A New Orleans man suspected in the alleged rape of a drunken Texas college student during Carnival last year faced a jury Monday, marking the start of the first criminal trial in a case involving one of five suspended New Orleans police detectives since a blistering report last month found the five had let hundreds of reported sex crimes fall by the wayside.
An Orleans Parish prosecutor promptly threw veteran sex crimes Detective Vernon Haynes under the bus.
In his opening statement, Assistant District Attorney Jason Napoli said the evidence that Curtis Hawthorne Jr., 23, raped the 22-year-old woman at gunpoint in the backseat of his car came in spite of shoddy work by Haynes.
“To put it nicely, not much was done,” Napoli said. Haynes “went out there, took a statement” from the purported victim. “The statement wasn’t recorded. He never took a statement from any of (her) friends.”
The victim then noted that someone had used her stolen debit card.
“Detective Haynes got surveillance, looked at it for a little bit and didn’t see anybody he could identify, and that was it. The case was over,” Napoli said during his opening statement.
Fortunately, the prosecutor said, DNA testing from a hospital rape exam proved a clear match to Hawthorne, who ran from police before they arrested him on a warrant in October 2013.
As he ran, Napoli said, he threw away a silver handgun. Showing it to the jury of six men and six women, Napoli argued that it was the same .40-caliber handgun the woman described her assailant as using to threaten her before the rape.
“Take your clothes off, cooperate or this is going to get a lot worse,” Hawthorne told her, according to Napoli.
Hawthorne faces charges of aggravated rape, aggravated kidnapping and armed robbery. He faces a life prison term if convicted.
Public defender Chanel Long argued that the woman jumped into Hawthorne’s car willingly and that it was “consensual, casual sex” that she reported as a rape only out of shame.
District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office is not expected to call Haynes to the witness stand, and the prosecution’s take on Haynes’ investigation in the case could offer a preview of how Cannizzaro’s office plans to handle other pending cases touched by the five tarnished detectives.
A spokesman for Cannizzaro’s office did not respond to a request for the number of pending prosecutions in which they were involved.
Chief public defender Derwyn Bunton said he had not formulated an “institutional” response to the revelations from an alarming report issued last month by Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux’s office. But in at least two cases so far, including Hawthorne’s, defense attorneys have pressed to subpoena Quatrevaux’s office for further evidence of slipshod work.
Quatrevaux’s office found that Haynes and four other detectives — Akron Davis, Merrell Merricks, Derrick Williams and Damita Williams — deposited more than 1,000 alleged sex crimes into the “miscellaneous” bin over three years, leaving no paper trail.
Among the 450 other cases assigned to them, those in which some cursory notes or a brief initial report was filed, the five detectives failed to document any further investigation in 60 percent of them, the report found.
The findings prompted Mayor Mitch Landrieu and NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison to announce a complete overhaul of the long-maligned Sex Crimes Unit and the formation of a new task force to reinvestigate 271 cases identified by Quatrevaux’s office.
The report targeted the five detectives for further scrutiny based on an earlier audit that found problems with dozens of randomly selected rape cases handled within the NOPD’s Special Victims Section, which has 16 detectives.
Among the five, Haynes proved the most likely to file supplemental reports from cases emanating from 911 calls, though he still filed only a dozen of them out of 181 sex crime-related calls to 911 that were assigned to him, according to data from Quatrevaux’s office.
Haynes recently was accused of brushing off another Mardi Gras rape allegation, also from a Texas woman. The woman said Haynes dismissed her claim of having been raped by a hotel security guard this year, saying the evidence pointed to consensual sex.
Cmdr. Paul Noel, who is heading up the new sex crimes task force, has said he is adding that case to the stack of those that will be reinvestigated.
Court records show that Haynes documented his work in responding to the Texas student’s allegations, filing three supplemental reports and writing up an application for Hawthorne’s arrest.
But it was the DNA testing, not Haynes’ work, that made the case, Napoli told the jury Monday.
Prosecutors aired the woman’s quavering 911 call, which she made from the Guste apartments in Central City. That’s where she said she was dumped after jumping into a car in the French Quarter at 2:30 a.m.
“I thought it was a cab, but it was not a cab,” she said on the emergency call.
The woman said she was sitting in the front seat and “she began to get nervous because she was not back at her hotel. She asked the guy to please just take her back to the hotel,” former NOPD Officer Viviana Ferreira testified. “He didn’t respond in any way. After a while, he pulled over into an unknown area and he asked her for sex, to which she said no.”
After the rape, the driver sped off before the woman could grab her purse and shoes from his car, Napoli said. She was tossed aside, leaving her with bruises on her hip, knees and hands, he said. The woman, who is expected to testify Tuesday, had come to town for her first Mardi Gras on Bourbon Street, but she got separated from her friends.
“They came here for the best that our city has to offer, and the reality is (she) on Feb. 9, 2013, got the absolute worst this city has to offer,” Napoli said, pointing to Hawthorne.
Long, the public defender, suggested the charges were the result of shame.
“What we have here is a case of consensual, casual sex,” Long said. “(She) was here for Mardi Gras. She was here for a good time like a lot of tourists. That’s what she came for.
“It’s one of those things you engage in at the moment. It’s all about the moment. ‘You’ve got a penis, I’ve got a vagina, let’s get it on.’ Sometimes, after that moment, that’s when the shame comes in.”
Hawthorne, whose criminal history includes marijuana possession and domestic battery convictions, faces more recent pending charges of intimidating a witness, obstruction and making obscene phone calls, records show.
Criminal District Court Judge Franz Zibilich earlier denied a bid by Hawthorne’s attorneys to subpoena a wide range of records from Quatrevaux’s office. Zibilich said he expects the prosecution to wrap up its case Tuesday morning.