chase.
A man and a woman, both 42, reported that an unknown gunman stole money as well as keys for their minivan in the 2400 block of Pine Street about 8 p.m. Dec. 29, then fled in the vehicle.
Jefferson deputies said they found two firearms, spent shell casings and a red substance that appeared to be blood inside that minivan after the chase.