Tosh Toussaint might have appreciated a simple heads-up.
Instead, he was arrested in 2013 and indicted by a federal grand jury after running from Jefferson Parish sheriff’s deputies who were supposed to warn Toussaint that he was the target of a hit job.
An FBI agent listening on a wiretap heard Robert “Lil Rob” Williams, an alleged leader of West Jefferson’s “Harvey Hustlers” gang, order a hit on Toussaint, court records show. The agent then called for help in tracking him down to warn him.
But according to a federal judge, Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office deputies took their time with the seemingly urgent threat, then claimed they had pulled Toussaint over for speeding when they did stop him and found him with crack cocaine and a stolen gun.
In an unusual decision, U.S. District Judge Nannette Jolivette Brown on Friday threw out the drugs and gun evidence from the stop on Toussaint in his silver Infiniti coupe on the night of Nov. 3, 2013.
In a 46-page order, Brown found that deputies had no good excuse for pulling over Toussaint in Avondale after more than 45 minutes had passed since the hit order. Brown also tossed out incriminating statements Toussaint made to deputies following the stop, labeling them “fruit of the poisonous tree.”
The judge’s order appears to gut the criminal case against Toussaint, 25, who ran from the deputies after he got out of the car. Only after his arrest was he told about the death threat against him.
His attorney, Robert Toale, argued that authorities never really wanted to protect Toussaint from death.
“Law enforcement personnel were not motivated by a concern to protect an innocent life. They were motivated by a desire to further the Harvey Hustlers investigation,” Toale wrote in arguing to suppress the evidence.
That investigation ultimately led to state and federal indictments this year tying 39 defendants to the bloody West Bank drug gang.
Authorities say the Harvey Hustlers for years ran marijuana, cocaine and heroin into West Jefferson, breaking the drugs down for street-level sales, making crack from powder cocaine and distributing it through a network of gang members from an apartment on Aberdeen Drive.
The judge agreed with the government on one point in Toussaint’s case: that FBI Special Agent Keith Burriss was justified in trying to warn Toussaint after listening in on a conversation between Williams and someone referred to as “Minny.”
“Agents who reviewed the call believed that ‘Minny,’ with permission granted by Williams, was about to attempt to kill ‘Tosh,’ ” according to an FBI report on the tapped call.
Burriss quickly called a Jefferson sheriff’s deputy, Detective Brad Roniger, who also was assigned to the FBI’s gang task force. But according to the judge, Roniger delayed, never calling ahead to get a swift warning to Toussaint. Instead, he drove from Metairie to the West Bank and met with three deputies at a gas station, where they hatched a plan to track down Toussaint.
The goal was to “locate the subject via his vehicle and warn him that his life was in danger and also to warn him that he should not frequent that neighborhood anymore due to the nature of the phone call,” Roniger later testified.
By the time the deputies caught up with Toussaint, who was driving on Glen Della Drive, more than 45 minutes had passed.
Accounts differ on the claim that Toussaint was speeding and where. When deputies stopped him and asked for his license and registration, he emerged from the Infiniti without them, then tried to bolt.
“Roniger did not tell Toussaint that his life could be in danger,” the judge wrote. “Roniger testified that Toussaint was stopped because he was observed committing a traffic violation. He stated that he was not sure that the person who committed the traffic violation was the same individual whose life was threatened until after Toussaint was placed under arrest and provided his name.”
The deputies reported finding 10 grams of crack and a stolen Taurus 9 mm handgun on Toussaint.
“Toussaint stated that he found the crack cocaine on the street,” the judge wrote, citing a police account. “He also stated that ‘he traded a $50 piece of crack cocaine to a crackhead in Marrero in exchange for the firearm.’ Roniger then advised Toussaint that there has been a credible threat on his life.”
Toale, Toussaint’s attorney, aimed pointed questions at the police account of the arrest.
“Why did the police endanger Mr. Toussaint’s life by taking so long to get to Kennedy Heights? Why did nobody call 911 prior to beginning the search? Why did nobody call ahead on the radio? Why did law enforcement waste time meeting at a gas station before proceeding to Kennedy Heights?” Toale asked in his legal filing.
“Why did the officers not simply ask Mr. Toussaint his name when he could not produce a driver’s license? Why is there no indication that law enforcement warned Mr. Toussaint of the supposed danger to his life until after he was arrested?”
The government argued that authorities had a moral obligation to warn Toussaint of the imminent death threat, but the judge found that the threat to his life likely had come and gone by the time he was pulled over.
Thus, “the response to the perceived threat and the decision to stop Toussaint were not reasonable,” Brown found.
“The officers did not arrive at the scene or conduct their patrol of the neighborhood with any sense of urgency,” she wrote. “Had the officers only stopped Toussaint to warn him of a credible threat, he should have been free to leave, and the officers would not have had any reason to chase Toussaint when he decided to flee.”
Toale declined to comment on the judge’s ruling. U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite’s office said it was reviewing it.
Toussaint has pleaded not guilty to counts of possession with intent to distribute crack, possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. He remained in federal custody Monday. A hearing on his detention is scheduled for Thursday morning.
Among the allegations from the state gang racketeering case, Robert Williams is accused of paying Raheem Robinson to murder Albert Bulloch in 2011 and of “providing the ‘go ahead’ for a planned murder of Tosh Toussaint.”
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.