LAFAYETTE — The U.S. Attorney’s Office has dropped charges in a federal firearms case after a prosecutor was accused of intimidating defense witnesses by calling them before a grand jury without reason.
U.S. Attorney Stephanie Finley said in a written statement Thursday that “she believed that it was in the interest of justice” to dismiss a felon in possession of a firearm charge against Damien Deshone Guidry, of Welsh.
Finley did not respond to questions about whether anyone in her office will face disciplinary action in the case.
At issue were letters sent last year by Assistant U.S. Attorney Brett Grayson to two of Guidry’s defense witnesses, stating “the grand jury has asked me to extend to you an invitation to appear before the grand jury” and making reference to the possibility of criminal charges.
The “invitation” shook up the witnesses so badly they decided against taking the stand for the defense, and, as prosecutors later admitted, the grand jury never made such a request.
Guidry’s attorney, Alfred Boustany II, had cited the letters in a move to have the charges tossed out.
“It is a credit to the U.S. Attorney’s Office that they recognized the problem and took actions to correct it,” Boustany said Thursday. “The conduct against the witnesses was indefensible.”
Prosecutors had been fighting to keep the case alive for several months, even after U.S. Magistrate Judge C. Michael Hill recommended in March that the charges be dismissed.
In his ruling, Hill wrote he was “appalled” by the grand jury letters from Grayson, characterizing the prosecutor’s actions as a “bad faith threat” against defense witnesses, especially considering the lack of evidence that the witnesses had done anything illegal.
The dismissal filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office this week came as U.S. District Judge Haik was considering whether to follow Hill’s recommendation, but the issue is moot now that prosecutors have dropped the case.
Haik ordered prosecutors to produce a transcript of any grand jury discussions in which a request was made for the two defense witnesses to appear.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office responded in court filings on May 9 that the grand jury never actually made a request for testimony from the two defense witnesses, despite letters stating “the grand jury has asked me to extend to you an invitation to appear.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office downplayed the discrepancy, writing in court filings that federal prosecutors in some instances act as official agents on behalf of the grand jury, a group of citizens who can decide whether to pursue criminal charges.
The federal case began when police found a pistol in the same car as Guidry on Jan. 1, 2013, in Lafayette — a federal crime if it was Guidry’s gun because he was not to possess firearms following earlier drug convictions.
Guidry maintained the gun was not his.
One of the witnesses who received a grand jury letter had purchased the gun in question and sold it to the other witness, who was with Guidry on the night of his arrest but who was not charged and has no felony conviction, according to a summary of the case Boustany gave in court filings.
Boustany also stated in court filings that an investigator had visited the home of one the witnesses and told her “she should be careful about what she was doing for the benefit of herself and her young child, because she didn’t want to lose her child.”