Lawsuits have targeted officers jailed in boy's shooting

AP News
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Posted: Nov 10, 2015 5:39 PM
Lawsuits have targeted officers jailed in boy's shooting

MARKSVILLE, La. (AP) — Two law enforcement officers facing murder charges in the shooting death of a 6-year-old autistic boy have been the targets of excessive force complaints in the past.

Derrick Stafford, 32, and Norris Greenhouse Jr., 23, were working as city marshals when they opened fire on Chris Few and his son, Jeremy Mardis, inside a car Nov. 3. Few was severely wounded, and both officers are jailed on murder charges.

A lawyer for Few told The Associated Press on Monday that a police body camera showed the father holding his hands up when the officers began firing.

Stafford's troubles date to at least 2011, when he was indicted on a charge he raped a 15-year-old in 2004, when he was 21. The same indictment also charged him with raping another person in 2011. Both charges were ultimately dismissed, though court records don't indicate why and prosecutors did not return a call seeking comment.

Stafford is accused in a lawsuit of using a stun gun on a handcuffed woman in 2012; another lawsuit claims he apparently broke a girl's arm during a fight on a school bus that same year. And last year, a jury awarded $50,000 to a man who claimed Stafford arrested him in retaliation for making a complaint about him. The award has been appealed.

Two lawsuits target both officers: One names them as defendants in a lawsuit that accuses Marksville officers of using excessive force in arresting a man at a 2014 festival, while another lawsuit says they "stood idly by and did nothing" when an officer assaulted a teenage boy at a Fourth of July celebration in 2013.

Stafford is a full-time lieutenant with the Marksville Police Department; Greenhouse is now a full-time city marshal.

Anthony Radosti, vice president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission in New Orleans, said excessive force complaints should be a "red flag" for a police department to evaluate whether an officer needs to be disciplined or at least retrained.

"Even smaller departments should have an early-warning system," said Radosti, a retired New Orleans police officer.

Initial reports suggested Stafford and Greenhouse were trying to serve Few with a warrant when he fled onto a dead-end road and then reversed his car in their direction. But Col. Mike Edmonson, head of the Louisiana State Police, said there was no evidence of a warrant or any gun recovered at the scene.

An FBI spokesman says federal authorities are in "constant communication" with state investigators about last week's shooting. The State Police is leading the investigation, and the state attorney general's office is prosecuting the case.

Craig Betbeze, a spokesman for the FBI's New Orleans division, said in an email Tuesday that he can't elaborate on why the FBI and Justice Department's civil rights division have been communicating with State Police. Edmonson said the State Police routinely share case information with the FBI.

On Tuesday, State Police investigators met with prosecutors from the state attorney general's office to discuss their investigation. It was the first meeting between the State Police and Attorney General James "Buddy" Caldwell's staff since his office took over the prosecution of the case.

Avoyelles Parish District Attorney Charles Riddle recused himself from the case Monday because one of his assistant prosecutors is Greenhouse's father.

Stafford and Greenhouse were ordered held on $1 million bonds on second-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder charges.

"This was not a threatening situation for the police," Few's attorney, Mark Jeansonne, said after he attended a closed-door hearing Monday at the jail where Judge William Bennett issued the bond ruling.

After AP published Jeansonne's comments, Bennett issued a sweeping gag order prohibiting anyone involved in the case, including potential witnesses and victims, from providing any information to the media.

The officers were moved from the jail in Marksville to a lockup in the central Louisiana city of Alexandria after Monday's bond hearing.