Four packets of purported heroin, a .45-caliber pistol and video surveillance served as the basis for the arrest of the girlfriend of a man slain by Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office deputies in Orleans Parish in February.
Warrants obtained by The New Orleans Advocate spell out for the first time how Jefferson Parish authorities built a case to arrest Tyshara Blouin, 23, on several counts a few days after she spoke out against the shooting of her boyfriend, Eric Harris, Feb. 8 in Central City following a car chase over the Crescent City Connection.
The documents also raise questions about who was in charge during the early stages of the investigation into Harris’ death.
The New Orleans Police Department and FBI have said they are leading the inquiry, but the documents show Jefferson detectives have had extensive access to evidence in the case and interviewed Blouin while she was hospitalized.
The events that led to the death of Harris, 22, started with a Lundi Gras night confrontation at the Oakwood Mall in Jefferson Parish, complicating from the start any effort to isolate the joint NOPD/FBI investigation from contact with Jefferson authorities.
Tyler Gamble, a spokesman for the NOPD, said that even though the NOPD and FBI are in charge of the shooting investigation, the Sheriff’s Office does have “their investigation of what happened in Jefferson Parish prior to the shooting, and they have jurisdiction to do that investigation.”
Gamble said the NOPD and FBI have yet to submit the results of their investigation into the shooting of Harris to the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office.
Blouin’s attorney, Gary Bizal, said the “parallel investigations” raise concerns, particularly given deputies’ access to the couple’s phones and to Blouin at University Medical Center.
“I really wish NOPD would have been more assertive and taken over,” Bizal said.
Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand said immediately after the shooting that the chase that ended in Harris’ death was preceded by an incident at the Oakwood Mall in which Harris pointed a gun at three women. One of those women was Harris’ ex-girlfriend, according to a Feb. 16 warrant for Blouin’s arrest obtained by Sheriff’s Office Homicide Sgt. Eddie Klein.
Klein interviewed the ex-girlfriend over the phone on Feb. 12, according to the warrant, and she told him that Harris approached her in the mall and began arguing with her.
“When she began laughing at Harris, not taking the argument seriously, Harris produced a black semi-automatic firearm and threatened to shoot her,” the woman said, according to the warrant.
Sheriff’s Deputy Miguel Dukes already was in the mall responding to a shoplifting report, the warrant states, when two women approached him. One of them told Dukes about the threat.
Harris fled when Dukes approached him, the warrant alleges, and “clutched his waistband area in a manner consistent with maintaining a firearm.” Dukes ran after Harris through the food court and into a parking area but lost sight of him as he ducked between parked vehicles.
The warrants do not state whether any video or independent witness testimony backs up the woman’s claim that Harris pointed a gun at her. But they do state that mall video captured “the incident as it started.”
Deputies said video also shows Blouin running through the parking lot to the car and hopping into “the driver’s position, indicating Harris was apparently waiting for her as she likely possessed the only set of keys to the car.”
Blouin got into the driver’s seat and Harris into the rear seat, according to the warrant. Klein wrote that he later interviewed a mall security guard who tried to flag down the 2004 Infiniti G35, with a woman driving, as it left.
After a description of the car was broadcast, Deputies Henry DeJean and Kenneth Bonura spotted it near the Crescent City Connection toll plaza and turned on their lights and sirens in an effort to stop it, according to the warrant, but by that time, Blouin and Harris apparently had switched seats.
Deputies wrote that Harris “refused to stop and led the deputies on a high-speed chase.”
That chase ended in the 2200 block of Philip Street in New Orleans, where Harris crashed the car into a utility pole. Surveillance video obtained by The Advocate appears to show the vehicle backing up slightly after the crash. Deputies said that was when they shot Harris out of fear for their lives, although the video does not show their positions in relation to the vehicle.
A source who has seen a second, unreleased video from a nearby business said it does appear to show a deputy behind Harris’ vehicle, which would bolster the claim the deputies were in fear for their lives when they shot Harris.
Jefferson deputies had extensive access to evidence in the case in the week after the shooting, the warrants show.
After the NOPD searched the Infiniti on Feb. 12, Sheriff’s Office investigators cited the fruits of that search in their arrest warrant for Blouin: paperwork showing Blouin owned the car, a loaded .45-caliber pistol found in the front passenger area and “one clear plastic bag containing four smaller packets each containing a powdery substance,” which tested positive for heroin in a Sheriff’s Office lab test.
Blouin was still being treated for abdominal pain from pieces of flying glass, the arrest warrant states, when Sheriff’s Office Homicide Detective Tommy Gai interviewed her at the hospital.
Col. John Fortunato, a Sheriff’s Office spokesman, said Blouin was read her rights there. The arrest warrant says she told Gai she did not see Harris with a gun in the mall but admitted she knew one was in the car.
It also says she “failed to advise” the sheriff’s detective that Harris hid in her backseat “as she drove him away from the scene at the Oakwood Mall, facilitating his escape.”
The arrest warrant for Blouin approved by 24th Judicial District Commissioner Patricia Joyce on Feb. 16 cites Blouin’s ownership of the car to tie her to the pistol and to the heroin. It also says there was so little time between the mall incident and the chase that “it is apparent the heroin and the firearm were in the Infiniti while the vehicle was in Jefferson Parish.”
Blouin was booked Feb. 17 on counts of being an accessory after the fact to aggravated assault with a firearm and possession of a firearm while in possession of heroin.
A separate search warrant shows that Jefferson deputies also obtained Blouin’s and Harris’ phones from the NOPD. After Blouin was arrested, a Jefferson detective obtained a warrant to search those devices to determine if Blouin and Harris exchanged messages about the incident in the mall. It is not clear whether the Sheriff’s Office uncovered any additional evidence from the phones.
The case has not been accepted or refused by the Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s Office.
Emotions regarding Harris’ death and Blouin’s arrest remain raw. Harris’ family members were present during an April 20 public hearing held by the federal monitors overseeing the NOPD’s reform agreement with the federal government.
The monitors pointed out that a policy approved under the consent decree bans NOPD officers from shooting at moving vehicles unless a second form of deadly force is being used — unlike the policy Jefferson deputies applied in shooting and killing Harris.
Angela Kinlaw, an activist and organizer, asked for “federal intervention” to apply the consent decree policies to other law enforcement agencies.
“If the NOPD is under a consent decree and these policies have been modified,” she asked, “what does that mean for the residents of Orleans Parish when you have these neighboring parishes that have police to come into Orleans?”