A federal judge asked a series of detailed questions Thursday about the pursuit and fatal shooting of a man in New Orleans last week by Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office deputies, promising to watch the investigation “very closely.”
The New Orleans Police Department was not involved in the Feb. 8 shooting death in Central City of Eric Harris, 22, who had fled across the river from Jefferson deputies on the West Bank. But the NOPD is investigating the shooting, alongside the FBI, because it occurred inside the city limits.
U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan, who is overseeing a series of NOPD reforms drawn up by the U.S. Justice Department, said during a hearing Thursday that she will be keeping a close eye on the investigation of Harris’ death.
The hearing had been scheduled long before the shooting to provide an update on the NOPD’s progress under a federal consent decree.
“This was an officer-involved shooting that took place in Orleans Parish,” Morgan said. “As such, it implicates a number of issues that go to the heart of the consent decree.”
The shooting happened the night of Feb. 8 shortly after Harris crashed his girlfriend’s sedan near Simon Bolivar Avenue and Philip Street.
Jefferson Parish deputies, unlike New Orleans police officers, do not wear body cameras or use dashboard cameras in their vehicles. But Deputy Chief Arlinda Westbrook, who oversees the NOPD’s Public Integrity Bureau, confirmed Thursday that the shooting was caught on surveillance video from a nearby business.
Authorities will not release that footage at this time, NOPD spokesman Tyler Gamble said, citing the ongoing investigation.
The judge’s remarks came a day after the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office arrested Harris’ girlfriend, Tyshara Blouin, who was a passenger during the pursuit and who has publicly disputed deputies’ account of the shooting. The Sheriff’s Office, in announcing Blouin’s arrest, said she had been “complicit” in Harris’ eluding deputies after a confrontation at the Oakwood Mall in Gretna.
A Sheriff’s Office report released Thursday offered few new details but said Deputy Miguel Dukes was investigating an unrelated shoplifting at the mall “when he was approached by two unknown” women, one of whom claimed Harris had “just threatened her with a gun.”
Harris, the report said, fled through the mall and then into the parking lot. Dukes lost sight of Harris, the report said, but mall security spotted him hiding behind a vehicle, where he “appeared to be waiting for someone.”
Blouin can be seen on surveillance footage running toward and entering the vehicle, the report said. The pair then drove out of the mall’s lot and “fled at a high rate of speed” as other deputies followed them.
Investigators said they later found a small amount of heroin in Blouin’s vehicle, along with a firearm. Blouin, who has no criminal history, was booked on counts of being an accessory after the fact to aggravated assault and possession of a firearm while possessing a controlled dangerous substance.
Col. John Fortunato, a JPSO spokesman, declined to elaborate Thursday on Blouin’s alleged role in Harris’ flight from the mall.
It remained unclear when Jefferson authorities searched Blouin’s vehicle, which has remained in NOPD custody since the shooting.
Commissioner Patricia Joyce, of the 24th Judicial District Court in Gretna, set Blouin’s bail Thursday at $40,000, said defense attorney Gary Bizal, who said he was turned away from the court when he tried to attend his client’s bail hearing.
“I think it’s a cheap shot,” Bizal said of Blouin’s arrest. “They know she’s a material witness in the federal investigation.”
Bizal said he has been unable to obtain a copy of Blouin’s arrest warrant.
Joyce, in a brief phone interview, said the document is not a public record and declined to answer further questions.
The Sheriff’s Office has said Harris led deputies Henry Dejean and Kenneth Bonura on a chase across the Crescent City Connection into Central City before crashing Blouin’s Infiniti in the 2200 block of Philip Street. Deputies alleged that Harris then started to back the car in their direction, prompting them to open fire.
Blouin, however, has said Harris was disoriented after the crash and never shifted the vehicle into reverse. She also disputed the claim that Harris had pointed a gun at the woman — an ex-girlfriend — at the mall.
Westbrook told Morgan on Thursday that New Orleans officers were not involved in the arrest of Blouin, whom the department has described as a cooperating witness in its investigation.
Follow Matt Sledge on Twitter, @mgsledge. Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.