Orleans Parish Prison is not a place for teens

Orleans Parish Prison

Inmates exercising at Orleans Parish Prison (Bart Everson photo)


Suicide at Orleans Parish Prison

Seventeen-year old Dexter Allen is in the Jefferson Parish Correctional Facility in Gretna. In the city, the incredible mess that is Orleans Justice Center took another life. What makes this particularly sad is that this latest jail suicide was a juvenile.

Jaquin Thomas was pronounced dead at University Medical Center at 10:11 p.m., OPSO spokesman Philip Stelly said, after using a mattress cover to asphyxiate himself in his cell. The teenager had been jailed inside the Orleans Justice Center since his July 28 arrest on suspicion of second-degree murder and aggravated burglary, records show.

No Place for teenagers

Any suicide or attempt is a sad affair. Worse yet, locking up a teen in this prison is a terrible thing. Yes, he was charged with second-degree murder as an adult. That’s a serious situation. Jarvis DeBerry nails it, though, in his article on the suicide:

Jaquin was suspected of committing a crime more serious than Jerde’s, but if jail was considered inappropriate for the 21-year-old, it should have been considered the wrong place for the teenager. Charging a child as an adult does not magically transform him into an adult. It does not make that child any less vulnerable when thrown into a facility with people who are bigger, older and more hardened criminals.

Jailing teens in an adult prison is wrong. Still, it’s not a good idea to toss an alleged murderer into a juvenile facility. Teens accused of much more minor crimes are totally different. There has to be a way to balance this. Perhaps isolating serious juvenile offenders in one type of facility or the other.

Read the full article–Jarvis compares the situation Jaquin Thomas was in to that of a twenty-one-year old Tulane student. He demonstrates what #whiteprivilege gets you these days in New Orleans.


Dexter Allen’s Very Bad Day transforms him from thief to slave

By all accounts, Dexter Allen was a petty thief, prior to April 22, 2015. That was the day that things went very bad for him. His profession, if you will, was “door pulls” – popping the door handles on cars on the street. If a car was unlocked, Dexter would then jump in, removing any valuables he found. It’s not particularly easy work, since most folks lock their cars. The ones that don’t usually don’t leave much behind.

Dexter Allen: Simple Burglary to Murder

Dexter Allen and Haraquon Degruy

Dexter Allen and Haraquon Degruy (image courtesy WGNO-TV)

On the evening of 22-April of last year, Dexter got a surprise while he was rummaging through a white Toyota Highlander in the U9. The owner came back to the SUV, opened the door, and found Dexter in the driver’s seat. They claimed Dexter pulled out a pistol, took her keys, and drove off. He moved up in the world, advancing from petty thief to carjacker. That crime led to a string of burglaries and, before midnight, a double homicide that took the lives of my brother-in-law and nephew.

Dexter’s very bad day led to an even worse one for him on Monday, when he was convicted of two counts of second-degree murder and twenty-one counts of burglary. His actions on the night of 22-April-2015 have led him to what likely will be a sentence of life in prison next month. The convictions were the climax of a 5-day trial before Judge Raymond Steib of the 24th Judicial District. I was there for most of it, and I come away with very mixed emotions.

Was justice served?

I feel confident that it was in the case of the State of Louisiana v Dexter Allen. Still, I was concerned. The murders of David and Nick Pence were high-profile. They are so for two main reasons: The victims were white and were killed in their home in the suburbs. This wasn’t a the-blacks-are-killing-each-other crime. It also wasn’t a if-you-go-into-new-orleans-you’ll-get-shot crime. New Orleans came to the Pence home, in the form of Dexter Allen and his girlfriend, Haraquon Degruy.

It was the sort of crime that lights up every local news outlet. It was also the sort of crime that the cops need to solve post-haste. The murders happened on a Wednesday night, and the Sheriff was standing before the press the following Sunday, telling the worried white people of East Jefferson that the case had been solved and arrests had been made. Part of me was relieved, but then, there was lingering doubt in the back of my mind. It wouldn’t be the first time a black man was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and a petty thief ends up doing time for a murder he didn’t commit.


I harbored that lingering doubt for a year and a half. As much as I wanted closure for my sister and my niece, along with Dave and Nick’s friends, it was important that the price would not be too high. Every bit of common sense I had told me the detectives of the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office got the right guy. The JPSO crime scene technicians meticulously documented the scene and collected all the evidence. Fingerprint evidence from down the street put Haraquon Degruy in the neighborhood on the night of 22-April.

The detectives then engaged the services of the US Marshal’s Fugitive Recovery Task Force in New Orleans to pick the two suspects up. The arrests led to the recovery of numerous items stolen in “door-pull” burglaries on the night of 22-April-2015. They also recovered a CVS drugstore card my sister had in her purse.

Down to a plastic card

That plastic card was the link to the Pence home. Dexter saw Beth Pence’s purse on the counter in the kitchen, through the side door of the house. The state claimed that Dexter went in to do what he does, petty theft. He took the purse, but then found David asleep in his easy chair in the den. As ADA Rachel Africk said in her closing yesterday, she’ll never understand why Dexter had to kill Dave. Those shotgun blasts are why Nick came into the den from the living room (where he was playing a video game).

Dexter freaked out and then killed Nick as well. Fortunately for Beth, she didn’t come into the den from the bedroom right away; Dexter had already left the house, heading back to the SUV with Beth’s phone, iPad, and the purse with that CVS card.

The problem with all of this is that of all that stuff taken from the Pence home that night, all that showed up was the CVS card. No phone. The iPad was not recovered. No purse. Just a plastic card. Easy to drop one of those into the back of a seized vehicle.

