July 9, 2009-
Town investigation moves forward

Homer Town Attorney Jim Colvin is moving forward with his investigation to determine how much longer two Homer police officers will remain on administrative leave with pay.

In Monday’s regular meeting of the Homer Town Council, a citizen asked Colvin for an update on the matter the council instructed him to investigate last month.

The two officers – Tim Cox and Joseph Henry – have been on paid administrative leave since February 20, the day 73-year-old Bernard Monroe Sr. was shot and killed after he allegedly engaged two officers with a loaded handgun. The incident has spurred an uproar of outrage in the community, and with the Louisiana State Police offering no answers, many community members are left to their own speculations.

Colvin said in Monday’s meeting that in his discussions with state police officials, he’s been offered no real answers either.

“I have been told by the state police that they are not going to be turning over a copy of their report to the town upon the conclusion of their investigation,” the attorney said. “It’s going to be turned over to the district attorney’s office, at which point, we don’t know what’s going to happen. I have expressed, on behalf of the town, our displeasure with that decision and have asked them to reconsider – they have rejected that request.”

His investigation, in part, will hinge on what’s in the report, because he does not have access to ballistics or DNA evidence.

“Those are just a couple of things that will be utilized in rendering our report,” he said.

And so far, the state police has not returned any phone calls made by The Guardian-Journal in an effort to find out where things stand in regards to the investigation.

District Attorney Jonathan Stewart has repeatedly said to the public that his office has not yet received the report, but when he does, he and his office will carefully consider the next step.

Two community forums, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice, have been held in an effort to heal the community after such a shocking tragedy as well as offer answers on how the investigative process works. The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) has also been called in to investigate any civil rights violations that might have taken place the day of the shooting.

The Americans with Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has also been contacted in an effort to determine if racial profiling played a part as well.

June 04, 2009
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Still no answers in Monroe shooting

Citizens in Homer are still waiting for the investigation into the shooting death of Bernard Monroe Sr. to be made public.

Monroe, 73, was shot and killed by a Homer Police Officer on Friday, February 20, at his home, after he allegedly engaged two officers with a loaded handgun.

District Attorney Jonathan Stewart spoke to the Homer Lions Club last Thursday, where he spoke to Lions about some of things happening at the DA’s office since he took the helm. He briefly mentioned the investigation, saying he has not yet received the report from Louisiana State Police.

“We have purposely distanced ourselves from the state police investigation,” Stewart said to Lions club members, “and we do not have the report. When we do get the report, we will be totally independent and use our judgment on how to proceed on that.”

With that, several Lions club members expressed a variety of feelings on the matter, mainly fear of community backlash in the absence of any real answers.

“It’s about to reach the boiling point,” one Lions club member said.

Doug Pierrelee, spokesman for Troop G, said in a short interview last week, that their portion of the investigation was complete. As to where the report stands now, there are no clear answers, and no one is talking. Several phone calls to the North District Detectives Bureau of Investigation also went unanswered as of press time.

At Monday’s regular council meeting of the Town of Homer, a motion was approved – made by District 2 Councilman Michael Wade – to request that Town Attorney Jim Colvin conduct his own investigation into the conduct of the two officers involved in the shooting. To clarify, Colvin will not be conducting an investigation into the shooting itself, but the conduct that day of the two officers involved as it applies to the town’s police policies and procedures.

The town has limited funds in which to pursue such an investigation, Homer Mayor David Newell said.

“Do you realize what this is going to cost the town?” Newell asked Wade and the other council members.

Also of concern to some citizens is the fact that the two officers in question are still being paid while not receiving the benefits of their services. In fact, Willie Young, president of the Claiborne Parish Chapter of the NAACP, and Communications Director Terry Willis, sent a letter to the town on behalf of the organization, with copies going to the Inspector General and the Louisiana Board of Ethics, demanding answers. The letter says that administrative leave is not covered under the town’s policies and procedures, but instead the two officers were placed on “emergency leave.” Colvin disputed that saying that it essentially means the same thing.

The NAACP’s letter wanted to know who placed the officers in question “on administrative leave with pay.” It also asked how much the officers have been paid since being on placed on leave.

In addition, the organization demanded that the Town of Homer enforce, retroactively, the department rules and regulations policy for the Homer Police Department; that the officers in question be “immediately” removed from the status of administrative leave with pay; require the officers in question to pay back the money they have received since being placed on administrative leave with pay; disciplinary action for the person responsible for placing the officers on administrative leave with pay for violating police department policy; and that the “person or persons” responsible to receive appropriate penalties for violating any applicable state or federal law and any code of ethics.

