News of the shooting spree on Bourbon Street late last month struck hard at Deborah “Big Red” Cotton.
The local writer, who was hospitalized for nearly two months and underwent 20 surgeries after a stray bullet tore through her at a Mother’s Day second-line parade last year, showed up at a City Council committee hearing Wednesday, seeking answers from Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro.
Cotton wanted Cannizzaro to explain why his office dropped a litany of attempted-murder and aggravated-assault charges against Akein “Keemy” Scott and his brother Shawn “Shizzle” Scott, leaving it to federal officials to prosecute the brothers for their part in the melee under a drug and gun conspiracy case.
The May 12, 2013, gunfire in the 7th Ward claimed 19 shooting victims. Another was trampled amid the chaos. No one died.
“I feel like it sends a message to the victims of the crowd shooters … and I also believe it sends a message to the criminals that the city doesn’t have the willpower, capacity or the resources to successfully prosecute these criminals in New Orleans,” Cotton told Cannizzaro and members of the council’s Criminal Justice Committee.
“Criminals in New Orleans no longer look to exact their revenge against their enemies on a dark street,” she said. “They’re now increasingly attempting to shoot into a crowd without concern for collateral damage. We’re hemorrhaging too many people in New Orleans, and that can’t continue.”
Cannizzaro said the federal indictment against the brothers and seven others came as a result of a coordinated effort between his office and federal prosecutors to secure the longest prison sentences for the defendants.
The indictment, issued in February, names the nine people in a heroin and cocaine trafficking conspiracy said to date back more than seven years.
It does not describe the shooting spree itself, but an allegation that the brothers “did knowingly use and carry a firearm during and in relation to a drug-trafficking crime” on May 12, 2013.
Authorities believe the brothers were gunning for members of D-2, a splinter group of the Prieur and Columbus Boys, or PCB, when they rained bullets into the parading crowd. The Scotts were tied to a bloody street gang called the Frenchmen and Derbigny Boys, a group allegedly led by the brothers’ older brother, Travis “Trap” Scott.
With the federal indictment, Cannizzaro’s office dropped state charges accusing each brother of 20 counts of attempted murder and 14 counts of aggravated assault with a firearm.
Trying federal and state cases in the Mother’s Day shooting at the same time could compromise the case, Cannizzaro said.
“They were subjected to more severe penalties under federal prosecution (than) they could be subjected to under the state system,” he said. “They (the feds) asked us to step aside on that prosecution. We usually grant that request. We’re not interested in having parallel prosecutions.”
He said the brothers could face life in prison in the federal case.
“I believe we have done what we were supposed to do,” he said.
Both Cannizzaro and Councilman Jason Williams, a criminal defense attorney, explained that if the federal prosecution falters, the alleged shooters still could be tried later in state court, without the risk of legal double jeopardy.
Previously, Cotton had issued a different message, saying in a statement read to the same committee that she “did not want these young men thrown to the wolves.”
Outside the council chambers Wednesday, Cotton, who has chronicled New Orleans’ brass band tradition, said the explanation she received wasn’t all that satisfying.
“I understand these guys who shot me are 20 years old and at the beginning of their lives,” Cotton said. But she said she’s concerned about deterring what appears to be a growing rash of crowd shootings nationwide and in New Orleans, a city with an economy “based on drawing crowds every day of the year.”
“There has to be some way of making that option less desirable. I think it sends a stronger message when you dog-pile on,” she said.
“This has been weighing pretty heavily on my mind, especially since the Bourbon Street shooting incident.”
Cotton said she continues to suffer health problems from a bullet that ripped into her back and through her abdomen, and that several more surgeries await her.
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.