Sure, the DNA evidence established that the odds the person who held the shotgun was not Dexter were one in one hundred billion. As JPSO’s DNA analyst said, the evidence doesn’t tell time, and nobody could say for a fact Dexter held that shotgun in the Pence home.

Circumstantial evidence

JPSO had the car. They had recorded video surveillance that put the car on Clifford Drive. License plate camera photos of the SUV leaving Metairie after the time of the murders existed. They had DNA from the shotgun. What ADAs Africk and Seth Shute didn’t have was direct evidence. Every piece of evidence in this case was circumstantial, and that presented a problem. If all the evidence is circumstantial, then the prosecution has to prove that no other possible theory for the crime is reasonable. It meant that defense counsel Jerome Matthews had the chance to put forward an alternate theory of the crime, in the hopes that he could sway three of the twelve jurors. (Louisiana only requires ten jurors out of twelve to vote to convict.)

ADAs Africk and Shute did their jobs. They laid down a tight timeline, from 2350 to 2356 on the night of 22-April-2015, walking the jury through those minutes. The entire trial was about laying down the foundation for their version of those six minutes. It worked; the guilty verdict was unanimous. Dexter Allen will now spend his life in prison.

No more doubt, but a lot of sadness

Hearing DA Africk’s closing and DA Shute’s rebuttal convinced me that they got it right. Mr. Matthews tried to poke holes in the prosecution’s timeline, but it was too short and tight. I’m glad Mr. Matthews did a good job of trying to sow seeds of doubt in the minds of the jury. I didn’t buy it, and neither did the jury, but it satisfied me that Dexter Allen got an adequate defense. I’m sad though, that now he’s going to be a plantation slave at Angola. I don’t know if there was any hope of rehabilitating Dexter, but that’s not going to happen in a Louisiana prison.

At least his next really bad day won’t involve taking other innocent lives.

NOTE: Opinions in this piece (and throughout this blog, in fact) are mine and mine alone. They do not reflect the opinions of other members of my family, or friends of the Pences. 


Putting down a Slave Revolt in Baton Rouge

How to stop a slave revolt

How to stop a slave revolt

Peaceful assembly happens every day in the United States, whether it’s you and your friends meeting for lunch. Maybe you’re gathering for Sunday services at your church. In Baton Rouge, it could be an LSU football game at Tiger Stadium. What you don’t see at those peaceful assemblies are police in armored suits that look ridiculous to even veterans of modern combat. The cops turned out to face black members of the community as if they were stopping a slave revolt.

What’s the difference? Your friends at lunch or your congregation at church aren’t considered a “threat”.Neither are the fans who gather on LSU’s campus for football games. What made protests over the weekend in Baton Rouge a “threat”?

BRPD knows better

BRPD and the EBR Sheriff’s Office understand crowd control. They participate in major crowd control exercises at those LSU games. Those crowds are quite different, in that they’re overwhelmingly white. What we saw in Baton Rouge wasn’t crowd control. It was the suppression of what BRPD perceived as a slave revolt. What happened in Dallas was the work of a madman. BRPD approached their city’s problems as white-cops-versus-unruly-blacks. They plead the excuse that the crowd was violent:

Baton Rouge’s display of military-grade equipment followed last week’s fatal shooting of Alton Sterling as two Baton Rouge police officers tried to arrest him. Protests there turned violent over the weekend; the Baton Rouge Police Department said that one officer’s teeth were knocked out and that a number of firearms were confiscated during one of the rallies

The Baton Rouge Police Department did. Did the protesters intend to be violent from the start? Would they have thrown objects at the cops had BRPD taken a less-aggressive stance? Did the cops need to turn against members of their own community? The catch is that BRPD doesn’t consider black folks part of the community. They saw this reaction to them committing homicide as a slave revolt.

The Washington Post runs down, and yet again, how the feds offer military surplus weapons and equipment at deeply-discounted prices to local police. BRPD clearly has taken advantage of these programs to produce their own little badly-trained militia.

BRPD could have handled this like Dallas did

Alton Sterling was killed by a BRPD officer. The department new there would be outrage in the community. Still, they decided to go to war in full military gear. This follows a pattern of racism and poor policing by the department over a period of years. Now that racism is stoked by an incredible amount of military-grade hardware, like we saw in the aftermath of the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, MO:

One image from the weekend shows two Baton Rouge SWAT officers armed with semiautomatic carbines affixed with close-quarter optics. One officer has two 30-round magazines clipped together so that, if needed, he can reload faster. The officer is wearing a tactical-style, low-profile helmet with a night-vision boom attached — although it is missing the actual night-vision device.

Ridiculous. It’s clear that what happened in the Alton Sterling homicide was shoddy police work. Furthermore, their behavior is arguably criminal. From the beginning of the confrontation, all the way through terrible handling of witnesses and evidence after the cops killed Sterling. BRPD’s response to their own poor performance is to take the attitude that the blacks need to be put in their place.


This is how #whiteprivilege works

Officer in Addison, TX, stopping a "sovereign citizen" wackjob for speeding.

Officer in Addison, TX, stopping a “sovereign citizen” wackjob for speeding.

This video (via National Memo, SPLC, and the Houston Chronicle) of a “sovereign citizen” trying to talk his way out of a speeding ticket is a great example of how “white privilege” works. This officer, in Addison, TX (part of Dallas County), humors the driver for about four minutes. Fed up with the moron, he calls for backup. When another officer arrives on the scene, he breaks the driver’s side window out, unlocks the car, removes the driver, and arrests him.

The articles describing the incident commend the officer for not putting up with this guy’s stupidity, but would he have given a black or brown man the courtesy of those four minutes?

On a related note, great article via HuffPo on the combination of police brutality and sexual harassment black women face from cops.