The fatal shooting last month of a former Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office deputy appears to be unrelated to his days in law enforcement and a recent federal prosecution in which he admitted smuggling contraband to inmates at the Orleans Parish Prison, according to New Orleans police.
The authorities have yet to identify a suspect in the Dec. 22 slaying, but detectives believe the former deputy, Tyrell Sutherland, was the victim of a mugging in New Orleans East.
“Everything I have, at this point, suggests it’s a robbery or wrong-place, wrong-time kind of thing,” said Detective Barret Morton, of the New Orleans Police Department. The area where Sutherland was shot, Morton added, “is known for such things.”
The shooting happened about 1 a.m. near Benson and Gervais streets.
Morton said it appears Sutherland, 29, intended to meet someone in the area “when he was ambushed in the process.”
Why he ventured to that part of town at that time of night is among the unanswered questions compounding the grief for Sutherland’s family.
“I don’t have the slightest idea why he would be around there in that area,” Sutherland’s father, Tyronne Sutherland, said in an interview. “We don’t know anybody that he would be affiliated with around there, but these youngsters these days have their own agenda.”
About six months before his death, the younger Sutherland appeared in U.S. District Court in New Orleans and pleaded guilty to smuggling marijuana and at least one cellphone to federal inmates awaiting trial at OPP in 2008.
Sheriff’s Office investigators, having found a cache of cellphones, chargers, drugs and MP3 players at the jail’s Templeman V facility, determined federal detainees had been offering bribes to deputies in exchange for contraband.
The investigation involved an inmate named Sebastian Cuevas, who according to court documents was known as “King Smuggler.” The authorities arranged a sting operation ensnaring Cuevas’ sister, his, girlfriend and an other person, who told investigators they were smuggling contraband into the jail through a deputy. They identified Sutherland as that deputy in a photo lineup.
Sutherland, it turned out, had accepted hundreds of dollars in cash — more than once — to deliver packages containing illegal items into the jail. The Sheriff’s Office suspended him after he failed a voice stress analysis test and later fired him.
Sutherland initially was arrested in December 2008 on state counts of malfeasance in office and conspiring to introduce contraband into the jail. The Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office refused the case in June 2009, but federal prosecutors filed charges against the former deputy in April 2014.
“He’s pretty good at keeping secrets because when he got in trouble with the contraband, I’m the last person in the world that would have believed it,” Tyronne Sutherland said. “He made a stupid mistake, and he paid for it.”
In September, when he returned to court to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval, Tyrell Sutherland faced a maximum of five years behind bars. He was scared, his father said, and believed he was headed to prison.
U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite Jr., in a statement after Sutherland’s guilty plea, said the former deputy’s decisions had “jeopardized the safety of his fellow sheriff’s deputies and the inmates he was entrusted to protect.” The U.S. Attorney’s Office, Polite added, would not tolerate “this type of misconduct that undermines public trust in our law enforcement community.”
Prosecutors, however, didn’t argue for Sutherland to receive prison time at the September sentencing. For his part, Sutherland apologized emotionally, saying he knew he’d broken the law in taking the bribes. “When I did stop, it was too late,” he said. “I put my father through so much because he also worked at the facility.”
Duval sentenced Sutherland to three years of probation. “I’m still trying to figure out how he got the probation,” the elder Sutherland said, adding that he believed his son could have been “doing something for the feds” in exchange for the leniency.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment.
New Orleans police say there’s no evidence Sutherland’s death was tied to his federal case.
On the night of the shooting, Sutherland had driven to New Orleans East and parked on the street corner, said Morton, the homicide detective. “It appears it was more of a social call,” Morton said.
He was shot several times and ran about 50 feet from the vehicle before apparently collapsing at the spot where he was found mortally wounded. His pockets had not been turned out, but Sutherland’s father said he was found without an ID, suggesting a robbery.
He was taken to a hospital but later succumbed to his injuries, leaving his family bereft just before Christmas.
“When you have a person that’s in and out of the hospital and sick or something and you hear of them passing, you don’t want to accept it, but it’s inevitable,” Tyronne Sutherland said. “When you have a person walking around and there isn’t anything wrong with them and the next you know they’re dead, that’s a problem.”
Anyone with information about Sutherland’s shooting death is asked to call New Orleans police at (504) 658-5300.
Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.