Times-Picayune’s jail death series featured on TV

I went on the local PBS affiliate’s “Informed Sources” program on Oct. 17 to speak about the multi-part series “Dying at Orleans Parish Prison” that my colleague Richard Webster and I published. You can catch my segments on the video below, at 9 minutes and 20:38.

Among the investigation’s findings: the jail has repeatedly mishandled death notifications; the sheriff’s office is in charge of policing itself and no outside agency investigates or reviews its death probes; and Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s office has a practice of releasing dying inmates from custody, causing their deaths to go uncounted and, in some cases, fail to get a proper investigation.

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On MSNBC reporting on the Mother’s Day mass shooting that left 20 people wounded

I went on MSNBC on May 13, 2013 to discuss the mass shooting in New Orleans between rival gangs that left 19 people shot and one woman trampled, police say. Two gunmen, authorities say, opened fire into a crowd of about 200 revelers as they marched in a second-line parade in celebration of Mother’s Day.

Former sex trafficking victim shines light on dark underworld of Super Bowl

This story was published on NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune on Feb. 1, 2013.

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Amid the parties and fun of Super Bowl 2013, authorities say, there is a dark underworld of girls and women being forced into the sex trade. Sitting in the festive lobby of a New Orleans hotel, festooned with San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens decorations, Clemmie Greenlee, a former victim of sex trafficking from Nashville, recalled being brought to cities around the South to prostitute for those attending such large-scale events.

For Greenlee’s pimps, the influx of people provided a massive money-making opportunity.

“When they come to these kinds of events, the first thing you’re told is how many you’re gonna perform a day,” she said Friday. “You’ve got to go through 25 men a day, or you’re going through 50 of them. When they give you that number, you better make that number.”

Having been abducted and gang-raped by her captors at age 12, Greenlee said, she was one of about eight girls controlled by a ring of pimps, men who injected them with heroin and, at times, kept them handcuffed to beds. For trying to run away, she was once stabbed in the back.

Now 53, Greenlee works at Eden House in Uptown New Orleans, the first shelter for sex-trafficking victims in Louisiana; the center opened in October 2012.

“If you don’t make that number (of sex customers), you’re going to dearly, dearly, severely pay for it,” Greenlee said. “I mean with beatings, I mean with over and over rapings. With just straight torture. The worst torture they put on you is when they make you watch the other girl get tortured because of your mistake.”

Sex and Super Bowls

In the past year, authorities in Louisiana have been working to raise awareness about the rampant sex trafficking that has historically accompanied the Super Bowl. While there is a widespread perception that human trafficking is a problem only in foreign countries, data from the U.S. Department of Justice show the average American prostitute begins working between the ages of 12 and 14.

Established in 2006, the Louisiana Human Trafficking Task Force, comprised of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, plus faith-based and nongovernmental organizations, has been meeting regularly to try to increase trafficking arrests and rescue the victims.

As a tourist destination, New Orleans attracts sex workers year-round, said Bryan Cox, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in New Orleans. But many of those young women are not here by choice. So, in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, both outreach and undercover efforts have ramped up.

Those efforts have paid off to some degree already. As of Thursday, at least eight men had been booked with sex trafficking and five female victims had been rescued from their clutches, Cox said, noting that such cases are investigated jointly by the New Orleans Police Department, State Police, the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI, among others.

Two of the women, ages 21 and 24, were brought to Covenant House, a homeless shelter for young people at the edge of the French Quarter, according to executive director James Kelly. After taking a shower and spending the night, however, the women left without accepting the services Kelly and others were trying to offer them.

“We believe they went back to turning tricks,” Kelly said. “We did our best to try to care for them and try to get them to stay, but they were 21 and 24, and there was no way we could force them to stay, and neither could the FBI.”

You’ve got to go through 25 men a day, or you’re going through 50 of them.” — Clemmie Greenlee

Such behavior is common, Greenlee said, noting that she had repeatedly returned to her captors after stays in the hospital or jail, mainly out of fear. She said many times, the women are brainwashed; they believe they have no other options, no future to pursue.

