Authorities released new details Thursday about an alleged sexual assault six years ago in which a young woman accused Harry Morel, the former district attorney of St. Charles Parish, of groping her inside her St. Rose apartment.
A police report and related 911 call, released a day after Morel pleaded guilty to one federal count obstructing justice, raised new questions about why the longtime prosecutor did not face additional charges, even as the FBI denounced him as a “sexual predator.”
The woman, Danelle Keim, told the authorities in 2010 that Morel showed up at her apartment unexpectedly, asked her to remove her clothing and dance for him and then kissed her aggressively as she backed away. Keim had been in contact with Morel at the time seeking to have her DWI case dismissed. But she expressed disgust that Morel, more than four decades her elder, had touched her.
“When I turned around to open my door, he grabbed my (private) area in between my legs then ran his hands all over” my buttocks, Keim wrote in a victim statement released Thursday by the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office. “I opened my door and told him to leave. I shut my door and, before I could close it all the way, he told me to call him any time, and if his wife answers to just tell her I’m calling about my case.”
Morel’s defense attorney, Ralph Capitelli, flatly denied Keim’s allegations — she died in 2013 — and accused the St. Charles Parish sheriff, Greg Champagne, of seeking to defame his “political enemy.”
“Not once during the entire time that my client was district attorney or an assistant district attorney in St. Charles Parish was he ever confronted or even informed of such a 911 recording or this allegation,” Capitelli said. “This release, six years after this 911 call took place, demonstrates clearly the continuing smear campaign that both the (federal) government and the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office are conducting against my client.”
Capitelli added that, if Champagne “had trustworthy evidence of such an offense, he should have done his duty” and obtained an arrest warrant if the authorities believed a state crime had occurred.
“Harry Morel did not plead guilty nor has he been charged with any sex offense or crime, and the sheriff also knows that.”
Capt. Pat Yoes, a Sheriff’s Office spokesman, declined to address Capitelli’s remarks Thursday.
U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite Jr. did not respond to a request for comment Thursday on whether Morel had ever been confronted with Keim’s allegations.
The Sheriff’s Office released the police report and 911 call in response to a public-records request a day after Morel appeared in federal court and admitted that he instructed Keim to destroy evidence amid an FBI investigation. The Sheriff’s Office had long declined to release the 911 call and related police report, citing the federal inquiry.
“The defendant’s guilt was adjudicated yesterday with a guilty plea,” Yoes said. “There is no justifiable reason for this agency to withhold this public record any longer.”
Morel, who will be sentenced this summer, faces up to three years behind bars. Most of the factual basis he signed, in which he admits his crimes, is devoted to describing various inappropriate encounters with Keim, who continued to seek his help after the 2010 call to the Sheriff’s Office.
However, Morel, who held office more than three decades, did acknowledge other misbehavior that is described vaguely in the factual basis. Over the years, for instance, he “solicited sex from other individuals who were defendants or who had family members who were defendants in the St. Charles Parish criminal justice system.”
While they did not charge him with any such crime, federal authorities held a news conference Wednesday in which they described Morel as a “sexual predator” and accused him of pressuring at least 20 women for sexual favors in exchange for leniency in their court proceedings.
Polite, the U.S. attorney, told reporters that prosecutors initially decided against pursuing any charges against Morel due to a number of legal challenges and concerns about how certain witness testimony would hold up in court. Keim, who was the most critical witness in the case, died of a drug overdose in 2013, dealing a nearly fatal blow to the federal inquiry.
While Morel denies groping Keim, he admitted in signing the factual basis that he had an inappropriate relationship that involved physical contact with the 24-year-old. Morel, now 73, did favors for the woman, including getting her out of a community service requirement following a DWI conviction.
Keim, who also had been known as Danelle McGovern, called 911 in April 2010 and told a dispatcher that “I need to make a sexual harassment charge on Harry Morel.”
“The district attorney?” the dispatcher responded.
“The district attorney, yes.” Keim answered. “I have all the evidence.”
Keim told the authorities Morel had left her apartment some 10 minutes before she called 911, and that she had been “seeing him every week to see about” prosecutors dismissing a pending DWI charge against her.
“I didn’t know he was like that,” she told the dispatcher. “He wanted me to take off my clothes. He wanted me to take off my pants so he could please me.”
A distraught Keim urged responding deputies to take her claims seriously despite her criminal history, and she seemed to sense from the outset of the investigation that it would be her word against Morel’s. “I’m not that person any more,” she said, telling a deputy she had just graduated drug court. “I’m just really trying to do right.”
She told investigators she had records of her communications with Morel. “I will be right,” she added. “I’ve got more than enough evidence, I’m telling you.”
In 2012, as the investigation continued, Keim called Morel and told him authorities wanted her to turn over a memory card that contained photographs of a meeting between Morel and Keim the year before. During the call, which was recorded, Morel instructed Keim to discard or destroy the card.
She instead gave the evidence to Morel, but authorities couldn’t find it when they searched his office in January 2013. Keim died the following month at the age of 27.