NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The fatal shooting of a 22-year-old black man by two sheriff's deputies during Carnival festivities is under investigation by a task force of New Orleans police investigators and the FBI.
Eric Harris died after being shot following a vehicle chase that started at a suburban mall and ended in downtown New Orleans on the evening of Feb. 8. The shooting took place about one mile from where parades were rolling on the night before Mardi Gras.
According to a New Orleans Police Department statement late Wednesday, Jefferson Parish deputies told police they pursued Harris' vehicle after learning he was armed with a gun and involved in an incident at Oakwood Mall in Gretna, Louisiana.
Deputies told police they followed Harris across the Mississippi River until his vehicle stopped and fired when they felt they were in danger.
The deputies involved were Kenneth Bonura, 25, and Henry DeJean, 43. Bonura is white and DeJean is black.
In statements to local media, Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand has said his deputies fired when they saw the vehicle's reverse lights go on after it crashed into a telephone pole. The Jefferson Parish sheriff's office declined to comment Thursday.
That account has been disputed by Tyshara Blouin, the victim's 23-year-old girlfriend who was at the mall and in the car when the shooting took place.
On Thursday, Gary Bizel, a lawyer representing Blouin and Harris' mother, said his client told him the deputies rammed into the back of their car.
"The officers rammed the vehicle, caused it to spin around and shortly afterwards they started firing," Bizel said. "They were stunned and the shots began."
Considering how many times the deputies shot, the attorney said Blouin was fortunate. "I'm just amazed she wasn't killed," he said.
New Orleans police said Harris was shot multiple times. Detectives said they recovered nine shell casings from the scene and a handgun from the vehicle Harris was driving.
Department spokesman Tyler Gamble, in an email late Thursday, said detectives have recovered video surveillance from the scene and are using it as part of the investigation. JPSO deputies do not wear body cameras or have in-car cameras, so that video is not available.
Jefferson Parish authorities said a handgun and heroin were found in the vehicle, which they said was owned by Blouin. Gamble confirmed that information.
On Wednesday, Jefferson Parish authorities arrested Blouin in connection with the incident at the mall and on a charge of possession of a firearm while possessing drugs.
Bizel questioned the charges. "Whenever anyone is seriously injured or killed by law enforcement, there is a tendency to look for ways to justify it and that involves overcharging of crimes or bogus charges," he said.
Blouin suffered minor injuries from the collision, police said. New Orleans police said she was cooperating with the investigation.
FBI Special Agent in Charge Jeff Sallet said in a statement Friday that the agency, the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division Criminal Section and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana have opened a civil rights investigation into Harris' death.
The shooting has sparked protests. On Saturday, protesters blocked the street where Harris crashed into the telephone pole.