An undercover drug sting in Terrytown by the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office ended in a hail of bullets Wednesday night, as deputies shot two New Orleans men to death and a deputy was wounded by friendly fire after one of the slain men hit another deputy with a car, authorities said.
Many details of the deadly encounter in an IHOP parking lot still remained murky Thursday as Jefferson Parish Coroner Dr. Gerry Cvitanovich identified the two slain men as Chris Joseph, 38, of the Lower 9th Ward, and Daviri Robertson, 39, of Broadmoor.
According to the Sheriff's Office, the incident unfolded around 10:20 p.m. in a parking lot outside an IHOP restaurant near Terry Parkway and Westbank Expressway. Narcotics detectives had arranged to buy drugs there from a dealer they were led to by an informant, Sheriff Joe Lopinto said during a news briefing Thursday.
Lopinto said that at least four deputies, in plainclothes and unmarked pickups, converged on a silver car in the parking lot. Joseph, who was driving the car, put the vehicle in reverse and struck a deputy, prompting two other detectives to fire in their own defense, Lopinto said.
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Joseph and Robertson, his passenger, as well as a fourth deputy standing on the passenger side of the car were hit, Lopinto said.
Joseph died at the scene. Robertson died from his wounds at University Medical Center in New Orleans.
The deputy who was shot in the stomach hopped in a colleague’s cruiser and also went to University Medical Center, where he was rushed into surgery and was listed in critical but stable condition, Lopinto said.
He was at least the second JPSO deputy to be shot and wounded in the line of duty since December. The deputy hit by the car didn't need to go to the hospital.
None of the deputies were identified.
The Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office deputy who was shot and wounded during a confrontation at a Metairie hotel late Sunday was 11-year agenc…
The Sheriff's Office generally doesn't place deputies involved in deadly incidents on desk duty, which is standard at other agencies. The office on Thursday didn't comment on the status of the deputies who fired shots the previous night.
'Happened in seconds'
Wednesday night's bloodshed occurred just outside the front windows of a restaurant where two tables of people were being served and four staffers were on duty.
Margie Greiner, an IHOP employee, recalled hearing a dozen shots that she initially took for someone setting off fireworks. Numerous cones used to mark spent bullet casings later littered the pavement.
“It happened in seconds, all of it,” Greiner said.
A spokesman for Robertson's family, New Orleans attorney John Fuller, called for an outside agency to join the Sheriff's Office investigation into whether all laws and internal guidelines were followed in the shooting.
"Being the son of a late, high-ranking member of the Atlanta Police Department, I have a great respect for the work law enforcement is entrusted with," Fuller said. "However, questions certainly arise when a passenger in a car is killed when all accounts suggest that the driver was the intended target."
Fuller, who was representing Robertson in a pending Orleans Parish court case involving battery, drugs and possessing a weapon as a felon, added, "Daviri wasn't perfect, but I loved him as a person. He was funny. He was outspoken. He loved his family, and he will be greatly missed by his family. What cannot be lost in any of this is that, at the end of the day, he was still a human being."
Joseph had drawn law enforcement's attention previously, with prior drug and theft convictions, among others.
His family denied he deserved his fate.
"Was it really necessary for what they did last night? Was it justifiable?" asked Joseph's mother-in-law, Cheralyn Strickland, while speaking to WWL-TV.
Joseph's sister, Donna, added, "They did not have to kill him at all! They did not have to shoot him."
The families planned to hold a memorial Thursday evening at the site where they died.
As he’s done before, Lopinto, a former narcotics detective, defended the importance of the work done by his agency’s narcotics unit.
“People play stupid games when it comes to narcotics, and unfortunately we have to walk into that dividing line to try to make this parish a little bit safer every single day,” Lopinto said. “Unfortunately, we had not only two people killed because of that, but I have one deputy who was hit by a vehicle and another who was shot by a gun.”
In recent years, the narcotics unit has been at the center of many of the agency’s most serious use-of-force incidents.
Joseph and Robertson were the second and third black men to be killed in encounters with Sheriff’s Office narcotics detectives in less than a year.
On May 10, after a car and foot chase during an undercover sting operation, Keeven Robinson died while deputies handcuffed him in the backyard of a home in the Shrewsbury neighborhood off Jefferson Highway.
An informant who claimed to have bought drugs from Keeven Robinson led Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office detectives to the 22-year-old man who…
Officials said Robinson died after someone either squeezed, grabbed or leaned on his neck during a struggle. The Sheriff's Office placed four deputies on desk duty as a result of the incident, but Jefferson Parish prosecutors have never announced whether they will file criminal charges.
There have been several other instances in which narcotics detectives and other deputies have shot the drivers of vehicles they said were being driven at them.
Some of those cases — as well as others involving allegations that investigators roughed up suspects during drug arrests — have produced civil lawsuits against the Sheriff’s Office, though the agency has successfully defended itself in many of those disputes.
One unresolved lawsuit centers on the Feb. 8, 2016, killing of Eric Harris by JPSO deputies who chased him into New Orleans after he allegedly threatened an ex-girlfriend at the Oakwood Center mall in Terrytown. Deputies said they shot Harris after he began backing his car toward them. But Harris' girlfriend and son filed an Orleans Parish Civil District Court lawsuit against the Sheriff's Office in 2017.
Policies in effect at the New Orleans Police Department and agencies in some other major U.S. cities prohibit officers from firing at vehicles if the drivers aren’t wielding a second form of force, such as aiming a gun at them. But the JPSO has not adopted a policy like that.
The Sheriff’s Office also does not equip its deputies with body-worn or dashboard cameras, citing the cost of storing the footage.
However, even agencies with those devices — such as the NOPD — generally don’t require plainclothes officers to wear them.
The Sheriff's Office has not said whether it intends to invite an outside agency to scrutinize Wednesday night's shooting.
Staff writer Jerry DiColo and WWL-TV contributed to this report.
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