Taetrece Harrison

Taetrece Harrison

An attorney who hopes to sit on the Orleans Parish Civil District Court bench found herself at the defense table instead Tuesday. On trial for felony aggravated assault, she won.

Judicial candidate Taetrece Harrison was accused of pulling a gun on a man who stopped to give her advice about removing a boot from her car in a Central Business District parking lot. Harrison said she was the victim of a man who wouldn’t take no for an answer when she rejected his help.

A jury of four men and two women took less than an hour to acquit Harrison after hearing from both sides.

Harrison qualified to run for a judgeship this month soon after she was charged by the Orleans Parish District Attorney's Office. Former City Councilwoman Ellen Hazeur and Richard Perque are the other candidates vying for the judgeship.

Harrison's defense attorney, Eusi Phillips, said the case had been a "hiccup" for her candidacy. He said she was overcome with emotion after the verdict.

"It’s been very traumatic for Miss Harrison and her family. Just the accusation, the potential of being a convicted felon for something like this," he said. "I'm glad it's over."

As the one-day trial unfurled before Criminal District Court Judge Karen Herman, it quickly became apparent that the incident in the Premium Parking lot at Girod Street and Loyola Avenue on Sept. 28 was a case of he-said, she-said.

On one side, a Marine veteran and audiovisual technician, Rorreckee Bates, claimed he was simply trying to give Harrison advice when she pulled a snub-nosed revolver on him for no good reason.

On the other side, Harrison, 50, said Bates sneaked up on her and then refused to leave when asked, prompting her to put a handgun on her dashboard and then leave the lot as fast as she could.

Police did not find any corroborating information on either side. Detective Chantelle Davis testified that she could not find any other witnesses or surveillance video.

Bates, who wore a black suit and a white dress shirt, said he had just hopped off a bus on his way to work when he spotted Harrison in front of her booted, four-door Lexus ES. Bates said he attempted to engage her from the sidewalk.

“I said, ‘Wow, they got you with those boots.’ And she kind of glanced at me and she turned around,” Bates said.

The interaction quickly slid downhill from there, Bates said. He claimed that as he tried to offer advice, she began yelling at him.

“She said, ‘You better get the hell out of my face. Get the (expletive) out of my face, I don’t know you!’ And I was like, ‘Excuse me, I was just trying to be informative,' ” Bates said.

After more yelling, Harrison ran to her car, pulled out a revolver and began waving it in the air, Bates said.

“Go ahead, keep talking. I got something for you,” he said Harrison told him.

Bates said he called 911 after the incident. Police eventually managed to identify Harrison from the car’s license plate.

In a testy cross-examination, Phillips sought to poke holes in Bates’ story. He asked Bates if he was sure that Harrison had a revolver, or if he was sure that Harrison was not on the phone during their interaction, as she claimed.

Later, Harrison took the stand in a blue dress and pearls. She said she was on the phone with a company about removing the boots when Bates crept up on her. “When I turned around, he was close enough to kiss me, and he scared me,” she said.

Harrison said Bates offered to have a friend remove the boot. “Well, I wasn’t interested in that. And that’s when I said, ‘Thank you, I’m good, leave me alone,’ ” Harrison said.

Like her accuser, Harrison said the chance encounter rapidly escalated. She said that Bates began shouting and screaming curses at her. She wondered if she was the victim of some sort of “setup,” she said.

Harrison said that after asking Bates to leave the area four times, she decided to protect herself.

“I announce that I’m a concealed carrier,” said Harrison. “I make my firearm accessible by putting it on my dash.” She denied that she ever waved the gun about.

Finally, an attendant arrived and un-booted her car, she said. She said that in the heat of the moment, she drove away without calling 911.

Harrison also disputed Bates on two key points. She said she owns a semi-automatic handgun, not a revolver, and that she was talking with a customer service representative the whole time. Phillips had Harrison rattle off a log of her phone calls to prove the point.

In closing arguments, prosecutors argued that Bates was the victim of a woman frustrated about her booted car who took out her anger on an innocent man. 

“He had a woman who he was trying to help who pulled a gun out on him,” said Assistant District Attorney Hilary Khoury.

Phillips, however, suggested the District Attorney’s Office had a political motive behind trying his client. 

“This is not a felony conviction. This is not a misdemeanor conviction. This is a miscarriage of justice,” he said. “What are they trying to do, and why are they trying to do it?”

Follow Matt Sledge on Twitter, @mgsledge.

msledge@theadvocate.com | (504) 636-7432