Eight months after a Housing Authority of New Orleans police officer was killed in his cruiser, authorities on Tuesday announced a greatly increased reward for information in the mysterious nighttime shooting.
Officials said that with the assistance of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the reward for information about the May 21 shooting of James Bennett Jr. has been raised to $35,000.
Police Superintendent Michael Harrison said detectives need the public’s help.
“The Homicide Unit is still working tirelessly to solve this case,” Harrison said. “We really urge upon your compassion and your conscience to come forward.”
Bennett was working a paid detail patrolling the former Guste housing development when he was shot. When another officer came to relieve him about 7 a.m. May 24, Bennett was found slumped over the wheel of his still-running police vehicle in the 2400 block of Erato Street.
Homicide investigators scoured the Crown Victoria for clues.
A May search warrant contains one of the few pieces of new public information in the case: Official equipment assigned to Bennett was missing from inside the vehicle. The warrant does not specify which item or items had been taken.
Investigators also collected swabs from both inside and outside the vehicle. Police sent the DNA evidence to the State Police Crime Lab, but Harrison said he was not at liberty to reveal whether those swabs turned up any leads.
Crimestoppers also gave Bennett’s mother, Chung Bennett, a Fallen Hero’s Award on behalf of her son at a luncheon Tuesday.
“Mrs. Bennett is definitely very grateful, very appreciative of the additional funding for the reward, and she’s very, very optimistic that the information is going to lead to some piece of the puzzle that we need,” said Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office Capt. Kevin Kwon, a friend and former co-worker of Bennett.
Kwon said the holiday season had been a difficult one for the Bennett family.
“He’s got a family. He’s got friends. He’s got a lot of good people behind him that are devastated by his loss,” Kwon said. “We still need that crucial piece of the puzzle.”
Bennett’s death is just one of several unsolved attacks on police officers in New Orleans in 2015. An off-duty NOPD commander was wounded in a mysterious shooting on Alvar Street near the site of the former Desire housing development in October. A month before that, an officer was shot at and wounded by flying glass while responding to a homicide in the Columbia Parc development.
Authorities asked anyone with information about Bennett’s death to call Homicide Detective Shawn Jenkins at (504) 658-5300 or Crimestoppers at (504) 822-1111.
WWL-TV’s Paul Murphy contributed to this story.