BR.conventionshooting.091020 HS 235.JPG crime scene file

Baton Rouge Police investigate the scene of a homicide that occurred around 2:00pm Wednesday afternoon, September 9, 2020, on Convention Street near N. 13th Street in Baton Rouge, La.

After three separate incidents in which children were injured in gunfire overnight Wednesday — two that have been ruled accidental — Baton Rouge law enforcement officials are sending a message to gun owners: Keep your weapons locked up.

In a somewhat unusual step, East Baton Rouge sheriff's deputies arrested an adult in one of the shootings after determining he left a toddler in a vehicle that had an assault rifle inside. The child accidentally shot himself in the leg but is expected to survive.

Jacoby Joseph, 26, was booked into jail late Wednesday on a count of second-degree cruelty to juveniles.

Joseph called 911 immediately after the shooting and later told deputies he had parked in the driveway of a house on Kilona Drive, a neighborhood near Lanier Drive and Greenwell Street, leaving a child alone and unbuckled in the vehicle, according to his arrest report. Joseph said he forgot his friend had left a gun under the passenger seat the night before.

The child was transported to the hospital for treatment. The arrest report doesn't indicate the relationship between Joseph and the child.

"It is very fortunate that this child was not killed or further injured," Sheriff Sid Gautreaux said in a statement Thursday. "Properly securing and storing your firearms must be a top priority at all times."

Gautreaux's office sent out an email listing firearm safety measures that all gun owners should follow, including keeping weapons unloaded when not in use, keeping them locked in safes or other storage places, teaching children about gun safety and keeping your finger off the trigger unless you're planning to shoot at something.

Joseph's arrest was unusual in part because Louisiana doesn't have gun owner responsibility laws, which could make it easier for law enforcement to hold people accountable in cases like this. Without those laws, detectives and prosecutors are often tasked with proving "criminal negligence" to support charges like cruelty to juveniles or negligent homicide.

East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore III said Thursday that meeting the negligence standard is a challenge in most cases. Now that Joseph has been arrested, Moore's office has to determine whether to file official charges.

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He said that will include reviewing Joseph's criminal history, figuring out whether the gun was legally purchased and whether it was legally in his possession when the shooting occurred, among other factors. 

"There's not really a bright line in these cases," he said. Many parents feel so guilty, especially in fatal shootings, that the decision of whether to prosecute becomes even more complicated. 

But Moore said one thing is clear: Adults need to be more careful about leaving deadly weapons in places where curious and unknowing fingers might pick them up. 

Louisiana has one of the highest rates of children injured in accidental shootings, according to a 2016 analysis by The Associated Press and the USA TODAY Network. It's also among the minority of states without child access prevention laws that impose criminal liability on adults who give children unsupervised access to firearms.

In addition to the shooting that resulted in Joseph's arrest, two other Baton Rouge shootings occurred between Wednesday evening and Thursday morning that left juveniles injured. Baton Rouge police responded to both incidents, which remain under investigation. No arrests have been made.

The first occurred in the 2200 block of 74th Avenue in the Scotlandville area. Police said a female juvenile was injured in that shooting, which detectives believe stemmed from an altercation and was not accidental. She's expected to survive her injuries.

The second involved a male juvenile accidentally shooting himself and is also expected to survive, according to police. That one occurred in the 7800 block of Nottingham Street, also in the Scotlandville area.

Just hours after those overnight shootings in Baton Rouge, the Ascension Parish Sheriff's Office announced its recent arrest of another man whose six-year-old son was shot by a three-year-old sibling last month while the two children were sitting in the car outside the Family Dollar store on Highway 74 in Geismar. The injured child in that case was airlifted to the hospital in critical condition.


Email Lea Skene at lskene@theadvocate.com.