Young said he did receive a response from Colvin on the matter. The Guardian-Journal, under the Freedom of Information Act, requested a copy of that response.

Colvin said the best possible decision was made under the circumstances, and that the officers had to remain on paid leave because the law did not allow them to do otherwise.

The town attorney stated that three options were available to the them: “violate state law and due process and expose the Town to significant liability to the officers by imposing discipline without the required investigation; return the officers to full duty; or place them on paid leave.

Homer’s police policy and procedures states in Section 2400-4(B), that “all emergency suspensions will be with pay, and reviewed by the Chief of Police who will decide the length of the emergency suspension.”

“Considering the seriousness of the incident,” Colvin wrote in his response, “the Chief of Police and other Town officials could not, in good conscious [sic], return the officers to full duty without a proper and complete investigation. Additionally, the Town could not knowingly violate the officers’ rights and expose the public to liability. Thus, the Chief and the Town of Homer opted to comply with the law and place the officers on paid leave.”

The state provides what’s called a “Policeman’s Bill of Rights,” which says that no “adverse action” may be taken in regards to any officer under investigation until that investigation is complete.

Furthermore, although the statute provides for approximately 60 days to complete an investigation, Colvin said both officers in this case signed a consent form extending that 60-day period until the investigation is complete. No timeline was given.

In the town council meeting, Colvin explained this to the public, which stemmed from a request made by the mayor in a previous council meeting.

The community has expressed outrage and fury since the death of Monroe. Two community forums, sponsored by the U.S. Justice Department, have been held to allow community members to express their feelings regarding Monroe’s death. In the wake of the shooting, the Claiborne Parish NAACP has cried out for answers to what they are calling a “senseless” tragedy. The U.S. Justice Department, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) have all been contacted to look into any alleged civil rights violations in the Monroe case.

Steve Hall, FBI special agent in charge, said their investigation is still ongoing and hope to have it completed soon.

Stewart reiterated that he would make the right decision once the report hits his desk.

“We’re going to get that report, and I’m going to study it with my trusted assistants and we’re going to come up with a consensus about what the right thing to do is,” Stewart said. “We’re going to do the right thing.”

There are several possibilities as to which way the case will go now, which include turning it over to the Attorney General’s office. If that happens, the attorney general’s office will decide whether it is a prosecutable case or not.

May 28, 2009
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Investigation process discussed at forum

The U.S. Attorney General for the Western District, Donald Washington, made an appearance in Homer Tuesday night as a small group of citizens gathered for a community forum at Homer City Hall.

During the forum, Carmelita Pope Freeman, with the Community Relations Service branch of the U.S. Justice Department, explained that this particular forum was educational in nature and that Washington, along with a representative from the local Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) office, would talk about the investigative process.

Many in the community have not only expressed outrage over the shooting death of Bernard Monroe Sr., an elderly gentleman killed by a Homer Police Officer in February, but they have also expressed their anger and frustrations as to why no answers have been given for what happened. Because of the community’s fury, several different arms of law enforcement have been contacted and are conducting an investigation into several aspects of this incident.

Washington, who expressed sincere “grief” in the death of Monroe, explained the process in which his office works under, specifically dealing with civil rights cases.

As Washington could not discuss the case in any specifics, he did express his desire to see the community come together to find a common solution.

“At the end of the day, my job is to seek justice and serve you,” he said to the audience. “I would encourage you and your community leaders to unify. All of us deserve the full value of our tax dollars.”

He explained that the only way the FBI or the U.S. Attorney’s office could get involved is if there is a clear violation of federal statute. What’s interesting to note is that U.S. attorneys only have jurisdiction in areas given by Congress, Washington said. Most of the power has been given to the states.

The three main statutes he discussed included the general civil rights act, which is a felony statute designed to handle different situations. The severity of the punishment depends on the severity of the injury.

The next statute he discussed is what’s called “the color of law,” which is designed to protect the citizens from the behavior of the police or anyone acting under the color of law. The issue has to have law enforcement involved in it and there has to be some deprivation of a civil right in order to fall under this particular statute, he said.

The third he discussed is the hate crime statute, in which he referred to the Jena incident where a white high school student was nearly beaten to death by six black students.

Each one of these statutes deal with race and the proof of willfulness. In other words, the prosecution has to prove that the defendant committed a crime willfully.

“There cannot be negligence, there cannot be a mere mistake or a number of things,” he said.

There is much more involved in the federal process and aspects of the way a situation is handled. For example, there are two arms of prosecution in his office, an attorney in Washington, D.C., and an attorney in the local office. These two attorneys will work with the FBI to determine whether it is a prosecutable case.

