A grand jury will be called in a few weeks to determine if indictments will be handed up in the 2020 fatal Lafayette Police Department shooting of Trayford Pellerin, an attorney for the family said Wednesday.
Family members of Pellerin, 31, including parents Michelle and Cedrick Pellerin, and legal counsel Ronald Haley met with 15th Judicial District Attorney Don Landry and Assistant District Attorney Alan Haney on Wednesday morning to discuss the grand jury's status and the family’s interest in access to evidence in the case.
Haley said Landry agreed to consider evidence from the family and their legal team for presentation to the grand jury and agreed to allow Michelle Pellerin to testify before the grand jury. Haley said the district attorney’s office would connect with her in seven to 10 days to discuss her testimony and the timeline of the grand jury’s gathering.
Landry said in a Wednesday phone call there’s not a definite timeline for the case’s presentation, but it’ll be “coming up within a relatively short period of time.” He said he’s reviewed the case and is confident in the work begun under his predecessor, Keith Stutes, and his office is ensuring all the needed information and evidence is in place before calling a grand jury.
Police shot and killed Pellerin at a gas station off the Evangeline Thruway after a prolonged foot pursuit Aug. 21. Officers initially responded to disturbance calls about a man, later identified as Pellerin, acting strangely and bothering customers at a different convenience store, about half a mile from the one where Pellerin was shot. Louisiana State Police said Pellerin was holding a knife when he was shot.
Louisiana State Police conducted the investigation into the police shooting and turned their findings over to the district attorney’s office. Haley said Wednesday that Landry shared that State Police investigators found the shooting justifiable. Further elaboration on the reasoning behind the finding was not provided and the family and their legal team were not shown a copy of the agency’s report, he said.
Louisiana State Police Troop I spokesperson Trooper Thomas Gossen said a “justifiable” determination is akin to not finding probable cause, or sufficient evidence that a crime was committed. He said while the agency came to that conclusion in their report, it doesn’t necessarily mean there is no case. The district attorney’s office has the authority to determine if charges should be considered through their own examination of the evidence, Gossen said.
Haley said they’re holding the district attorney’s office to their commitment to critically examine the case beyond State Police findings.
“I can appreciate [the district attorney’s office] doing their due diligence and essentially starting from day one with the evidence and trying to build their own case to come to their own conclusions. They have not given us any indication of what those conclusions will be, or what will be asked of the grand jury or not asked of the grand jury. ... There were no assurances made to myself or the family of what’s going to happen, but just that they would present a fully complete and fair case to the grand jury,” Haley said.
Another point of interest was public transparency around evidence in the case, specifically body camera and surveillance video of the fatal shooting. The lack of information shared with the public has been a sticking point for the family and local activists since August. The family, at the direction of Mayor-President Josh Guillory, was shown limited body camera footage in September.
The only publicly available video of the shooting was taken by a bystander and released on social media shortly after Pellerin was killed.
Landry said he feels the family’s pain and understands regardless of legal results, they suffered a tragic loss. The district attorney said he tried to answer their questions while balancing his responsibility to preserve evidence and his independence in the case.
“We want to protect everyone’s rights. We certainly want to hear from the family and we want to be as open as we can with the family, but by the same token on the other side are individuals who may be charged with a crime. If I was a defense attorney representing those individuals who may be charged with a crime, I sure don’t want the prosecutor releasing information and evidence that might taint the jury or make it way harder for them to present their defense. It’s the fair way to do it,” Landry said.
“I understand there are rules of professional conduct that prevent the district attorney from releasing any actual information. The frustration shouldn’t be with the district attorney’s office, it should be with the policy in the police department to not release critical information to the public as it pertains to excessive force or a potential wrongful death case against one of its citizens,” Haley said.
“We have cases all over this state where we see the same movie. Something happens but yet the evidence for public consumption is somehow suppressed, because we’re afraid of public outcry or how it’s going to influence the process. We don’t trust the public with the ability to reasonably consume that information. I think that’s absolutely ridiculous,” he said.
Devon Norman with The Village 337 was among about a dozen other protesters gathered outside the courthouse in a show of solidarity with the Pellerin family. Norman said he felt it was important the district attorney’s office recognizes the community, like the family, is seeking answers and wants to see progress in the case.
“I hope that it lets [the family] know that they’re not alone. I hope that it means that there is some sense of hope that even if Trayford doesn’t get the justice that we’re seeking, that there is going to be some type of systemic change in this city because of what happened to Trayford Pellerin,” Norman said.