Over and over again this year, the New Orleans Police Department — charged with keeping the city safe — has been battered by untimely deaths.
Officer Daryle Holloway was shot and killed in June while transporting a suspect to jail. The same day, police discovered an officer’s father apparently had killed his ailing mother in a murder-suicide. Then in July, the 20-year-old daughter of Officer Imani Ruffins was shot to death in Gentilly. Later that month, a college student’s errant Ford Mustang started a chain reaction that killed Officer Vernell Brown Jr.
The department encountered its latest loss on Nov. 7, when crime scene technician Alonia Singleton discovered the victim of a shooting scene she was sketching was the father of her son.
Early in the morning, Singleton said, she responded to a homicide scene in the Upper 9th Ward. A man had been fatally shot several times inside a house under construction in the 1200 block of Congress Street.
Singleton, a 31-year-old civilian employee of the NOPD, got to work sketching the layout of the crime scene so detectives could mark the exact location of bodies, bullets and other evidence. But a familiar sight jarred her out of her routine. It was the tattoo of a cross on the victim’s back.
“It could be somebody else,” Singleton said she told herself. “Anybody could have that cross.”
Singleton backed away and asked another crime tech to show her a picture of the victim’s body. A quick check confirmed the dead man also had her name, Alonia, tattooed on his back.
That’s when she knew: It was her son’s father, Jonathan Dotson Sr.
The NOPD has released scant details about the shooting death of Dotson, who was 31. Spokesman Officer Juan Barnes said in an initial release that officers were responding to a call about a man down when they found him unresponsive inside the residence, near the rear door.
Dotson’s mother, Sheila Dotson, said detectives have told her little more about what may have happened to her son. Just hours before his death, she said, she ran into him on her way back from walking her dog, and they chatted briefly.
Not long afterward, she realized he had left the house and borrowed her cellphone. She figured someone must have picked him up.
That was the last time Dotson saw her “sweet” son.
Growing up in the Bywater, she said, Jonathan Dotson was an athletically inclined boy who excelled in a wide variety of sports, especially track.
Singleton said Dotson struggled to find work in the past year but previously shucked oysters in the French Quarter. He had worked at the Bourbon House and the Court of Two Sisters, his mother said.
Singleton and Dotson dated from roughly 2006 to 2009, then broke up. Court records show Dotson had repeated brushes with the law, including a 2013 conviction for domestic abuse battery. But Singleton said he was a devoted father to his young son.
For Dotson, his mother said, the boy “could never do no wrong.” The pair would work out and play video games together.
Singleton said she’s been keeping a close eye on their son, “because I don’t really think he fully understands.”
Dotson’s passing has left a large, close-knit family reeling, his mother said. His brother lives in Pittsburg, Mississippi, and had urged him to move there to escape the city’s troubles. But Jonathan Dotson could not be persuaded.
“I told (the brother) it’s not his fault. You couldn’t have made him come up there,” Sheila Dotson said. “He’s not taking it good at all.”
Dotson said more than anything else, she just wants to know who took her son’s life and why. Her family has never been struck by violence before, she said.
“I’m scared myself now,” Dotson said. “I don’t know what’s going on, who did it.”
Police have asked citizens with information that might help solve the crime to call Homicide Detective Tim Bender at (504) 658-5300 or Crimestoppers at (504) 822-1111.
Singleton said she returned to work on Thursday night and that her job has helped keep her mind off her pain.
Her work was where she discovered that her son’s father was dead. Now it is where she finds her solace.