The lone suspect arrested in the March 24 killing of a New Orleans pizza delivery driver no longer faces charges in that case, but he’ll remain behind bars anyway — thanks largely to a driving error.
Agreeing with federal prosecutors that Michael Portis is a public safety risk, federal Magistrate Judge Sally Shushan said Monday she would order Portis held based on a February traffic stop for an illegal turn on Elysian Fields Avenue.
Shushan’s decision came a week after the 120-day legal timeclock expired for state prosecutors to secure an indictment against Portis in the slaying of Domino’s driver Michael Price during an apparent robbery. Portis was arrested April 1 in the early morning slaying in the Lower 9th Ward.
But Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office said police hadn’t turned over key evidence that prosecutors needed to seek an indictment. So with no more time, a magistrate commissioner cut Portis loose from the murder count on July 30.
What remained between Portis and freedom was a federal probation hold that resulted from his arrest for murder. It was left for Shushan to decide whether to keep him behind bars for some other reason.
She found one Monday, when Assistant U.S. Attorney Theodore Carter brought up the Feb. 13 traffic stop.
Portis had no driver’s license or registration and was in the company of a convicted felon — all technical grounds to revoke his probation, a federal agent testified Monday.
Portis was on probation from his guilty plea in 2012 for being a felon in possession of a firearm. Portis, who has a prior conviction for aggravated battery in 2008, was given a 35-month prison term in the federal case.
Joseph Frank, a special agent with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, described the traffic stop and the April 1 search of the Pauger Street house of Portis’ mother. Frank said Portis also threatened a confidential informant and that authorities continue to investigate him in connection with Price’s killing.
Carter, the prosecutor, said authorities found a 9mm magazine and 1.8 grams of heroin in Portis’ mother’s house.
Federal Public Defender Claude Kelly noted that Cannizzaro’s office has not charged Portis for the drugs, much less for murder. He suggested the feds were ginning up a phony excuse to hold Portis.
“For him to be punished because he was wrongly arrested (in the murder) is simply not right,” Kelly said. “There’s nothing there. Do we have to keep him locked up until someone sends him an apology letter?”
U.S. Probation Officer Kenny Dixon acknowledged that Portis has progressed in a federal re-entry program for convicts and that traffic stops don’t ordinarily result in revoked probation. But he said he considers Portis a public danger.
Shushan gave prosecutors 48 hours to add the February traffic arrest to their detention request.
“There’s no question the traffic stop was a violation of the conditions of release” and “serious grounds” to keep Portis locked up, she said.
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