“They’re terrified,” she said. “You can say you’re going to save us, you can say we don’t have to worry about the pimps no more. We already know what power they have shown us. So either you come back to them, or you find out two days later they either got your grandmother or they just broke your little baby’s arm.

“There’s no such thing as we want to go back to these guys,” she said. “We do not feel that no one — not even the law — can protect us, and we do not want to die. I’d rather live in that misery and pain than to die.”

Messages on bars of soap

Aside from police sting operations, advocacy groups and local police agencies have been trying to combat the problem by handing out pamphlets to local hotel concierges, bartenders and club bouncers, asking them to be on the lookout for women who appear fearful and show signs of being controlled by the men they’re with. One of the signs a woman is being trafficked is that she is not allowed to speak for herself, advocates say.

Some groups have been handing out to hotels bars of soap that have a sex trafficking hotline phone number on them, hoping that women who are desperate to escape will see the number on the soap bar and take a chance on a phone call that could save them. Other groups have been providing strip clubs with posters that urge people to call in tips.

For Greenlee, her chance at a turnaround came from a similar help card in Nashville. Having run away from her captors in her 30s, she said, they did not chase after her because she had “aged out.” Living in an abandoned house in Nashville, shooting heroin with other junkies and prostituting herself, she had lost all hope of a normal life.

But one woman, a former sex worker who knew Greenlee and had graduated from Magdalene House, a safe house program in Nashville — the philosophy of which Eden House was based on — visited Greenlee almost weekly. She would leave little cards with the Magdalene House telephone number on them. But having given up, Greenlee shunned the woman and her cards.

After about five months of cards piling up, one day Greenlee woke up and realized she needed to take the chance. She was 42 years old. “I went to the phone and I pulled out some of them 99 pieces of paper that girl had left.

“The one thing I had in my head was, ‘If I learn how to live and heal, I can get back and get those girls. I can go back and tell people what they do to us,'” she said. “I’m not ashamed of what done happened to me. I don’t care if I never get a husband. It just don’t make no sense that we had to go through this.”

“It’s not as easy as saying, ‘Call this number, escape,'” said Kara Van De Carr, executive director of Eden House. “But women who have hit rock bottom and realize they’re going to die in that lifestyle will try anything to get out.”

Authorities urge those who suspect trafficking to contact local police or the Department of Homeland Security at 1.866.347.2423. The National Human Trafficking Resource Center also staffs a toll-free 24-hour hotline at 888-373-7888.

New Orleans street dance party ends in shooting that leaves one man dead, one hospitalized

This story was published on NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune on Jan. 26, 2013.Image

A weekly street dance party dubbed “Conti Saturday” ended in violence Saturday night when one man was shot in the head and died at the scene. Another man was shot in the neck.

As they have every week for the past few months, about 150 people gathered Saturday night for the party in the 1800 block of Conti Street, partygoers said. A DJ spun rap and bounce music from a pick-up truck carrying subwoofers. At least one NOPD police car blocked off the street, witnesses said.

Suddenly, around 8:40 p.m., a man in a black hooded sweatshirt walked up to a 21-year-old man standing by the DJ. No words were exchanged between the two men before the man in the hooded sweatshirt pulled a gun from his waistband and fired a shot at close range into the victim’s head, witnesses said.

“He fell to the ground, but he was still (alive), so the gunman stood over him and shot him four more times in the chest,” said a 21-year-old woman who was dancing near the victim at the time. She requested anonymity because the shooter remains at large. “We were so close we saw the fire come out of the gun.”

The partygoers scattered instantly, she said. “We just kept running,” the woman said. “I was like, ‘Where are my friends? I got to get the f— out of here.'”

Seconds later, a second man was shot in the neck down the block, closer to the intersection of Conti and North Derbigny streets, witnesses said. That victim was transported to a local hospital, police said. His condition was not known late Saturday.

The murder victim’s body lay next to the DJ’s pick-up truck as police arrived and began investigating.

Family members at the crime scene identified him as Shaquille Cooper. His cousin, who was at the party, said he did not appear to be fighting with anyone.

