A grand jury on Tuesday declined to indict three Lafayette police officers who shot and killed 31-year-old Trayford Pellerin outside a Circle K store in August.
Fifteenth Judicial District Attorney Don Landry announced the decision after an hourlong press briefing in which he presented body camera and surveillance video footage showing the moments leading up to Pellerin's death. It was the first public viewing of any evidence in the case, apart from a low-quality bystander video.
Evidence displayed Tuesday appeared to show Pellerin held a knife in his left hand as he walked away from officers and ignored their commands. At one point prior to the shooting, Pellerin turned to face a pursuing officer, who was only a few feet behind, and threatened to stab him. Landry said officers are trained to use deadly force when threatened by a knife-wielding suspect within 21 feet.
The threat to stab the pursuing officer was one of seven instances that called for deadly force, Landry said. They included the moment Pellerin reached for the door to the store with his right hand, still holding the knife in his left hand, according to Landry.
"These officers went above and beyond the requirements for use of deadly force in this case," Landry said.
Landry said the grand jury found no true bill on second-degree murder charges, and lesser charges were never considered. Landry said the officers' identities will remain concealed.
The announcement followed nine months of public angst and speculation over the limited information available. Landry said that Louisiana, unlike other states, does not permit immediate release of body camera footage in police shooting investigations.
"Believe me, we released as much as we could,” Landry said.
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The Pellerin family and their lawyer, Ron Haley, were previously shown a limited selection of evidence in September. After the private viewing, Haley said he had not seen anything definitively showing Pellerin holding a knife as officers pursued him along Evangeline Thruway.
After viewing Landry's presentation, Haley said the presence of a knife did not justify deadly force. Although Pellerin made threatening statements, Haley said Pellerin continuously retreated from officers and did not make aggressive moves suggesting an attack and did not commit crimes against others in the lead-up to his shooting.
"I’m tired of the excuse of failing to comply as a reason to kill Black people in this country. Failure to comply is a misdemeanor, not a death penalty….I do not want to hear from anyone, ‘Hey, if Trayford had just listened somehow he’d still be here,’ because we’ve seen that movie in this country far too long, that even when people listen to police they still sometimes end up dead," Haley said.
The Pellerin family learned of the grand jury's decision when the district attorney’s office called Pellerin’s mother, Michelle Pellerin, on Tuesday afternoon to let her know there would not be any indictments, Haley said. She had testified to the grand jury earlier in the day as part of an arrangement with Landry’s office.
A Lafayette grand jury on Tuesday concluded deliberations in the Lafayette Police Department shooting death of Trayford Pellerin and will not …
Landry previously informed the Pellerin family that State Police classified the shooting as justifiable on April 28.
Michelle Pellerin was unable to divulge what she shared with the grand jury. She said the experience has been hard, and that she and her family will continue to seek justice for her son. A wrongful death lawsuit is pending in federal civil court.
Michelle Pellerin said she and her family watched along on media live streams with the public as they viewed the bulk of the evidence for the first time. She said limited evidence shown during a family viewing in September barely touched on the full extent of events.
“A lot of this they could have presented to me early on. They held it back for nine months, not knowing what actually went on. They showed one video that had nothing to do with what they showed today. Why not present that first so I can see?" Michelle Pellerin questioned.
Officers initially responded to disturbance calls about a man, later identified as Pellerin, acting strangely and bothering customers at a different convenience store, about a half mile from the one where Pellerin was shot. Surveillance video shown on Tuesday showed Pellerin inside the store for about 20 minutes, for the most part standing by the door as customers walked in and out.
A store clerk repeatedly asked Pellerin if he was OK and tried to persuade him to leave, but he was generally unresponsive. Haley and family members said Pellerin's sister, Treneca, worked at the store but was not present the night he was killed. He could be heard on video calling her name, they said.
Pellerin eventually grew agitated, disappeared into a back room and then came back out and left the store, throwing a fountain drink into the parking lot. He held a knife as he left. Landry said toxicology reports showed methamphetamine in Pellerin's system at a blood concentration of 2800 ng/mL, which could cause restlessness, confusion, and hallucinations, and violent and irrational behavior.
Police officers tried to use tasers while pursuing Pellerin on foot, but they were not effective; one officer’s taser struck Pellerin’s bag and made partial contact with his body, while another did not make contact at all. A K-9 unit joined the pursuit, but the dog was not released because the handler feared it might attack an officer, according to Landry.
Haley said the District Attorney's Office appeared to rely too heavily on State Police findings in presenting the case to the grand jury. He said from Landry's presentation it seemed they had not sought an outside use of force expert or other expert opinion before presenting the case to the grand jury. He said the State Police are not the most credible agency to investigate police shootings, citing the death of Ronald Greene, a Black man, while in State Police custody, among other incidents.
A highly anticipated federal lawsuit filed Monday morning claims that Lafayette Police officers violated 31-year-old Trayford Pellerin’s const…
Haley is representing the family in a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana against 10 unidentified Lafayette officers labeled as John Doe 1-10, former interim Lafayette Police Chief Scott Morgan, the Lafayette Police Department, Lafayette Consolidated Government and two insurance companies identified as ABC Insurance Company and XYZ Insurance Company, claiming the officers violated Pellerin’s constitutional rights.
The claims are based on partial evidence shown to the family at the urging of Lafayette Mayor-President Josh Guillory in September. Haley said the evidence included 20 minutes of footage from one officer’s body camera, three still photographs and four recordings of disturbance calls to police.
Haley said the civil case had stalled as the legal team waited on access to law enforcement documents and personnel, which are shielded until criminal proceedings are resolved. Plaintiffs hope to uncover the officers' identities to determine their service histories, Haley said, noting that the grand jury had considered Pellerin's drug use and history of mental illness. Landry noted on Tuesday that toxicology reports showed high levels of methamphetamine in Pellerin's system.
"Did we hear anything in the report that was presented whether or not any of the officers had an excessive force case brought against them? No," Haley said. "But everything about Trayford was there,” Haley said.
"In this case Trayford wasn’t on trial. Trayford wasn’t to go to the grand jury, it was these officers. Why not have information about their past and their background? I’m not suggesting these officers had one, but if not put that out there," he said.
Haley said he and his legal team will also formally request a civil rights review of the case by the U.S. Department of Justice.