A Fourth Judicial District Court judge setting bail for two men accused of carrying guns at West Monroe High School questioned whether the district attorney’s office was using the incident to garner media attention.
A bail hearing took place Monday at the Ouachita Parish Courthouse to determine the reasonableness of a $6,200 bail for Matthew “Matt” W. Hutson, 57, of West Monroe, and Theodore Christopher Herr, 36. West Monroe police arrested Herr and Hutson last week for carrying guns at West Monroe High School. The pair’s armed presence resulted in a school lockdown and cued the school’s active shooter protocols. The two men were taken into custody without incident.
Fourth Judicial District Attorney Steve Tew’s office sought a higher bail amount than $6,200 but appeared satisfied at the end of the hearing when Judge Larry Jefferson raised each suspect’s bail to $15,200.
At the beginning of the hearing, Assistant District Attorney Darwin Miller asked Judge Larry Jefferson to revise the pair’s bail, believing the $6,200 bail amount set last week did not address the “public safety question” raised by the individuals’ actions.
Herr and Hutson’s bail was set at $5,000 for unlawful carrying of a firearm in a firearm-free zone, $1,000 for unlawful disruption of a school’s operations, and $200 for criminal trespass.
Prior to the hearing, Tew, the district attorney, told The Ouachita Citizen the $6,200 bond for each suspect was not appropriate to the offense allegedly committed.
“We felt like that was too low,” Tew said.
Tew said his office asked that Herr and Hutson be held without bond over the weekend until a court hearing early Monday morning.
“We consider this to be a serious, serious crime,” Tew said.
During the hearing on Monday, Jefferson asked whether the pair had drawn their guns during their visit to the high school.
Miller’s answer was unclear, at first. Later, he indicated the guns were not drawn.
“These weapons, one was holstered, one was secreted in a waistband,” said Miller, who noted reports that the pair had walked through campus and into a classroom while armed.
According to the Sept. 10 arrest report, Hutson had a firearm visible and in a holster. He was carrying a clipboard and stated that he was with a Fugitive Task Force and was looking for someone. Herr was carrying a concealed firearm. Initially, the pair claimed they were bounty hunters, according to police.
“Hutson later stated he was on school property because his girlfriend’s granddaughter was selling or possessing drugs,” stated the Sept. 10 arrest report. “He stated he was doing a walk-through to see what she looked like.”
Herr said he was helping Hutson with “fugitive recovery.”
“He stated he thought the unknown individual had a warrant and he was just ‘tagging’ along with Hutson,” stated the arrest report. “He stated he knew he could not have a firearm on school property and was being stupid.”
Jefferson asked the district attorney’s office about the suspect’s claims to be seeking a fugitive or acting in an official capacity as a “bounty hunter.”
According to Miller, the state Department of Insurance became involved based on the allegation that the pair improperly represented themselves as bond recovery agents. Miller said the district attorney’s office believed the state would send a cease and desist letter to Herr and Hutson, asking them to refrain from continuing to represent themselves as bounty hunters.
Jefferson did not alter the bond amount for the criminal trespass violation ($200). The bond amount for that offense was standard under the law, Jefferson noted. He raised bond for the unlawful disruption charge from $1,000 to $5,000, and he raised the bond for the illegal carrying of weapons charge from $5,000 to $10,000. Under the court’s orders, bond for each suspect reached a total of $15,200.
The district attorney’s office asked the court to order Herr and Hutson to surrender any weapons if released and not to approach or visit any parish school system properties.
The district attorney’s office also asked that Herr and Hutson wear ankle monitors, if released. Ronald Cook, a West Monroe attorney representing Herr and Hutson, asked that his clients only wear ankle monitors for a month after release.
The hearing devolved into a lengthy dispute about whether the ankle monitors would include a GPS marker that would alert authorities to the suspects coming within 1,000 feet of any school system property. Jefferson questioned the move as unreasonable, referring to the numerous properties owned by the school system. The school system owns school campuses, operational facilities, wooded acreage, some residential properties and vacant lots among other properties.
Jefferson expressed concern the district attorney’s office might use the two suspects to generate attention in the press. At that time, Jefferson suggested a possible scenario if he were to grant the 1,000-foot restriction: What if someone in the district attorney’s office reviewed the suspects’ GPS data, noticed the suspects came near a school property, had the suspects arrested, and then called the media and asked the media to write a story about the suspects’ arrest?
“Like they probably did with this case, with their bonds,” said Jefferson, pointedly.
In response to Jefferson’s remarks Monday, Miller said he and assistant district attorney Nick Anderson were the only people working on the case. He did not specifically address Jefferson’s objection.