“He seemed like he was enjoying himself,” said Cooper’s cousin, noting he would come to “Conti Saturday” nearly every week. “He felt comfortable around here.”

Cooper’s aunt said he would be missed by his family — especially his 2-year-old son, to whom he was a good father. “We love him.”

Police ask anyone with information on this shooting to contact NOPD Homicide Section at 504.658.5300 or Crimestoppers at 504.822.1111.

Roommate’s estranged boyfriend confesses to beating, strangling NY woman to death, NOPD says

This story was published on NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune on Jan. 15, 2013. Screen Shot 2013-02-06 at 8.00.09 AM

A 39-year-old man confessed on Tuesday to beating and strangling his ex-girlfriend’s roommate to death late Sunday, police said. Authorities found Henry Dolliole in Jefferson Parish and brought him to NOPD headquarters where he admitted to brutally killing 26-year-old Lauren Tanski, said officer Garry Flot, a spokesman for the New Orleans Police Department.

Dolliole was booked into the Orleans Parish jail around 9:50 p.m. on a charge of first-degree murder, records show. Dolliole’s rap sheet includes several drug arrests, and in July 1992, he was booked with attempted first-degree murder and armed robbery. Those charges were later dropped.

Henry-Dolliole.jpg Henry Dolliole, 39, confessed on Tuesday to beating and strangling his ex-girlfriend’s roommate to death late Sunday night. Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office

Tanski was found beaten and strangled to death inside of her 7th Ward home in the 2000 block of Urquhart on Monday morning. The victim, who loved writing and photography, had moved from Albany, NY, to New Orleans in October.

According to co-workers of Tanski’s, Dolliole is the ex-boyfriend of Tanski’s roommate, Samantha Placek, 32. Both women worked as waitresses at the Corner Oyster House in the French Quarter. Employees there said Dolliole had made threats against Placek just hours before Tanski was killed.

“He was clearly crazy and always seemed like he was on something, but I just can’t believe something this horrible happened to her,” Tanski’s co-worker Andrew Santiago, 25, said.

Santiago said Tanski had moved into Placek’s apartment on Urquhart Street a couple of months ago, and that while Dolliole had never made threats against Tanski, she was unhappy in her living situation and had been planning to move out of the house on Monday.

According to Tanski’s close friend Raechelle Gonzalez, 21, a couple hours after Dolliole stormed the bar threatening Placek, around 8 p.m., Tanski finished up work and told her co-workers she was going home for the evening.

Gonzalez said she exchanged texts with her from around 8:30 p.m. until 10 p.m. After that, she never heard back from her friend. “I assumed she had just turned in for the night, or that maybe she wasn’t paying attention to her phone,” Gonzalez said.

Shortly before midnight, Tanski’s lifeless body was found by Placek and a third roommate, who had just returned home, according to Santiago. Tanski had been beaten and strangled, and was dead on the scene, authorities said.

“She was so was excited to be here and so excited to explore New Orleans,” Gonzalez later said of her lost friend. “We moved down here together to get a fresh start and enjoy the city. Now, she’ll never get the chance. She was the most wonderful person, just a really great friend.”

According to Tanski’s father, Leonard Tanski, his daughter was a creative free spirit who loved photography and writing. She attended college at SUNY Cobleskill in Albany but later transferred and finished up a liberal arts degree at a university in Virginia.

“She had just come home for Christmas, we just dropped her off at the airport a couple weeks ago,” said a shaken Leonard Tanski when reached by phone at his Albany home on Monday.

“You always see it on the news, but it’s always someone else’s kid, never yours. Now it’s happened to ours and we just can’t understand how this could happen. It’s too awful,” he said.

Tulane students are asking the university for beefed up patrols

This story was published on page A1 of The Times-Picayune on January 17, 2012. 

Two years ago, Tulane freshmen Adrienne Barnabee and Elizabeth Mardiks were walking home around dusk when two armed men approached them near the intersection of Broadway and Maple streets and ordered them to turn over their cash.

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Since then, Barnabee said she’s so afraid of walking in the area that she no longer schedules any classes after dark.

“After having been attacked so close to campus, I don’t feel safe walking anywhere,” she said.

Barnabee is one of 1,200 students who have signed a petition urging Tulane President Scott Cowen to take more action to protect students in the area surrounding the university.

Even though Tulane police have beefed up patrols and shuttle bus service in response to a spike in armed robberies last semester, the students who organized the petition have a clear message: “It’s not enough.” Read more of this post

New Orleans musician saved from robbers by barking dog

This story was published in The Times-Picayune on December 21, 2011. 

Had it not been for the presence of his cousin’s pit bull, local musician Glen David Andrewswould have been one of the victims robbed at gunpoint outside a Capital One, one of three such armed robberies Monday morning, outside banks in Mid-City, Broadmoor and Gentilly.

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It was 8:45 a.m. Monday when Andrews, his cousin and Blue, a large and rambunctious pit bull, piled into an SUV to go to the Capital One at Canal Street and South Carrollton Avenue.

Andrews, a trombone player, said he was planning to deposit $3,500 from the weekend’s work to divide among his six band members.

Around 8:50 a.m., they pulled up to the bank’s entrance on the corner where about six people, some with deposit slips in their hands, were waiting for the bank to open. Andrews said two people in the group were young men — maybe 20 or 21 — wearing black hooded sweatshirts, standing apart from each other.

As Andrews got out of the passenger side to join the group, Blue began to bark, loudly and incessantly.

A man, walking up to join the bank customers, joked to Andrews: “Hey man, you can’t shut your dog up?” Read more of this post

Suspect in toddler’s shooting arrested, ‘person of interest’ dead, Serpas says

This story was published in The Times-Picayune on December 20, 2011. 

A suspect wanted in the shooting death of a toddler who was playing Sunday afternoon in the B.W. Cooper public housing development has been arrested, and a “person of interest” in the murder was shot to death Monday, New Orleans Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas said Tuesday.

Vigil for Keira Holmes Gordon

U.S. marshals arrested Narkee Hunter, 23, at his Terrytown home on Tuesday, Serpas said.

Police are still looking for another suspect, Terrious Owney, 24, in connection with the same shooting.

Charles Louis Anderson III, 26, whowas shot to death Monday inside a house in St. Roch, had been identified as a “person of interest” in Sunday’s shooting, Serpas said.

The Times-Picayune reported earlier today that detectives believed Anderson’s death on Monday was linked to the double shooting a day earlier, according to law enforcement sources. Read more of this post

Owner of horse that collapsed and died on Bourbon Street has been under investigation

This story was published on page A1 of The Times-Picayune on Dec. 19, 2011. 

The owner of the horse that dropped dead on Bourbon Street Sunday afternoon has been offering buggy rides to tourists in the French Quarter for months. At issue is whether he charges for them.

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The city’s Taxicab Bureau has been investigating Steven Chambers, 51, of New Orleans, after complaints by carriage companies that Chambers, who is unlicensed and uninsured, was operating illegally. The companies also allege Chambers mistreated his horses and did not clean up after them. Read more of this post

French Quarter bar fight victim suffers lingering repercussions from head injuries

This story was published in The Times-Picayune on December 13, 2011. 

Two months ago in the French Quarter, two strangers got in a 30-second bar fight that will forever affect their lives. One now faces the prospect of permanent brain damage and hundreds of thousands in medical bills — without insurance. The other faces arrest for second-degree battery, a crime that carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

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Their fateful meeting occurred Oct. 16, at the Jax Brewery Bistro Bar in the 600 block of Decatur Street. New Orleans police said Tuesday that Jason Samuel Lawrence, 23, of New Orleans, allegedly placed the 28-year-old victim in a headlock, choked him unconscious, then threw him down a flight of concrete stairs.

Police do not publicly identify crime victims. The victim spoke with The Times-Picayune on condition of anonymity.

“I was very, very fortunate to not have died,” he said. Due to his injuries, he does not remember what happened that night. Read more of this post