Once all the evidence is gathered and reports are written, the investigative agency will write one of two memorandums. One is the prosecuting memorandum, which is rarely released to the public. It is an internal document, Washington said. The other is a closing memorandum, which is written when the investigating agency does not find sufficient evidence to prosecute.

In the U.S. Attorney’s Office, they have five years to bring charges against a suspect. Sometimes a case can be completed within six months, and sometimes the investigation itself can take four to five years.

Steve Hall, special agent in charge at the Shreveport FBI office, spoke to citizens about how his office handles their investigations and explained the importance of a thorough investigation – and it’s not like what people see on television.

“We’re only interested in the facts,” he said. “All we care about is justice. We don’t want to make any prejudgments. Some of these things take years, and it’s not that we’re not doing anything. We just want to get the facts to make sure that justice is done and people are prosecuted or cleared.”

Washington discussed at length where his jurisdiction lies, but he never gave any indication as to whether this case has enough merit to prosecute at the federal level. The FBI is currently investigating any civil rights violations in Monroe’s case.

Hall said the investigation is not yet complete.

“The investigation is still ongoing and we’re working as quickly and efficiently as we can to get things done,” he said.

Washington made it clear that he came to Homer to let the citizens know that this issue important to him.

“We will not let this rest,” he said, “and we will do what we can do with what we have.”

Several community leaders from around the state were in attendance at the community forum. A representative from the state chapter of the NAACP as well as the Claiborne and Webster chapters, representatives of the Concerned Citizens for Justice, and others attended. Other representatives from Webster Parish, West Carroll and Ouachita parishes as well as Tallulah attended the forum.

Jean Bush, the national director for a Prison Fellowship program called “Out 4 Life,” also spoke to the audience briefly about the program. She gave some startling statistics about the state many call home. For example, Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the United States. Of that rate, 78 percent of those incarcerated are black. Interestingly, she said, when those black inmates are released from prison, 97 percent of the organizations who offer support are white organizations.

Community members were given a chance to ask Washington questions, and while many did ask questions, others expressed frustration and mistrust in the police department. Some of the same issues that came to light in the previous forum were reiterated Tuesday as well.

Mike Campbell, law enforcement liaison for the U.S. Justice Department, urged the community in attendance to have patience and to work together to help make their community better.

“You have to have the ‘want’ to change, that fervor and that desire to make your community better,” he said. “I urge you to stay with this program, because we’ll actually get to the nuts and bolts and make some progress.”

The Rev. Al Sharpton speaks to several hundred people gathered at Mayfield Park in Homer, Friday, April 10. Marchers enter the park before Sharpton speaks.

“No justice, no peace.”

That was the message the Rev. Al Sharpton and marchers carried like a mantle in a rally at Mayfield Park in memory of the late Bernard Monroe Sr.

A “March for Justice” was held where Homer Police, as well as Claiborne Parish Sheriff’s deputies, visibly lined the streets of the route to provide security for the demonstrators. Louisiana State Police escorted Sharpton to Homer and provided additional security at the park as well as throughout Homer. Other security measures were taken as well to ensure the safety of those attending the rally.

“We’re going to keep coming to Homer until we get justice. Until there’s justice for Mr. Monroe, there’ll be no peace in Homer,” Sharpton said before a crowd of hundreds of people.

Sharpton said he came to Homer to speak for a man who couldn’t speak for himself any longer.

Bernard Monroe Sr., 73, was shot and killed Friday, February 20, by a Homer police officer after he allegedly pointed a loaded handgun at two officers. Officers were pursuing his son, Sean, and that pursuit ended in the elder Monroe’s front yard, where the shooting occurred.

“We want some accountability,” said the Rev. Willie Young, president of the Claiborne Parish NAACP. “How can you shoot a man that has not done anything wrong?! I’m thankful for the state police, for the thorough investigation that they’re doing. I want to say just one thing. This is not just a rehearsal. This is serious, and if we are going to be a nation and a state of laws, we need accountability.”

He said he was glad to see the FBI and the U.S. Justice Department were in Homer to investigate any possible civil rights violations, but again, he said, “someone needs to be held accountable.”

Along with members of the National Action Network, an organization in which Sharpton is founder and president, the civil rights activist made it clear that he would stand with Homer citizens to seek justice for Monroe, just as he did for the six young men accused of nearly beating a fellow classmate to death in Jena in 2007.

