Update, 4:10 p.m. Thursday
Dwayne Stevenson, 20, has turned himself in, NOPD said.
A special state grand jury indicted four men Wednesday in connection with the brazen robberies of two restaurants and a bar last year that victimized dozens of Uptown diners and drinkers and placed residents citywide on edge.
The suspects — Wesley “Seabrook” Davis, Dwayne Stevenson, Nicholas Spiller and Jockquaren “Jock” Van Norman — all are accused of perpetrating at least one of the armed robberies in August and September at the Atchafalaya restaurant, Patois restaurant and Monkey Hill bar.
The indictment marks the first definitive statement by law enforcement authorities linking all three Uptown robberies to the same group.
A law enforcement source said police also are looking at the men in connection with additional armed robberies last spring and summer, including a robbery May 1 at the Purple Rain bar on Washington Avenue in Central City.
Stevenson, 20, was the only one of the four suspects who remained at large late Wednesday.
The indictment names Stevenson and Davis, 19, in all three Uptown robberies.
All four suspects allegedly committed the last of the three — the Sept. 28 robbery at Monkey Hill bar in the 6100 block of Magazine Street.
Davis had been jailed earlier in a murder case, while Van Norman, 20, is in jail as a suspected accessory in that same case. Spiller, 22, surrendered Wednesday, NOPD spokesman Tyler Gamble said. The five-count indictment also accuses the four men in a conspiracy to commit armed robbery, and Davis and Stevenson are accused in the Aug. 16 armed robbery of Merlin “Moon” Riley. Riley’s car was used four days later in the armed robbery of Patois, in the 6000 block of Laurel Street.
Patois co-owner Leon Touzet sipped Jack Daniels the morning after the robbery to calm his rattled nerves. On Wednesday evening, he said, he was back to the whiskey for celebratory shots with his staff.
“We’re truly happy,” Touzet said of the indictment. “It gives me a sense of relief.”
Touzet had been critical of the 17 minutes it took for police to arrive after the mass holdup at his restaurant, but on Wednesday he said the indictment gave him a sense the city is moving forward.
He said he had never seen or heard of any of the suspects named Wednesday, and none of them had ever been employed by Patois.
In a news conference following the indictment, police Superintendent Michael Harrison said he had called all of the Uptown establishments to let them know what was happening. He described the indictment as the culmination of a joint effort by NOPD detectives, FBI and ATF agents and District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office.
Harrison said the investigation is ongoing and that others may have been involved in the alleged conspiracy, though not in the holdups themselves.
“Right now we are confident we have the four individuals who committed the robberies in the three restaurants,” Harrison said, declining to offer any details about how police pegged the four men.
“This was an extremely difficult case to tackle, but we put together an extremely smart team to do it right and get it done,” Harrison said.
The special grand jury, which normally handles state gang cases, returned the indictment about 3:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Assistant District Attorney Alex Calenda told Criminal District Court Judge Franz Zibilich that the three Uptown robberies victimized more than 30 patrons as well as the businesses themselves. Zibilich set bail at $9 million each for Davis and Stevenson and $5.75 million each for Spiller and Norman, exceeding prosecutors’ requests.
The spurt of holdups rattled Uptown residents and raised widespread speculation about which restaurant might be targeted next.
The investigation since then has taken several twists.
Since the start, police went to lengths to determine who stole the black 2005 Kia Sorento used in the Aug. 20 stickup at Patois. The car was recovered hours later in the 4200 block of South Robertson Street, about 2½ miles from Patois.
Riley, the car’s owner, reported it was stolen from the Hidden Lake Apartments complex in New Orleans East on Aug. 16. But a review of surveillance footage from the apartment complex found that his story was false, investigators said.
Riley first told police he was pistol-whipped and forced to hand over his keys in a carjacking in his parking lot, according to police records. According to a warrant sworn by NOPD Detective John Waterman, Riley changed his story after the Patois robbery, saying he was held up inside his apartment. He said he had lied out of fear for his safety.
Police staked out the Hidden Lake Apartments complex in a bid to track down the carjackers. There, officers in late September spotted 18-year-old John Guillory along with two others in a stolen car, according to a warrant sworn by Detective Christopher Harris.
Interest in Guillory in connection with the Uptown robberies at that point was so great that his cellphone was stored at the FBI’s local headquarters. But while Guillory faces a charge of possession of a stolen vehicle, he was not named in Wednesday’s indictment.
Nor were four other men once investigated for the theft of the Sorento. Instead, authorities allege in the indictment that Davis and Stevenson stole the car. How police connected them to the theft remains uncertain.
In November, police named a different man, Dwayne “Butter” Winins, as a “person of interest” in the Uptown robberies; they said he was refusing to cooperate.
Winins was booked as an accessory in the May 11 shooting death of 30-year-old Harold Martin in Gentilly, a crime for which Winins, Davis and others were indicted late last year.
Davis and another man, Rolandus Campbell, face second-degree murder counts in Martin’s slaying. Winins, Kaesean Leon and Van Norman were indicted as accessories.
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.