A State Fire Marshal’s Office captain charged with pistol-whipping a man outside a French Quarter bar last month acted in self-defense and fell victim to a “cruel hoax” involving the purported death of his bomb-sniffing dog, his attorney said Thursday.
The attorney, Arthur “Buddy” Lemann, said prosecutors overreacted in charging his client, Capt. Richard Abbott, with aggravated battery, a felony, and possession of a firearm inside an alcoholic beverage outlet.
An Orleans Parish grand jury indicted Abbott, 49, less than a week after the July 18 incident, even though a magistrate commissioner found no probable cause for either count.
“Surveillance video clearly shows the so-called ‘victim’ came up behind my client and grabbed him, and that’s when my client turned around and hit him,” Lemann said in an interview. “It was totally justified.”
New Orleans police interpreted the video differently, saying in a report that Abbott confronted and grabbed the man outside the Three Legged Dog bar at Burgundy and Conti streets.
“Abbott then strikes the victim in the back of the head several times” with a black .357-caliber revolver, a police report said, “causing the victim to almost fall to the ground.”
In a typically colorful filing, Lemann said the run-in stemmed from a trick the man and his “barroom friends” played on Abbott in which the captain’s bomb-sniffing dog, Crash, was apparently “lured” into the kitchen of the Three Legged Dog, a canine-friendly establishment Abbott discovered shortly after moving to New Orleans from Monroe last year.
In court papers, Lemann wrote that the Fire Marshal’s Office deemed it to be “in the best interest of law enforcement to have a ‘bomb’ dog located in the French Quarter.”
“As with all canine officers, there is a special bond between the officer and the dog, and the two are practically inseparable,” Lemann wrote. “And so it was with Richard and Crash.”
The man Abbott struck, Lemann wrote, “provoked the incident by falsely informing Richard that Crash had wandered from the establishment and had been hit by a car on the streets.”
“A cruel hoax,” Lemann added.
Lemann accused District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro of obtaining a “ham sandwich indictment” against Abbott and ignoring a letter Lemann wrote seeking a meeting before prosecutors made a decision on whether to file charges.
He said the firearm charge against Abbott should be dismissed because of a state law passed last year, Act 147, that exempts law enforcement officers — even when they aren’t carrying out official duties — from a ban on carrying guns in bars.
“In sum,” Lemann wrote, “the district attorney’s trigger-happy action in this matter gives credence to the ancient proverb that ‘haste maketh waste’ — in this instance, a waste of judicial time, not to mention the rights of the defendant.”
A spokesman for Cannizzaro did not respond to a request for comment.
Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.