KSLA News 12 Investigates: Caddo DA dropped thousands of charges in 2016

Updated: Jan. 17, 2017 at 1:02 PM CST
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SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - In Caddo Parish, thousands of charges were dropped in 2016. Many low-level offenses were thrown out, but some included high-profile murder and armed robbery cases

Last year, 7,492 charges were dismissed or rejected. That's only a little bit more than the year before that, but a significant amount more than 2014. In 2015, 7,229 charges were dismissed or rejected. And the year before that, 6,194 total charges were dropped.

Of the more than 7,000 charges dropped in 2016, the Caddo district attorney's office rejected 2,747 charges and 4,745 charges were dismissed after making it to court.

District Attorney James E. Stewart says it's all part of how the criminal justice system works. "It's not like we are randomly dismissing cases. We are screening, resolving cases and moving on to the next."

Law enforcement officers have a lot of discretion on whom they stop and arrest and what they charge them with, Stewart said.

It's up to the district attorney's office's to decide whether to charge the person with the crime for which police arrested them, he added.

"Do we have reasonable chance of proving this case beyond a reasonable doubt? That is the standard we operate on."

KSLA News 12 spent days going through a 200-page document detailing what charges were thrown out in 2016.

Charges commonly thrown out included first-offense intoxicated, possession of marijuana, issuing worthless checks, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and resisting a police officer.

"We've got finite resources and finite court time," the district attorney explained. "We want to try the cases that we have to try; and the other cases, we resolve."

He went on to say that his office offers people with DUIs or those caught with drugs an opportunity to participate in a pretrial diversion program.

"If they complete the program, it is a 6- to 12-month program, then we reject or dismiss those cases."

It's a way of giving someone a second chance, Stewart said.

"We don't want those cases filling up the system, so we give people who have an issue or a problem a way to resolve or deal with their issue."

When it comes to crimes like issuing worthless checks, the charge likely will be dropped if the accused repays the victim.

"It looks like we rejected or dismissed them," Stewart said. "But, actually, we've accomplished what we wanted to - making the victim whole."

As for charges like felon in possession of a firearm or resisting a police officer, the district attorney said those usually are connected with a major charge. So the lesser charges are dismissed to allow resources to be focused on the more serious ones.

"We get those cases out of the system. Therefore, we can spend time on the rapes, the murders, the molestation cases, the armed robberies. The ones that we really need to push and put in jail."

Many of the charges that were dropped were minor. But felonies like first- and second-degree murder, manslaughter and armed robbery also are among them.

Stewart said there is a reason behind each dismissal.

As an example, there's the case of Loretta Lutrell. She was accused of a murder-for-hire plot to kill her husband. The first-degree murder charge was dropped because she died.

"We don't prosecute dead people," Stewart said.

Jake and Henry Robinson had their charges involving cold case murders dropped. A case Stewart said three out of four district attorneys rejected.

"When we got there, trying to prepare for trial, we found some major problems in the case. So we talked to the family, so we rejected it."

Waco Collins, a man described as a very violent drug dealer, had his second-degree murder charge dropped in 2016. He already is serving life sentences on drug charges.

Collins and Timonthy Thomas were accused of gunning down Shannon Golston in 2009. But Stewart said they had more evidence that Thomas did it than Collins. Thomas was convicted of the murder in July 2016. "So Waco Collins is serving life, and the other person is serving life."

Other other major felony charges are reduced or dismissed as part of plea deals, the district attorney explained.

Demaria Allen knows firsthand what that's like, after a day he describes as "a series of bad decisions."

As an LSU-Shreveport student in March 2016, he was accused of exposing himself, bringing a gun on campus and running from campus police.

"It's like one thing happens and you do something to try to reverse it, and then the situation only gets worse," he said. Allen claims a wardrobe malfunction outside a campus bathroom led to police finding a gun he forgot he had on him.

Allen admits to running from police once he was handcuffed.

"My mind goes to dark places, I thought if I didn't run, my life could have ended."

In retrospect, Allen is surprised he wasn't tazed after bolting.

"They caught me and, to my surprise, they actually just loaded me up in the van and took me to the police station and followed protocol to a T."

By the end of the day, Allen was facing several charges: simple escape, obscenity, carrying firearm/dangerous weapon by student or non-student at school and 2 counts each of resisting a police officer with force or violence and battery of a police officer. Allen also initially was charged with illegal carrying of weapons, a charge the district attorney's office rejected.

Allen would spend a week in jail then accept a plea deal in July.

Even though he claims he didn't do it, he pleaded guilty to sexual battery in exchange for having his other charges dropped.

"I was like I can either extend the amount of time I'm fighting this in court, or end up coming out worse or I can take the plea bargain."

On July 28, 2016, Allen was sentenced to pay court costs and serve six months in the parish jail. The court suspended the jail sentence and instead placed Allen on supervised probation for one year.

"My lawyer tells me, this plea bargain is probably the best thing you are going to get, that's it. I'm just going to take the plea bargain," Allen said.

Looking back on what happened, he is grateful for the system's flexibility that allowed his charges to be dropped.

"I think because you can still find your way out and establish a life, due to these dismissal of charges, and plea bargains, it shows the justice system is fair, I think."

Not all run-ins with courts work out smoothly.

Shreveport pastor Linus Mayes', who had his own bank fraud and felony theft charges dismissed in January 2015, had a different experience with the man who allegedly shot his son in October 2016.

Mayes explained to KSLA News 12 that his son allegedly was shot by Quinton Hill, a man who had accepted a plea deal only a month earlier.

"First of all, we panicked as any parent would do," Mayes said in December.

His son was shot in the leg and hip and is OK now.

But Mayes wonders how someone with a lengthy criminal history was walking free. "It is our concern that Mr. Hill be taken off the street completely."

Hill was facing charges of domestic abuse, obstruction of justice, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, among others, when he pleaded guilty to two lower charges in exchange for having all other charges dropped in September.

Hill was sentenced to 6.5 months in jail. That was deferred to January 2017.

But since the shooting in October, he has been on the run.

"This guy is armed and dangerous," Mayes said. "He's a menace to society. We as a family want him off the streets."

In the end, the district attorney believes the worst thing that can happen in any prosecutor's office is sitting on cases that aren't tryable.

"It's about every day working hard on each and every case and trying to get a resolution to them," Stewart said.

Looking forward, he pledges to continue actively screening cases instead of letting them sit.

"We have cases that have been sitting here for years. The longer the case sits there, evidence changes, things change, people die, people's memories change. And we have to look at them again."

High-profile felony charges dismissed or amended in 2016
(Not a comprehensive list, to view all charges dropped click here)

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