Internal investigation probes shooting

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 30, 2002


LAPLACE – A man suffering from schizophrenia for at least 25 years, but with no history of violence, was shot to death Thursday morning in LaPlace by a St. John the Baptist Parish sheriff’s deputy.

The deputy, 23-year-old Charles Wale III, was defending himself from being stabbed by a broken pair of scissors when he fired, according to Sheriff Wayne L. Jones.

Edward P. “Peanut” Stewart, 41, of 222 Marquez St., Mt. Airy, had come into the Hibernia Bank branch at 1200 W. Airline Highway at 10:59 a.m. to ask for money from his account.

A problem arose, though, when a teller informed Stewart he did not have an account and a verbal disturbance ensued during which he threatened bank employees. This ended when he left the bank, walking west toward Wal-Mart.

As Stewart departed, the concerned bank called for a deputy to take charge of the disturbed person.

Wale, a three-year veteran on the force who was assigned to the Road Division eight months ago, rolled alongside Stewart and asked him to stop, according to the statement from the sheriff.

Stewart allegedly responded with an obscenity and kept walking, which prompted Wale to get out of his vehicle and try to physically stop him. Instead, according to Jones, Stewart pulled out a pair of scissors with one blade broken and slashed at Wale.

Wale was struck three times “and he was probably going down” when he pulled his firearm and fired twice. At least one struck Stewart in the abdomen and he died within minutes.

“It was a situation where the officer had seconds to respond,” Jones said.

A crowd quickly gathered and the entrance to Wal-Mart adjoining the Sears catalog store was sealed off. One man claimed the ambulance crew immediately attended to the less-wounded officer first, while leaving Stewart to die.

“I saw the man breathing,” said the man, who said he was a street-preacher, but asked not to be identified. “But the dead can’t speak for themselves. I got so angry I walked off.”

A woman, who asked not to be identified, shopping in the Wal-Mart garden center commented, “I was looking for plants and the next thing I know, the police were running for the man. The police and the man were fist-fighting and fell to the ground. Then the cop started shooting at him. When the shooting started, I was shaking, then someone grabbed me and we ran inside.”

Wale sustained cuts on his neck, forehead and mouth. He was transported by Acadian Ambulance to River Parishes General Hospital. Jones said he expected Wale to be back on the job by the end of the month. He was released from the hospital Thursday afternoon.

Meanwhile, an internal investigation will be conducted, with the results forward to 40th Judicial District Attorney John Crum’s office.

“In his eyes, was his life in immediate danger?” Jones said of Wale. “Put yourself in his place.”

Meanwhile, Stewart’s family members were not so sure of the report.

Two of his half-brothers, Dwight and Stanley Alexis spoke of their brother’s tragic end and of their own sadness.

“It’s a very horrible day for me,” Stanley Alexis commented. “He had no history of violence; he was not a violent person.”

And though he added, “I don’t think justice was done; there should have been some other means,” he affirmed, “I’m putting it all in the Lord’s hands.”

Dwight Alexis remembered a brother who was quiet and active in his school at Leon Godchaux High. After graduation, Stewart enlisted in the U.S. Army, but was in the service for less than a year, coming home with diagnosed schizophrenia.

His mother’s death in 1993 and struggling along with odd jobs didn’t help his mental state, but “he was a survivor,” according to Dwight Alexis.

The last time a St. John the Baptist Parish deputy discharged his firearm at a suspect was on the night of Jan. 26, 1996. On that occasion, a suspected armed robber, Bertrand Blake, was being pursued in LaPlace, south of West Fifth Street.

He was cornered at a fence, yanked down and grappled with officers. In the process, Blake was shot and killed, but not before he killed Deputy Barton Granier and wounded Deputy Craig Gommel.

The incident sparked a grass-roots drive to equip every deputy with bulletproof vests.