Prosecutors have filed new charges against a group of gunmen who held up a string of bars and restaurants in Uptown New Orleans last year, accusing eight young men of roles in a sweeping armed robbery conspiracy.
An Orleans Parish grand jury late Tuesday handed up a 43-count indictment charging four of the defendants with being involved in the robbery of the Purple Rain bar in Central City, a May 2015 heist that had not previously been attributed to the gang.
The other establishments said to have been targeted were the Atchafalaya and Patois restaurants and the Monkey Hill bar.
The grand jury declined to indict two of the same young men in an alleged conspiracy to rob former Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan in August 2015. Court records offered no details of those allegations, and a spokesman for District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro declined to comment, citing the secrecy of grand jury proceedings.
However, at least one marked New Orleans police car had been stationed outside Ryan's home around that time. Police confirmed they were providing security out of concern for Ryan's family and property but asked reporters not to publicize those details to avoid compromising an ongoing investigation. Ryan was fired a few months later and now is an assistant coach of the Buffalo Bills.
The Uptown robberies attracted national media attention and frayed the nerves of business owners and diners in some of the city's more affluent neighborhoods. Surveillance footage captured the gunmen, attired in masks and hoodies, barging into the businesses and robbing staff members and patrons.
Federal authorities assisted the New Orleans Police Department in the high-profile investigation, and U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite Jr. vowed at the time to prosecute the suspects under the federal Hobbs Act if he could prove the holdups fit "a similarly situated pattern of robberies by the same individuals." Polite has not commented on why charges have been filed only in state court.
Charged Tuesday in the broad armed robbery conspiracy were Wesley "Seabrook" Davis, Jockquaren "Jock" Van Norman, Rolandus "Ro" Campbell, Dwayne "Wayne" Stevenson, Devon Jasper, Larry "Alz" Quinn, Nicholas Spiller and Shawn Dennis.
Not all of the men are accused of participating in the actual holdups, and the indictment offered few specifics regarding the defendants' alleged roles.
Davis, Van Norman and Stevenson were charged in all four of the restaurant and bar heists. Spiller was charged in the Monkey Hill and Atchafalaya robberies, while Quinn was charged in the Purple Rain robbery.
Surveillance images from the Purple Rain heist showed hooded men entering the bar and robbing the bartender at gunpoint — footage that appears eerily similar to the Monkey Hill, Patois and Atchafalaya robberies.
"I'm very happy they caught them," said Issac Dixon, owner of the Purple Rain bar, adding that the robbery had traumatized his staff. "I've been here going on 49 years, and that was the first time something like that happened."
The indictment accuses all eight defendants of committing armed robberies in New Orleans "in furtherance of a street gang" responsible for a host of crimes, including murder. Some of the men were charged in the shooting death last year of 30-year Harold Martin in Gentilly.
The indictment also includes counts of attempted murder and accuses Davis and Stevenson in the August 2015 armed robbery of Merlin “Moon” Riley, whose car was used in the Patois heist, four days after it was stolen.
All but three of the defendants named in the new indictment were behind bars when the grand jury issued the charges. At a brief court hearing Wednesday, Assistant District Attorney Alex Calenda said two of those three had since been taken into custody.
The conspiracy case has been allotted to Criminal District Court Judge Karen Herman.