Monroe officials grappling with the 14 homicides that have plagued the city this year say the local judicial system cannot prevent the worst violent offenders, particularly offenders with past convictions, from returning to the streets to wreak havoc.
Mayor Jamie Mayo held a community listening session Monday evening at the city’s Public Safety Center to discuss the recent homicides and entertain questions or concerns from local clergy and elected officials.
“Some of these guys have been convicted of five or six felonies, but they’re still on the street selling drugs, robbing people, carrying guns,” said Monroe Police Lt. Triche Passman. “For whatever reason, they get released. That’s the problem we run into. We can arrest them all day long, but they get into the system. They get out. And we can’t do anything about it.”
Mayo’s press relations officer, Rod Washington — who often asks questions during public events to direct Mayo or others to make a certain point — appeared to encourage ministers to publicly voice their criticism of the judicial system.
“Would a solution be asking our clergy to be more vocal when we have situations like this so our judicial system understands that criminals are to be prosecuted to the fullest extent?” Washington said.
Later, Mayo emphasized the apparent failings of the local judicial system, referring to the district attorney and judges.
“This is what’s happening when they arrest these individuals and then a few days later, they’re out on the street,” said Mayo, standing in front of a digital map with pins marking the location of each of the 14 homicides recorded this year.
As an example, police referred to the recent example of Devontae Coleman, who was arrested for second-degree murder in 2017 but released from prison and placed on house arrest. He was arrested for second-degree murder, again, in September for participating in an execution-style killing outside a funeral home, in a revenge-shooting stemming from supposedly unpaid drug debts.
“He was wearing the ankle monitor when the shooting took place,” Passman said.
Passman, who also serves on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms task force, said his participation in the task force enables him to direct the government to file federal charges against some offenders.
He said he meets monthly with federal, state and local authorities to discuss the “worst of the worst,” offenders carrying guns or dealing drugs, and how to remove them from the streets.
Many times, filing a firearms charge against a violent offender in federal court is the most efficient way to get them off the streets, he said.
“Because there’s no parole on federal time,” Passman said.
Only clergy and elected officials were invited to the session Monday, though the general public is invited to a second session Thursday (today) evening.
When asked by The Ouachita Citizen, Washington declined to specify which clergy or elected officials were invited to Monday’s session.
More than 10 African-American ministers were present. Many of them offered prayers at the beginning of Monday’s session.
Elected officials present at the session included Mayo, state Rep.-elect Fred Jones, Monroe City School Board member Betty Cooper as well as Monroe City Council members Gretchen Ezernack, Juanita Woods, and Kenny Wilson. City Councilman Michael Echols could not attend because he was out of town, Mayo said.
Some clergy claimed their congregants were not responsible for crimes and asked how Mayo expected they could help address the city’s crime problem. Mayo and others asked for prayers or that ministers inform their congregants during Sunday worship services of the challenges facing law enforcement.
“What do we need you to do? As pastors and leaders of the spiritual communities, you have an opportunity to communicate some of the things we’re communicating to you,” Mayo said. “Quite frankly, most of these homicides are south of Louisville and DeSiard, in districts 3, 4, and 5. That’s where they are.
“We hear a lot, ‘We need more police officers,’ or ‘we need more patrols,’ but we are limited in the resources we have. When we are able to get more patrols, they’re going to stop people walking the street at 2 o’clock in the night. Then we get a call, ‘We’re being harassed, you need to stop that.’ I’ve heard it all. It’s a challenge.”
Another minister asked Mayo to hold regular meetings with ministers instead of simply “gathering the troops after the fact,” a critical reference to Monday’s session.