A local judge is expected to consider a complaint by a West Monroe police officer facing criminal charges that Fourth Judicial District Attorney Steve Tew’s office filed documents under seal without a court order and without providing a copy to the officer.
Tew’s office sought to seal parts of the criminal case against West Monroe police officer Dennis Wall to prevent The Ouachita Citizen from informing the public about developments in the case, according to a recent court filing.
Wall is accused of sending a homemade sex video to Michelle Jones, a West Monroe teacher, who later sent a screenshot from the sex video to several people, including a high school student.
Tew’s office is prosecuting Wall for non-consensual disclosure of a private image, but the district attorney’s office allowed Jones to pay a $650 fine in lieu of being prosecuted for the same offense.
Wall is known in the area as the organizer of the annual Battle of the Badges event, featuring boxing matches between police officers and firefighters. Jones is a classroom teacher at West Monroe High School, a parish school system administrator confirmed Tuesday.
Numerous pages concerning State of Louisiana v. Dennis Edward Wall and the underlying investigation are open to the public at Fourth Judicial District Court. According to court records, the Ouachita Parish Sheriff’s Office began investigating a complaint in December 2017 that several individuals had received, through Facebook and/or text message, one or more images captured from a sex video. The sex video, which also had been shared, depicted sexual intercourse between Wall and a woman identified as Wall’s then-girlfriend. The two sex videos were recorded in late 2017 when Wall and his then-girlfriend were in Galveston, Texas for a Battle of the Badges event, according to court records.
The woman in the sex video claimed she asked Wall to delete the video. Later, she made the complaint with the Sheriff’s Office after learning a screenshot from the sex video had been shared with other people. According to an investigative report by Senior Investigator James Humphrey of the Ouachita Parish Sheriff’s Office, Wall sent two sex videos to Jones. Later, Jones sent the two sex videos to her ex-husband, John “Danny” Jones, who was dating the woman depicted in the sex videos, according to Humphrey’s investigative report. At the time, the woman in the two sex videos also was working at Danny Jones’ now-shuttered home health agency, United Home Care Inc.
During the course of his investigation, Humphrey found Jones also sent a screenshot from one of the sex videos to several United Home Care employees as well as to Danny Jones’ son, who was a student at West Monroe High School at the time.
Last month, Tew’s office submitted a motion to file under seal into the court record. It was unclear at the time what the district attorney’s filing contained.
According to a filing Monday by Wall’s attorney, the district attorney’s July 10 motion to file under seal contained a motion in limine. A motion in limine is a legal request that certain evidence be barred from introduction at trial.
Wall’s motion to strike and quash the state’s motion to seal indicated the district attorney’s motion in limine based its argument for excluding evidence on the presence of “salacious material” in the record.
Wall’s motion to strike questioned the characterization of “salacious material” as “broad and undefined.” The district attorney also failed to send a copy of the motion in limine to Wall, his filing stated.
“The State’s Motion seeks to seal their Motion in Limine,” stated Wall’s motion to strike. “But has neither provided a copy of the Motion in Limine to the Defendant or this Counsel and because the Clerk of Court has sealed the Motion to File Under Seal without a Court order, this counsel is unable to verify if a copy of the Motion in Limine has been attached as an exhibit.”
Wall is represented by Monroe attorney Devin Jones.
According to Wall’s filing, the district attorney’s motion to file under seal proposed a false timeline concerning Wall’s defense as well as coverage of the case published by The Ouachita Citizen.
“The State’s Motion to File Under Seal in paragraph three (3) starting at sentence two (2) states, ‘Prior to a contradictory hearing on said Motion a news article appeared in the Ouachita Citizen quoting the Investigator’s report as well as an interview with Defense Attorney (Devin Jones). Further at the contradictory hearing on said Motion a writer for the Ouachita Citizen was present,’” stated Wall’s motion to strike.
Based on the quote from the district attorney’s motion in Wall’s filing, the district attorney’s office suggested The Ouachita Citizen was coordinating its coverage of State v. Wall with Wall or Wall’s attorney, Devin Jones.
Wall described the allegations as false, because The Ouachita Citizen’s news report, “West Monroe sex tape prosecution upended,” was not published until Jan. 30, nearly two weeks after the contradictory hearing mentioned in the district attorney’s motion. The newspaper’s report detailed the district attorney’s office’s attempt during the Jan. 17 contradictory hearing to seal the State v. Wall case.
