Four women who claim to have had children by a suspected car thief who was killed by a Kenner police officer in 2013 have been disqualified as plaintiffs in a federal wrongful-death lawsuit against the city.
Only the suspect’s mother can continue to pursue the case against Kenner, U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle decided last week. He said the other women failed to establish they were married to the suspect, Don White, or that their children were his, which would have given them standing to seek damages.
According to court records filed last month, Kenner Police Officer Jacob Tolpi — who had not previously been identified — spotted a stolen car at Martinique and West Esplanade avenues about 7 p.m. Nov. 8, 2013. The car had been identified by a nearby license plate recognition camera.
Tolpi walked up to the car and ordered White, who was in the driver’s seat, to step out. But White ignored Tolpi’s command and “accelerated forward into the path of the officer,” according to court records.
Tolpi, fearing for his life, fired his service weapon at White, hitting him in the head, the records say. After crashing into a parked van, White was taken to a New Orleans hospital and later pronounced dead.
Police said they discovered a handgun inside White’s car. They suspected he had recently burglarized a nearby apartment.
Kenner Police Department attorney Philip Boudousque on Tuesday said an internal investigation found that Tolpi was justified in shooting White, and prosecutors declined to charge the officer with any wrongdoing.
About a year after the shooting, White’s mother and four women claiming to have given birth to five children with him sued Kenner in federal court for punitive damages.
However, the city cited a state law allowing only a deceased person’s surviving spouse or children to file wrongful-death suits. If a deceased person has neither a spouse nor children, then parents can sue for wrongful death, the law says.
Yet none of the mothers alleged they were married to White or that he ever adopted or acknowledged their children, the city argued.
Raiesha Waters, Jireail Hilton, Garyione Jenkins and Shonique Peters had until Jan. 20 to dispute Kenner’s arguments, but they never did. That left White’s mother, Leisa Ann White, as the case’s lone remaining plaintiff.
The dismissed plaintiffs have 30 days from Lemelle’s Jan. 20 ruling to ask the judge to reconsider his decision. The attorney for all five women, Lionel “Lon” Burns, declined to say whether they plan to do that.
Lemelle had dismissed the suit in April after Burns failed to show up for a status hearing due to car trouble, but the judge reinstituted the case after the attorney apologized.