Star DEA agent finds himself at center of sprawling probe as drug task force comes under scrutiny

Chad Scott

The U.S. Justice Department has dismissed double-murder charges in a grisly AK-47 attack investigated by Chad Scott, a veteran narcotics agent stripped of his gun and badge last year amid a federal investigation of misconduct within the New Orleans field division of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

The development marked an about-face for the federal government, which in 2015 had taken the case out of the hands of Tangipahoa Parish authorities at Scott's behest — an example of the clout he wielded within the DEA during his 17 years as a special agent.

The prosecution is likely to proceed in state court, though perhaps without the involvement of Scott, whose career has been upended by the scandal.

But the abrupt dismissal highlighted the Justice Department's growing concern about moving forward with cases brought by Scott and his former colleagues, two of whom remain under federal indictment, accused of stealing cash and drugs during federal drug raids.

The charges were dismissed by a team of out-of-state Justice Department lawyers who have been assigned to sift through the active cases involving the local DEA task force and prosecute those they deem to be salvageable.

The double-murder case is not the first one these lawyers have dropped, but it stood out in part because one of the defendants, Don Raines, had already pleaded guilty to his role in the slayings and was awaiting sentencing. 

"That's a rare circumstance," said Roger Jordan, Raines' defense attorney.

The Justice Department has insisted that most court filings related to Scott remain under seal as the FBI continues an investigation that began more than a year ago with the arrest of Johnny Domingue, a Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff's Office deputy whom Scott had recruited to join the federal task force.

In court filings, the department said only that the latest charges were being dropped "in the interests of justice." 

But several people familiar with the double-murder case said that government lawyers also had become increasingly skeptical of their ability to prove a drug-related connection to the killings, a requirement to establish federal jurisdiction in the proceedings.

Indeed, it remains unclear why the Justice Department agreed to take on the case in the first place. One of the defense attorneys in the case, Peter Strasser, accused Scott in court filings of trying to "turn a simple, local matter into a major federal drug and gun enterprise."

The government dismissed the remaining charges earlier this week and referred the case back to the 21st Judicial District Attorney's Office, which has not indicated whether it intends to seek the death penalty.  

"I allowed (the feds) to take it, and now it's boomeranged back," District Attorney Scott Perrilloux said, adding that he intends to present the case to a Tangipahoa Parish grand jury within 45 days. "I'm not happy about an almost 2-year-old case that we have to start from scratch with, but we will deal with it."

The double murder, which claimed the lives of Quandell Beard and Elliot Smith, happened in October 2015 near an apartment complex on Quick Boulevard in Hammond. Investigators recovered more than 30 shell casings from the scene and said they believed the killings had been carried out in retaliation for an earlier robbery. 

Strasser's client, Calvin Alexander, was charged with murder-for-hire, accused of orchestrating the killings after being targeted — and shot in the stomach — by Smith and Beard during an earlier robbery in Ponchatoula.

Two witnesses, Raines and Travon "Smoke" Pitts, implicated Alexander and pleaded guilty last year to luring Smith and Beard to their deaths.

Pitts, 28, died last year while awaiting sentencing at the St. Bernard Parish jail. Officials attributed the death to natural causes, including an underlying heart condition.

Strasser filed a series of motions in the case accusing Scott of manipulating and feeding a "false story line" to a key witness in the case. 

The Justice Department has dropped other prosecutions involving Scott, including a case in which a defendant had pleaded guilty to selling methamphetamine and carrying a gun during a drug crime. Scott's task force had made undercover meth buys from the defendant, Ryan Binner, who was indicted in 2014 in part for carrying a sawed-off shotgun. 

Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.