“By the time we got through, the whole world knew where Jena was,” Sharpton said. “When I came to Jena in August 2007, it started out in a church with about 100 to 200 people. Within two months, we brought 30,000 people to Jena. Today, four times that many (100 to 200) marched in Homer. If it becomes necessary, we’ll bring four times 30,000 to Homer.

“To shoot an unarmed man and put him on trial is a disgrace and a shame before God, and against the law,” he said. “I want to be clear to the media. Blacks and whites marched together today. We didn’t come to disrupt anything. We marched in peace. We didn’t come to this city to start trouble; we came to this city to stop trouble.”

Sharpton also made it clear that they were not marching against police, that all police are not bad. But, when police break the law, other police must stand up.

“The law is the law,” he said. “Police are not above the law – they serve the law. If you break the law, the law has to break you just like anybody else.”

He said that his organization intends to stand with the Monroe family and fight until justice is served. He encouraged the citizens to listen to their leadership, and show respect. He encouraged citizens to do what’s right and stay out of trouble. Walk with heads held high and “take care of the business of our community,” he said.

Sharpton was also the guest speaker of a special service held at New Hope Missionary Baptist Church on Saturday.

The shock of this tragedy has left no Homer citizen unaffected. Members of the community have expressed outrage over Monroe’s death and are calling for justice.

The Louisiana State Police are currently wrapping up its investigation and compiling reports. According to Troop G Spokesman Doug Pierrelee, the handgun Monroe was allegedly aiming at Homer officers has been traced back to its origin. He did not say whether the gun was the elderly man’s possession or not.

The U.S. Justice Department has been in Homer since shortly after the shooting to help maintain peace in the community while the investigation continues. The FBI has also been called in to investigate any alleged civil rights violations.

District Attorney Jonathan Stewart, of the Second Judicial District, said once the completed report was turned over to his office, he would determine whether to call together a grand jury to decide if criminal charges are warranted.

Police have still given no timeline as to when the investigation will come to a close, but have indicated that reports will be complete soon.

ACLU investigates ‘racial profiling’

The Americans Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is now investigating alleged use of “racial profiling” in Homer.

Police Chief Russell Mills confirmed that booking information has been requested by them, and Julie Thibodaux, education and outreach coordinator for the ACLU, confirmed they’d received a request “from the Homer area to help with this situation.” In an email received by The Guardian-Journal from Thibodaux, she said the organization does not disclose its contacts.

Jim Colvin, attorney for the Town of Homer, said he is compiling the information requested by both the ACLU and The Shreveport Times.

According to Thibodaux, the ACLU monitors “racial injustice issues” and “any policing issues,” and they have “concerns of racial profiling in Homer.”

“We became involved to raise awareness to the concerns in Homer,” she said in the email, “and we are involved to bring any resources that may be helpful to the police and the citizens.”

According to records at the registrar of voters’ office, the majority of Homer’s registered voters are black. Statistics show that Districts 1-5 have a population of 1,282 black registered voters and 779 white registered voters. There are 22 voters listed in the “other” category.

According to statistics from Northwest Louisiana Prospector’s website, Homer’s total population as of 2008 is 3,310. There are 1,958 black residents (59.2 percent) and 1,318 white residents (39.8 percent).

According to published reports, the ACLU investigated allegations in other parishes, including one as close as Desoto Parish. Their reports indicate instances of racial profiling, but authorities of those parishes say their findings are not accurate because they didn’t have all the information needed to complete a thorough investigation.

Racial profiling, according to a report from ACLU called Unequal Under the Law, Racial Profiling in Louisiana, “occurs whenever law enforcement targets someone based on the color of their skin or their physical appearance—be it their race, ethnicity or national origin. When police officers or security guards stop, search, detain, or arrest an individual because of the way they look, that is racial profiling.”

And by the ACLU’s own admission, their findings were not 100 percent accurate because of several factors, it said in the report.

“We acknowledge that a direct comparison between the rate of arrest and the representation in the population overall for each racial group does not take into account several factors,” the report stated, “for example, if police patrol certain areas more heavily than others, or certain groups of people engage in criminal activity more than others, this could skew our findings.”

According to the ACLU’s website, a letter from the organization was sent to Mills demanding that he retract statements he allegedly made in a newspaper article written in the Chicago Tribune in early March. After that article published, Mills wrote a letter to the editor, published in this newspaper, denying the statements as they were written. According to the letter to the editor, his statements were misconstrued and taken out of context. (Please refer to the March 19th edition of The Guardian-Journal, page 2.)

Once the ACLU’s investigation is complete, Thibodaux said it will most likely issue a statewide report, but it “will depend on the resources available in our office at the time.”