Charles Johnson was 14 in 1959 when he watched Frank DeLaughter pull a revolver and fire four rounds, killing an unarmed man on the streets of Ferriday.
John Henry Keary, 32, an African-American, died during the shooting in an alley on the south side of town just off Hwy. 84. Johnson said prior to the gunfire, he observed an argument between Keary and a white man, Sam Brocato, in front of Brocato's lounge in the predominantly black section of Ferriday.
According to an article on the shooting in the March 6, 1959, issue of the Concordia Sentinel -- the only record of the incident located by the newspaper -- DeLaughter, also 32 at the time, was exonerated following an investigation by the coroner, who said the shooting was "unavoidable and in the line of duty."
Notorious as both a Ferriday policeman and later as a sheriff's deputy, DeLaughter was fired by Ferriday Mayor Woodie Davis in 1962 and Davis stood firm against a move by aldermen to reinstate DeLaughter a few months later.
DeLaughter was also exonerated by a parish grand jury in the shooting death of an armed white man, M.C. Cotton, at Cario's Lounge on the Ferriday-Vidalia Hwy. in February 1968.
In the 1970s, DeLaughter was convicted in federal court for police brutality as a deputy in the beating of a white prisoner in the Ferriday jail and for his involvement in a mob-connected gambling and prostitution operation known as the Morville Lounge at Deer Park. He served a year and a day in prison for these crimes.
Stories of DeLaughter's brutality are numerous and have been reported by the Sentinel during the past four years.
His career as a police officer is under scrutiny today because he was a suspect in the July 1964 disappearance and murder of Vidalia motel porter Joseph Edwards and the December 1964 arson/murder of shoe shop owner Frank Morris in Ferriday. Although DeLaughter died in 1996, his connection to both of these cases is significant today as the FBI and a Concordia Parish grand jury investigate the 46-year-old Morris murder.
Charles Johnson, a 66-year-old retired Concordia Parish school bus driver, was a teenager in 1959 and watched Keary and Sam Brocato argue before the shooting.
“They had some words,” Johnson told the Sentinel. “I don’t know why they were arguing."
Johnson said the argument ended when Keary punched Brocato, who was standing in the doorway of his bar, below the belt.
“He (Brocato) didn’t fall,” said Johnson. “He was hanging on the door, but kind of leaning. Evidently, it was a good lick.”
At that time, Keary said, DeLaughter pulled into the alley in a police car.
According to a front page article in the Sentinel, Keary was shot and killed “after he made advances on Ferriday policeman, Frank DeLaughter, who was attempting to break up a fight.”
But Johnson said he never saw DeLaughter attempt to break up a fight: "The argument was over when he got there."
The paper reported that parish coroner, Dr. J.H. Pankey, said the shooting occurred after “Keary had advanced on the policeman several times…Witnesses said when DeLaughter drove up in the police car, Keary grabbed the car and raised the front end, completely from the ground.
“When called on by the officer to desist, he advanced on DeLaughter several times. He was shot through the groin, in the leg and through the heart. The last and fatal shot was fired, the coroner said, after he (Keary) continued to advance on the policeman, after he had fired low in warning.”
Johnson said DeLaughter, due to his size, should have been able to physically restrain Keary.
“When he put it (front end) down, he started walking toward Mr. Frank DeLaughter,” who was standing at the back of the patrol car, Johnson said. “He (Keary) didn’t have a gun. He didn’t have nothing. He was walking with his hands down beside him. He wasn’t running or breaking for him or anything like that. He was just walking toward him. Slow steps.
“Mr. Frank told him (Keary) to halt, and he didn’t. Mr. Frank pulled his gun and made one shot. He (Keary) had a leather jacket on and that leather jacket moved” when the bullet struck Keary in the stomach. “And that man (Keary) just kept on walking slowly. Big Frank shot him again (in stomach). Third time, Mr. Frank shot him. The man never gets in a hurry. After the third bullet, a fourth bullet hit him and Mr. Frank started backing up. It was the fourth bullet that brought him (Keary) down.”
Johnson said “Mr. Frank was a heavy weight, a big man, 250 pounds or more and about 6-foot-4 or 6-foot-5.” He said Keary “wasn’t more than 170 pounds. As big as Mr. Frank was, he could’ve manhandled that fellow.”
Although the article said a number of witnesses, black and white, said the shooting was unavoidable, Johnson said he was never questioned.
Johnson said the death of Keary "hurt me because he (DeLaughter) didn’t have to kill him."
While DeLaughter was identified as a policeman in the lone news story about the shooting in the Sentinel, he was not officially hired as a policeman until 13 months later, according to Town of Ferriday minutes.
According to those records, DeLaughter was first hired by the town on June 12, 1956, as a fireman at a salary of $250 a month. His position also required that he serve as jailer.
"If they were shorthanded, firemen would ride in the police car with the patrolman and serve as policemen when needed," according to Johnny Blunschi, former Mayor Woodie Davis' nephew who was a volunteer fireman in the mid-1960s and later became a State Trooper. Blunschi said the person who held the position as fireman/jailer "lived in the apartment above the jail and his wife answered the phone and served as dispatcher."
On April 12, 1960 -- 13 months after Keary was killed -- the council moved DeLaughter to the police department on the recommendation of Mayor Davis. The minutes note: "A discussion was had on employing a new policeman to work with the police department. Mayor Davis suggested that Frank DeLaughter transfer to police duty since he is familiar with police work..."
More than two years later -- October 9, 1962 -- Davis recommended that DeLaughter and patrolman Carl Rials "be relieved of their duties." No explanation for the decision was recorded in the minutes.
Ten months later -- August 13, 1963 -- aldermen on a 3-2 vote gave Davis the authority to hire and fire town employees. Neither the reason for this decision nor a breakdown in how individual aldermen voted was recorded in the minutes.
At that same meeting, records show aldermen voted 3-1 to reinstate DeLaughter with one alderman not voting. Again, a vote breakdown wasn't given.
But town minutes indicate Davis responded that "as far as he was concerned Mr. DeLaughter was fired and (Davis) would take the matter up with Roy Halcomb, City Attorney to see if he (Davis) had the legal authority to stand by his convictions."
Davis indicated that if DeLaughter's reinstatement stood, DeLaughter "would be the complete responsibility of the Commissioner of Public Safety," according to the minutes.
Serving as aldermen during the late 1950s were John Fudickar, Dan Gremillion, J.W. Greathouse, Jack Harp and Guy Serio. From 1960 to 1964 the same aldermen served with the exception of Fudickar and the addition of E.E. Wallace.
All are deceased. Davis died April 22, 2011, at the age of 93.
After Davis refused to reinstate DeLaughter despite the council's vote, DeLaughter was hired as a deputy by Sheriff Noah Cross.