In its news report, “Sex tape prosecution upended,” The Ouachita Citizen quoted several other individuals beyond Devin Jones, including Tew, who at the time claimed he was unaware that Jones, the school teacher, had been subjected to criminal investigation. After The Ouachita Citizen pointed out it had obtained a copy of the investigative report detailing Jones’ alleged participation in sharing the sex video, Tew suddenly remembered who Jones was and confirmed her case was diverted and she would not face prosecution.
As pointed out by Wall’s motion to strike, The Ouachita Citizen published a second news report about a separate proceeding in the same courtroom on Jan. 17, specifically about Eric Nabors, of Monroe.
Fourth Judicial District Court Judge Larry Jefferson is presiding over both State v. Wall as well as the Nabors case, State of Louisiana v. Eric Dominic Nabors.
In State v. Nabors a jury found Nabors guilty for the 2013 murder of a two-year-old child, but Jefferson found the jury’s determination unconvincing and sought —twice —to circumvent Nabors’ conviction. The newspaper has covered the Nabors case extensively.
According to Wall’s motion to strike, Assistant District Attorney Sean Southern made a “veiled reference” that the news reporter’s sole purpose in attending court on Jan. 17 was to cover State v. Wall, not the Nabors case.
“Assistant District Attorney Sean Southern’s allegations in his Motion to File Under Seal are materially and knowingly false,” stated Wall’s motion to strike. “These false allegations are done in a calculated manner to inflame this Court and materially prejudice the Defendant’s constitutional right to an open proceeding.”
Wall’s motion did not detail any other aspects of the district attorney’s sealed filing.
During the Jan. 17 hearing in State v. Wall, Southern argued that the district attorney’s office wanted to seal the court record to protect the victim (Wall’s former girlfriend and the woman in the sex video).
Though the district attorney’s office claimed that sealing the court record would protect the victim, the sheriff’s investigative report did not reveal any major details about the victim that were not already included in the warrant for Wall’s arrest. Wall’s arrest warrant was publicly available at the time of his arrest in March 2018. The major difference between Wall’s two-page arrest warrant and the sheriff’s investigative report was the additional four pages detailing Jones’ alleged actions. Many of the details about Jones’ alleged involvement in the distribution of the sex video and images were omitted from Wall’s arrest warrant.
At the conclusion of the State v. Wall hearing on Jan. 17, Jefferson ordered the disclosure of a pre-trial diversion agreement with Jones in spite of the district attorney’s office’s attempt to prevent the public from learning of Jones’ diversion agreement.
The Ouachita Citizen recently obtained a copy of Jones’ diversion agreement with the district attorney’s office from the court record. Jones signed a pre-trial diversion agreement on April 3, 2018 acknowledging that she would pay $650 and undergo certain conditions for about eight months in lieu of being prosecuted for non-consensual disclosure of a private image.
wary of newspaper
The district attorney’s office indicated concern about The Ouachita Citizen’s presence in the courtroom on Jan. 17. Before Jefferson entered the courtroom that morning, Assistant District Attorney Nick Anderson approached The Ouachita Citizen and said, “Are you here for...what are you here for?”
The Ouachita Citizen asked Anderson whether State v. Nabors would be taken up that day. Anderson indicated it would.
Anderson left the courtroom. Assistant District Attorney Daniel Hunter took his place at the counsel table. The Nabors case was passed over and delayed until 2 p.m. that day.
It was unclear at the time whether State v. Nabors would begin at 2 p.m. Prior to the court reconvening for the afternoon, defense attorneys conferred with Hunter and others about rescheduling cases.
When court resumed at 2 p.m., the Nabors case had not been taken up. State v. Nabors was the last proceeding addressed that day, and it was not discussed until about 5:20 p.m.
During the hearing, the district attorney’s office tiptoed around certain facts concerning this newspaper’s coverage of State v. Nabors to influence the judge. When Jefferson expressed frustration with a Dec. 23, 2018 news report by The Ouachita Citizen about State v. Nabors, Hunter sought to establish rapport with the judge by stating that he had not been contacted by the newspaper for a comment before the news report was published. (Jefferson has openly criticized The Ouachita Citizen for its coverage of his rulings and suggested the newspaper closely followed State v. Nabors only because of racial bias.)
After court adjourned, Hunter declined to answer inquiries from The Ouachita Citizen about the outcome of the hearing in State v. Nabors. Though at odds with his protest in open court, Hunter said he was not authorized by the district attorney’s office to make any comments.
“I would, if I could,” he said.
In the Dec. 23, 2018 news report that provoked Jefferson’s ire, The Ouachita Citizen did ask the district attorney’s office for a comment. The comment published in the report was provided by Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Johnson, who is a spokeswoman for Tew.