Father of Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office deputy: Police refused to take deputy’s gun away after mental health episode _lowres

Paul Sylvester

The father of an Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office deputy arrested early Tuesday and accused of pulling a gun on an unsuspecting motorist, shooting at an SUV full of people and getting into a fight with a restaurant customer said he had tried to have his son’s gun taken away from him on Saturday after a mental health episode, but police refused.

The New Orleans Police Department now is reviewing body-worn camera footage of that domestic disturbance call to determine whether anything more should have been done to help a deputy who allegedly went on a crime spree across the city two days later.

The son has been booked on counts of aggravated assault and simple battery.

Larry Sylvester said he called police to his home on Swift Street in New Orleans East on Saturday because his son Paul, the sheriff’s deputy, was acting erratically. The older Sylvester also took his son’s gun away. But when 7th District Officer Reginald Koeller arrived at his house, the elder Sylvester said, he told him to return the weapon to his son.

Koeller told Larry Sylvester he could go to the Coroner’s Office and seek to have his son psychiatrically committed, but he did not offer to assist him in doing so, Sylvester said.

“They did not take the gun,” Sylvester said. “They told me to give the gun back.”

Two days later, police say, Paul Sylvester went on to shoot at an SUV’s occupants and then attack a young man in a Gentilly Waffle House before he was taken into custody in New Orleans East.

NOPD spokesman Tyler Gamble said Koeller, the officer who responded to the domestic disturbance call about 3 a.m. Saturday, determined not to take action after speaking with Larry Sylvester.

“We’re going to review the body-worn camera footage from the officer,” Gamble said. “If there is anything that he should have done differently or any particular policies or procedures were done improperly, we’re going to handle that appropriately.”

Officers can take it upon themselves to have someone taken to the hospital for a psychological evaluation or to temporarily confiscate their weapons, Gamble said, but neither step was taken in this instance.

Larry Sylvester said he believes his son’s bizarre spree was caused by a sleeping medication he recently started taking because of the long hours he works at the Sheriff’s Office.

He questioned why none of Paul Sylvester’s supervisors noticed his bizarre behavior when he went to work Monday.

“You’re working with this guy and you don’t notice that?” asked the older Sylvester. “They should have seen that.”

A judge set bail for Paul Sylvester at $10,000 during a Tuesday night hearing, but he had not been released as of Wednesday evening. An entry in his court records notes that Sheriff’s Office employees were to “contact medical b4 release.”

Sheriff’s Office spokesman Philip Stelly characterized Sylvester as a “good employee” but refused to discuss his personnel record. He declined to comment on whether Sylvester’s supervisors noticed any strange behavior at work Monday, hours before he was accused of attacking several New Orleanians.

Stelly also declined to comment on whether Sylvester’s employment status was affected when he was booked on two counts of aggravated assault in 2011; those charges were later dropped by District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office.

A judge appointed Sylvester a public defender for his first appearance on Tuesday.

Orleans Public Defenders spokesperson Lindsey Hortenstine declined to comment on Sylvester’s case but said many people wind up in the parish’s criminal justice system because of insufficient mental health services.

“In the broader sense, the criminal justice system and the jail system in particular is becoming the dumping ground for mental health issues,” Hortenstine said. “Too often, people end up in the system before that care is given and addressed, and many times, it’s unfortunately too late.”

For one man who said he crossed paths with Sylvester that night, the deputy seemed “plum loco.”

Harold Mushatt said he was driving to a store near Downman Road and Hayne Boulevard about 10 p.m. when Sylvester pulled him over, in a previously unreported incident.

Mushatt said Sylvester pulled a gun on him, forced him into the sheriff’s van and started cursing at him. Only after a nearby off-duty state trooper intervened was he able to escape, Mushatt said.

“Thank God they were there, man, because I didn’t know what this guy was going to do,” Mushatt said. “He had a real bad look on his face. Like he was just out to do somebody something.”

About 10:30 p.m., police said, Sylvester pulled over several people in a Dodge SUV in the 1100 block of Camp Street. One woman who was in the vehicle but did not want to be named said Sylvester started yelling at the vehicle’s occupants after pulling them over. The woman said, “I was scared for my life. It felt like a dream. I was just so scared.”

As the woman puzzled over why Sylvester had pulled over the SUV, she said, he started shooting.

“They had nine casings on the ground. So, after that, I was like, ‘Forget him, I am about to get away from him,’ ” she said.

Sylvester then proceeded to the Waffle House, where he fought with an unsuspecting patron in an interaction caught on video. He apparently then proceeded to his home on Swift Street, coincidentally in the same block where slain New Orleans Police Department Officer Daryle Holloway lived.

Hours later, after Sylvester and his father left the home, police were able to pull them over and take him into custody without incident.

Jaclyn Kelley, of WWL-TV, contributed to this story.