While a state judge determined the West Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office and the Louisiana State Police acted appropriately in their investigation of an April fatal crash involving a deputy with a suspended license, the incident left the judge concerned about shortcomings of the notification process for traffic warrants to local law enforcement.
State District Judge Don Johnson, who oversees the East Baton Rouge Parish Traffic Court, said Friday morning he plans to evaluate the system that alerts officers to active traffic warrants, after hearing from the two law enforcement agencies that they did not see the former deputy's active bench warrant from East Baton Rouge when they ran his name through their system.
Johnson called the hearing Friday after several news stories pointed to a possible cover-up into how the now-fired deputy was treated after crashing into a pedestrian on April 5, killing the 37-year-old man. The judge wanted to verify that officials had uniformly enforced laws as they would for any private citizen.
An on-duty West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's deputy whose driver's license had been suspended struck and killed a pedestrian early Friday whil…
"I find no reason of just cause for any further inquiry," Johnson said Friday morning, after hearing from both State Police and WBRSO investigators. He said any stigma or complaints about the West Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office and the Louisiana State Police should be cleared up by the hearing. However, he noted that "process matters need worked on" to maintain the public's trust and to ensure that officials follow through on warrants.
Former West Baton Rouge Sheriff's deputy Alberto Casco, 20, was driving a work release van in the early morning of April 5 to pick up inmates after a night shift when he hit pedestrian Clinell Robertson, of Plaquemine. Robertson was walking across the southbound lanes of traffic in dark clothing when he was hit, authorities said at the time of the crash in West Baton Rouge Parish.
State Police investigated the crash and sent out a press release explaining the circumstances, but did not mention that Casco was driving on a suspended license. An agency spokesman later confirmed, only after WBRZ reported it, that authorities were aware of the suspension and said Casco would receive a citation. He was cited days later.
State Police Trooper Benjamin Friedmann, who responded to the scene of the crash, testified Friday morning that he had determined that morning that Casco's license was suspended. However, Friedmann said running Casco's name through the database at troopers' disposal did not show there was a warrant out for Casco's arrest. Friedmann said he learned about the active warrant days later from the WBRZ report of the incident.
Johnson had issued the warrant after Casco missed a November court date for a speeding ticket. In mid-March, few months after the warrant was issued and after Casco was hired by the West Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office, Casco's driver's license was suspended.
Two speeding tickets in one month. One unpaid and unresolved months later — resulting in a bench warrant for failing to appear in court and ul…
West Baton Rouge Sheriff's officials, including Sheriff Mike Cazes, testified that when they ran their background check on Casco before hiring him, they did not see any active warrants. Casco also told the judge that he did not know his license was suspended or that there was a warrant out for his arrest. However, he did admit he knew he had been issued the speeding ticket, which ended up being grounds for his termination because he did not disclose the infraction during his background check.
Johnson said he is concerned how all these invested parties did not know when there was an active warrant from traffic court.
"We're having a difficult time enforcing traffic laws," Johnson said. "How can we improve this process?"
That question, however, was met without a solution. Cliff Ivey, an attorney and a deputy at the West Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office, said the only place he knew Casco's warrant was available for officers outside the capital city was on the East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office website, but he said checking every parish is not realistic.
“Do you go to 64 sheriffs’ websites?” Ivey said.
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Johnson also asked officials at the hearing Friday to clear up a WBRZ report that claimed Casco's bench warrant was "mysteriously" recalled after the crash.
West Baton Rouge Sheriff's officials played audio from a phone call they made to East Baton Rouge Traffic Court administrators, which showed the administrator voluntarily recalled the warrant after hearing about the crash and gave Casco a new court date. West Baton Rouge Internal Affairs Lt. Kenneth Young testified that he called the traffic court to understand why Casco's license had been suspended, but did not ask for the warrant to be recalled.
Johnson said he has since spoken to the court's administrators about standardizing this process in the future.
Casco testified Friday that he has since paid the necessary fines on the ticket.
Family members of Robertson, the man killed in the crash, attended the hearing Friday, but declined to make any comments to The Advocate.