Michael Dabney sat in an Orleans Parish courtroom Monday, smiling and chatting quietly with family members during the last few minutes of face time after a judge sentenced him to 50 years in prison for shooting New Orleans police Officer Troy Pichon in the thigh on a Central City street in October.
A jury convicted Dabney on one count of attempted first-degree murder July 16 after a three-day trial. The jury also convicted him of possession of a firearm by a felon, but it deadlocked on another count of attempted first-degree murder related to Pichon’s partner that night, Sgt. Eric Gillard, who was not hit, although a bullet pierced the patrol car he drove.
Dabney stood up in court Monday and pleaded guilty to that charge before Criminal District Court Judge Karen Herman handed him the maximum sentences, while chiding Dabney’s attorneys for casting the injured officer in a nefarious light during the trial.
She highlighted Dabney’s actions after the shooting, which included hiding the weapon and stripping down as Pichon lay with a gunshot wound near Third and LaSalle streets. The officer had attempted an investigatory stop of Dabney while working overtime on a task force patrolling a crime hot spot.
“I find that to be the highest level of disregard for humanity that I’ve seen in a long time,” Herman said.
Dabney’s attorneys pointed to Pichon’s admitted acquaintance with the defendant’s sister, and they used text messages between the two to claim the officer was having sex with her. They suggested that Pichon was harassing Dabney, to the point of firing on the parolee as he fled in fear down the street.
The trial played out as a choice for the jury between support for the men and women in blue and the view of the NOPD as a corrupt force prone to dirty dealings and elaborate cover-ups.
“It’s time for y’all to pick a side,” Assistant District Attorney Jason Napoli told the jury during his closing argument.
Dabney’s attorneys, meanwhile, suggested that the bullet that tore through Pichon’s leg came from a spare gun kept by Gillard, who they said wounded him by accident as Dabney fled.
Evidence at the trial included a jailhouse phone call in which prosecutors said Dabney directed an associate to the exact location of the discarded handgun.
A police K-9 named Bo dragged Dabney out from under a house on Third Street by his hand, after he had shed his hooded sweatshirt, camouflage cargo pants, his wallet and, according to police, the 10 mm handgun, which was found the next day.
DNA linked Dabney to both the sweatshirt and the gun, and Napoli cast doubt on the defense theory, in part by asking why Dabney would have shed his clothes if he were the victim.
Calling the evidence against Dabney “overwhelming,” Herman said she took offense at the insinuations against Pichon and took that into account in her sentencing.
“I find it most offensive to me that Officer Pichon had his reputation dragged through the mud the way he did,” Herman said.
“The pure callousness that night hit home,” she added.
The only difference between his actions and first-degree murder, with its automatic life sentence or possible death sentence, was “your lack of good aim,” the judge said.
Herman, who is perennially ranked as the most efficient jurist in the courthouse in an annual report by the Metropolitan Crime Commission, made quick work of Dabney, leveling two 50-year sentences for the attempted murder counts and a 20-year sentence on the gun count. She ordered the sentences to run concurrently.
Dabney, 35, will be back in court next week, when his sentence is likely to increase dramatically. District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office is asking Herman to sentence him under the state’s habitual offender law.
Dabney has a lengthy criminal history dating back to 1999, including convictions for drugs, battery and resisting an officer.
Monday’s sentencing came as Pichon, who returned to the force in April, sat in uniform in the courtroom.
Afterward, Pichon said he was dismayed at being portrayed as a dirty cop meting out his own brand of justice against Dabney. A former nine-year firefighter who joined the NOPD five years ago, Pichon said he had worked to develop relationships on the streets of Central City, only to have that familiarity turned against him.
“I’ve been a good officer, wanting to be part of the community. It’s disheartening. It makes you think twice about trusting people,” he said.
“If we’d have done something wrong that night, I’d have understood. I could have lost my life that night.”
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.