A state trooper shot a motorist driving the wrong way on Bourbon Street on Thursday evening, and a bartender on the same block was shot by a reportedly belligerent patron less than a day later, reigniting concerns about whether the gun violence that plagues New Orleans will start to drive people away from the city’s most famous entertainment drag.

The gunfire in the 200 block of Bourbon, which erupted at 7 p.m. Thursday and again around noon Friday, brought the number of shooting incidents on the typically crowded promenade to four in the last three months. Three occurred in the last two weeks.

The cases have little in common, and it’s unlikely much could have been done to prevent at least a couple of them.

New Orleans police brass are also quick to cite year-to-date violent crime statistics for 2019 that compare favorably to the historically low figures registered in 2018. Citywide data at the beginning of the week showed a 35% drop in fatal shootings so far this year, and a relatively small 5% jump in non-lethal ones.

But people on Bourbon took little solace in such numbers Friday.

“It’s ridiculous that we have to live like this,” said Robbie Orgeron, the president of the group that runs Felix’s Restaurant & Oyster Bar, a few steps off the 200 block of Bourbon. “It really is.”

Without providing many specifics, City Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer issued a statement saying her office has been working to redirect “existing revenues” to ensure public safety officials have the funding necessary “to keep our city safe” and “minimize violence in the French Quarter.”

“The recent violence on Bourbon Street is unacceptable, as it would be in any neighborhood in New Orleans,” added Palmer, whose district includes the Quarter. 

The most recent spasm of bloodshed began when troopers assisting with the closing of traffic bollards on Bourbon about 7 p.m. Thursday spotted the driver of a Kia Forte turning onto Bourbon from Bienville Street and heading in the wrong direction on the one-way street.

Nearby security cameras recorded soundless video of what happened next, from two angles.

First obtained by WWL-TV, video from one angle shows the Kia momentarily pull over on Bourbon’s lakeside sidewalk as two troopers approach, one nearing the driver’s side door and the other toward the rear of the vehicle. Then the car accelerates, still against the flow of traffic.

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Two people walking in the middle of Bourbon move out of the way to avoid being hit as the troopers run after the vehicle. The driver then slows down momentarily, giving one of the troopers time to get in front of the vehicle.

The second angle appears to pick up at that moment, as the trooper draws his service weapon and aims it at the driver with his right hand. That trooper places his left hand on the vehicle’s hood and appears to be telling the driver to stop.

It appears the car then speeds up a second time, with two other pedestrians getting onto the sidewalk to get out of the way.

About then, the driver’s window shatters. People on the sidewalk appear startled, with a handful running from the scene, suggesting that they are reacting to the sound of a gunshot.

The car crashes into an unclosed bollard moments later and stops, with the two troopers rushing to the driver’s side door.

Differences in policy

State Police said the trooper who fired during the confrontation shot once, hitting the driver in the abdomen. Trooper Monroe Dillon, a State Police spokesman, said the driver had ignored repeated orders to stop and there was concern he would strike pedestrians.

Paramedics took the wounded driver to University Medical Center in critical — but stable — condition, officials said. He was seen being loaded onto a stretcher and into an ambulance, shirtless and unhandcuffed.

Authorities had not identified the wounded driver as of early Friday evening. State Police said they expected to book him with unspecified criminal offenses.

They didn’t immediately say whether they believed he was intoxicated or ill.

Thursday night’s clash highlighted the differences between the use-of-force policies governing the New Orleans Police Department — which is primarily responsible for patrolling the French Quarter — and Louisiana State Police.

State troopers help the NOPD patrol the Quarter and adjacent neighborhoods under an arrangement meant to boost the presence of law enforcement in tourist-heavy areas.

A policy the NOPD adopted as part of a seven-year-old reform agreement with the federal government generally prohibits its officers from firing into moving vehicles unless the officers are faced with a second form of force, such as a gun pointed at them.

However, that policy doesn’t apply to state troopers, even when they’re patrolling the city. Under State Police guidelines, troopers may justifiably fire at moving vehicles the moment they believe that the actions of a driver — armed with a gun or not — put the troopers or civilians in potentially mortal danger, Dillon said.

Joseph Giacalone, an expert on police procedure at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, reviewed the surveillance footage of Thursday night’s incident and was critical of how State Police handled it.

The ex-New York Police Department sergeant said the NYPD’s rule for firing on cars mirrors the NOPD’s. He said the rule’s purpose is to ensure that officers take on the risk of inadvertently shooting bystanders — or causing a vehicle to crash into bystanders — in only the most dire of circumstances.

For instance, it would be appropriate to use deadly force to halt someone whose obvious intent is to weaponize a vehicle and run over people with it. But Giacalone said he did not see enough in the video clips or in the State Police’s account of the incident to indicate that was the Bourbon Street driver’s intent.

“It’s just a traffic violation, as far as we can tell,” Giacalone said. “Let the guy go, get his license plate, show up at his house and arrest him. But unless he’s screaming that he’s going to run over everyone because he’s on a terrorist mission, you can’t justify this.”

But Orgeron, of Felix’s, lauded the actions of the unidentified trooper who fired into the car Thursday night.

“That guy saved lives,” Orgeron said. “If they find something wrong in what he did, then there’s something wrong. (The driver) would’ve run over people.”

‘Wish I’d done more’

About midday Friday, police responded to a shooting inside a Mango Mango Daiquiris bar at 201 Bourbon, just steps away from where the Kia came to a halt the previous night.

NOPD Superintendent Shaun Ferguson said investigators learned a man had gone into the shop and argued with its staff before he pulled out a gun and fired once. The bullet struck a woman, who appeared to be in her 30s, in the abdomen. Her injuries were not thought to be life-threatening, Ferguson said.

Ferguson said the shooter — who did not appear to know any staff members at the bar — managed to escape even though an officer arrived within about a minute of being dispatched to the scene. Ferguson said he was confident his officers will ultimately capture the shooter.

A barker for a nearby restaurant told reporters he saw the moments leading up to the shooting. He said the attacker, who looked to be in his 50s, was bragging about having just been given a check for hundreds of dollars, leaning his back against the bar and cursing out the staff.

The barker, who asked not to be named, said a bar employee he knew asked him to help eject the man. He said he intended to do that when he returned from seating some guests at his restaurant. But when he returned, the woman — a mother and wife — had been shot, and the pugnacious man had vanished.

“I feel bad,” the barker said. “I wish I’d done more.”

The man recalled the Feb. 24 slaying of Julie Couvillon and the May 16 killing of Shay De St. Germain, both on Bourbon Street.

Couvillon was killed by stray gunfire that erupted as a security guard fought with a patron the guard was trying to eject from Willie’s Chicken Shack, in the 400 block of Bourbon. De St. Germain was fatally shot when her ex-boyfriend confronted her and her new boyfriend at Clover Grill in the 900 block of Bourbon.

“It’s (becoming) a normal phenomenon on Bourbon … an everyday way of life,” the barker said, shaking his head.

NOPD spokesman Andy Cunningham issued a statement highlighting how the agency is aggressively arresting people suspected of illegally carrying firearms in the French Quarter and adjacent neighborhoods in a bid to keep gunplay down. He said it is on pace for 306 such arrests this year after registering 207 in 2018.

“It remains a top priority … to identify people in illegal possession of firearms” in the area, Cunningham said.

Follow Ramon Antonio Vargas on Twitter, @RVargasAdvocate.