A narcotics arrest the Baker police chief lauded Tuesday because it took marijuana and stolen handguns off the street is drawing the ire of the suspect’s mother, who claimed the arrest was made in retaliation after her dust-ups with the chief over the March 28 triple homicide in Baker.
John Mitchell, 21, was arrested Tuesday after police pulled him over for a traffic violation and found a marijuana cigar in the vehicle, according to an affidavit of probable cause. During a search of his mother’s home, police also found large quantities of marijuana and two stolen handguns.
His mother is Hazel Mitchell, president of the Baker Civic Club, where four teens were shot, three fatally, during what has been described as a private birthday party.
In the weeks after the party, Hazel Mitchell went toe-to-toe with Baker Police Chief Mike Knaps when he claimed the Police Department had tried to get her to cancel the party in the days leading up to the shooting.
Knaps has said they had contacted a former club member with their concerns about security. Mitchell has said they made no attempts to talk to her prior to the party.
On Tuesday, Mitchell said police told her that her son was pulled over because he did not use his turn signal. She said her son and the passenger in the car both said he used his turn signal.
“I feel like this was a personal attack,” Mitchell said. “They were looking for an excuse to pull him over. I believe they pulled him over because they thought he was my child.”
She said she did not know her son was selling drugs.
Mitchell also was upset at the Police Department’s unusual move to release her name as the suspect’s mother, a statement rarely made in news releases from law enforcement agencies.
“I’m not surprised that the Baker PD found it necessary to mention my name, considering our recent encounters; but I will say I found it unusual because in other drug arrests, I have not seen other mothers’ names mentioned,” she said. “I knew they were going to report it (the arrest), but I had no idea they would mention my name.”
Knaps vehemently denied Mitchell’s claims of retaliation, saying they released her name simply because she said she had no clue her son was dealing drugs out of her home.
“It’s her house; she’s allowing her son to deal drugs out of it and she’s saying she don’t know anything about it,” Knaps said. “So we made it a point to say that she said she didn’t know.”
The drug investigation began long before the March 28 triple homicide, Knaps said. He said neighbors and members of the local Neighborhood Watch informed the department of the large number of people going in and out of the house.
“The kid’s driving a Mercedes-Benz and he doesn’t have a job,” Knaps said. “Mom can’t put that together, I guess.”
Hazel Mitchell countered the car is registered to John Mitchell’s father, with both parents helping him out with payments. She added her son works various jobs around town, such as mowing lawns.
Knaps said if the arrest was in retaliation for a tiff with Hazel Mitchell over security concerns at the Baker Civic Club, officers would have arrested her with her son when they found drugs in the home. He said they had every right to arrest her but chose not to.
“This guy is dealing narcotics and is in possession of stolen weapons,” Knaps said. “That’s the issue. That’s the big issue.”
The traffic stop that led to the arrest occurred at 10:02 a.m. Tuesday at Main Street and Lavey Lane in Baker, the affidavit says. After the stop, John Mitchell told the officer there might be marijuana in the vehicle and the officer found a marijuana cigar in the car.
After placing Mitchell in handcuffs, the officer told him that detectives had been investigating him for a while after receiving several complaints about people coming and going from Hazel Mitchell’s Wimbish Drive home at all times of the day, the affidavit says.
Hazel Mitchell allowed the detectives to search her home, the affidavit says. Detectives found marijuana grinders on top of the dresser in John Mitchell’s room and found the two stolen handguns and several quart-size bags on marijuana inside a dresser drawer.
Mitchell said his mother did not know about the marijuana and it was all his, the affidavit says. He said he began selling marijuana a few months ago to pay his car note, car insurance, cellphone bill and for food.
He also told detectives he purchased the handguns, which he said he knew were probably stolen, a few days ago to protect his family, the affidavit says.
Mitchell, 4408 Wimbish Drive, was booked into East Baton Rouge Parish Prison on two counts each of possession of stolen firearms and possession of stolen firearms with a controlled dangerous substance and one count each of possession with intent to distribute marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia.