At a news conference called to defend his agency’s fourth officer-involved shooting of the year, Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand on Wednesday warned his constituents to “wake up” and chastised a West Bank community for residents’ failure to report drug dealing — a scourge he said threatens innocent lives — to the Sheriff’s Office.
Screaming at points during an impassioned address, Normand vented about an array of topics, denouncing efforts to legalize marijuana possession — “We are collectively stupid” — while defending his deputies’ decision to unleash dozens of bullets upon Desmond Willis, a man who allegedly opened fire on authorities Monday after fleeing a traffic stop.
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Red-faced and gesticulating, Normand pointed a contemptuous finger at residents of the Pebble Walk and Kensington Gardens community in Harvey, several of whom, he said, told deputies after the shooting that they recognized Willis as a drug dealer and that he “did not belong in our neighborhood.”
“We knew what he was doing,” they said, according to Normand, “and he shouldn’t have been here.”
Normand said Willis, 25, was a drug dealer who plied his trade often enough in the neighborhood that his pickup became recognizable.
Fear of retaliation, he declared, is no excuse for not picking up the telephone.
“If you know this is going on, call 911 and tell them you want to remain anonymous,” Normand said. “Give us the information, so that we can get in there and be intrusive and shake it up and get these guys before they get you, because your life matters. Act like it.”
He added, “Wake up! If you know what’s going on in your neighborhoods, call the Sheriff’s Office and let us know. ... Have we lost any sense of altruism, of what’s going on in the streets?”
The news conference was not all bluster. Normand also revealed new details about Monday’s officer-involved shooting, which he said began when Willis committed a traffic violation and sped away as deputies approached his truck. Willis disregarded an order to raise his hands and “took off” through Pebble Walk, Normand said.
The pursuit took deputies from Lapalco and Manhattan boulevards to a street between the Holiday Inn Express and an office building. Eventually, Normand said, Willis struck a fence, blew out a tire and ran down an alley. Exchanges of gunfire soon followed.
Authorities determined Willis fired first, Normand said — an allegation he sought to bolster by playing a clip of Willis “living the gangster life,” smoking and rapping profane lyrics. Those lines, the sheriff said, amounted to a self-fulfilling prediction of how Willis would die:
“Can’t trust cops/ Soon as I spot ’em I’m running, f*** cops/ And if they catch me I’m busting, f*** cops,” Willis sings in the video.
“That’s exactly what he tried to do on Monday,” Normand said. “This video, completely, as you can tell, infuriates me.”
Another music video, posted to YouTube, is titled “AR15- Popped a Perc” and shows Willis pointing two handguns at the camera as he raps.
“This is shock-the-conscience behavior,” Normand railed. “Innocent people are going to get killed if this crap continues.”
Normand displayed what he said were the contents of Willis’ vehicle, including 228 grams of marijuana, drug paraphernalia, two firearms and several additional rounds of ammunition. He said the Sheriff’s Office publicized the videos and the evidence to counter suggestions by family members that Willis didn’t own any guns and that the weapons were planted by deputies.
“Not to be insensitive, but I’ll be damned if this office is going to stand by and have its reputation impugned by people when this video is out there, trying to pollute the minds of our youngsters in our community day in and day out with this crap,” Normand said.
Willis had been “loaded to bear,” Normand said, and opened fire on deputies with a stolen handgun, with another gun tucked in his pocket. Deputies, who fired dozens of rounds at Willis as they chased him around the area of Manhattan Boulevard, later found extended magazines and scores of bullets in his vehicle.
In all, 65 rounds were fired in the gun battle, most of them by law enforcement officers.
Dr. Gerry Cvitanovich,, the Jefferson Parish coroner, said his office has not yet determined how many times Willis was hit. “It was a good number” of times, he said, noting Willis had been struck in the back side, left hand, abdomen, pelvis and lower extremities.
Normand released the names of the officers who opened fire — Sgts. Mark Monson and Michael Cummings; Detectives Patrick Evans, Ryan Rivette and Anthony Buttone; Deputy Jeffrey Jobin; and Constable Lt. John Oleaga — but took umbrage that “no one ever asked for the names of the innocent people that were scared s***less that day and bullets were flying by their head.”
“Why are we not talking about the drug dealing?” he added. “Why are we not talking about the fear of the families of my deputies that have to say ‘goodbye’ to their husbands and wives everyday for fear that they’re not going to come home alive? Really? No one has asked that question. No one.”
Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.