The wife and two sons of a man shot dead by an FBI agent last summer in New Orleans East filed a federal civil rights lawsuit Thursday alleging an unprovoked killing and cover-up.
Danette Desdunes, Jeremiah Green and Allen Desdunes Jr. claim the shooting of Allen Desdunes on July 30 was unjustified and amounted, along with the alleged cover-up, to a conspiracy by FBI agents and New Orleans police officers.
The lawsuit names three FBI agents and four NOPD officers who were involved in a joint drug investigation when one of the agents shot and killed Desdunes, 37.
Those are the same agents and officers who were identified in a Sept. 4 NOPD report on the arrests of three people July 30 for an alleged drug deal that apparently occurred shortly before the shooting. The shooting itself is not mentioned in the report.
What remains unclear is the identity of the agent who fired on Desdunes.
Stephen Haedicke, the attorney for the family members, said he is still trying to get a copy of a report the FBI completed a few weeks after the shooting.
“That’s one of the frustrating things about this process. It’s like banging your head against a wall,” he said.
The lawsuit also alleges that the shooting was racially motivated. It claims Desdunes was unarmed and that he and another man, Terry Lane, were driving out of the parking lot of a Motel 6 on the Interstate 10 Service Road when two unmarked cars approached them at high speed and rammed them.
The lawsuit claims the airbags in Desdunes’ car deployed and “seconds later, a gunshot or gunshots were fired by one or more of the defendants.” No weapons were found in Desdunes’ car, it states.
Haedicke said the information comes from his own investigation. He declined to describe the alleged cover-up.
The police report on the drug arrests cited a variety of seized narcotics, drug paraphernalia, two phones and other evidence but no weapons. Although the report makes no mention of the shooting, it says a separate report on the “investigatory stop” — presumably dealing with the shooting — was handled by the FBI.
Haedicke said the family is miffed at being kept in the dark about just what happened that afternoon.
“They love their husband, their father. I’ve heard nothing but good things about Allen Desdunes,” Haedicke said. “Whatever the accusations have been against him, they’re frustrated they can’t get to the bottom of this.”
According to the NOPD report, the FBI’s and the NOPD’s gang and major case narcotics units were doing drug surveillance at the motel. It says Desdunes was the target of an ongoing drug probe by the FBI’s gang task force.
Drug investigators ran into Desdunes before. According to the NOPD report, he was pulled over earlier in 2013, at which time the NOPD’s Gang Task Force found about 100 grams of heroin in his black Nissan Murano. But while Desdunes was found alone with a heroin supply worth several thousand dollars, police apparently didn’t arrest him. The NOPD has said there is no separate report available on that stop.
That has raised questions about whether Desdunes, who had a history of drug arrests dating back to the 1990s in Orleans Parish, may have been acting or being primed for work as a confidential informant.
Haedicke declined to comment on whether Desdunes was an informant.
The NOPD officers identified in the lawsuit are Nathan Gex, Derek Burke, Anthony Rome and Chris Harris. The named FBI agents are Robert Baird, William Williams and Christopher Soyez.
The city also is named in the suit. A spokesman for the NOPD declined to comment, citing pending litigation. A spokeswoman said the FBI also declined to comment.
Little information has become public about the shooting since it happened.
Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office, the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI — in a May 6 response to a request under the Freedom of Information Act — all have refused to release the FBI report, offering varying reasons.
Cannizzaro’s office in January declined to file charges against the agent, citing the federal “supremacy clause” in the U.S. Constitution, which bars the state from prosecuting a federal agent. Lacking jurisdiction, Cannizzaro said, his office never addressed questions about whether the shooting was justified.
Still, Cannizzaro’s office declined a request from The New Orleans Advocate for a copy of the FBI report, citing an ongoing case; Lane continues to face a heroin distribution charge from the day of the shooting, when police claim he and Desdunes were dealing drugs.
Last month, the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice in Washington said it, too, would not be prosecuting the agent who killed Desdunes.
The department “reviewed the information collected by the FBI regarding the shooting and declined to open a criminal investigation,” spokeswoman Dena Iverson said then.
The agency referred a request for the report to the FBI, which denied it in a two-page letter. An FBI records official cited “a pending or prospective law enforcement proceeding.”
The nature of that possible proceeding wasn’t stated. The agent still faces an internal, administrative review by the FBI.
Christopher Scarbrough and Jonathan Vittur, who were accused of buying drugs from Desdunes and Lane that day, pleaded guilty Jan. 31 to drug charges. Vittur got a four-year prison sentence; Scarbrough received a five-year suspended sentence.
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.