Jones unloads on judges, D.A.
Published 12:00 am Friday, May 9, 2008
By ROBIN SHANNON
LAPLACE – A recent string of robberies and other crimes in the St. John area has Sheriff Wayne Jones fed up and looking for answers.
Jones said the escalation of crime over the past month, which includes several robberies, and a trio of shootings, can be attributed to a handful of repeat offenders who are constantly in and out of jail in the parish.
“It is the same individuals that are wreaking havoc on the area,” said Jones. “These are young kids with a long history of arrests, and I’m fed up with the whole system.”
In a news conference Tuesday, the sheriff singled out five individuals that the St. John Sheriff’s Office has been dealing with who have particularly long arrest records. He said there could be as many as 20 more in the area.
“It is ridiculous that we cannot keep these individuals off the streets,” said Jones. “I’m not pointing fingers, but I think the whole justice system needs to step up and do their jobs. We all need to be held accountable.”
While speaking to the media, Jones addressed the speed at which criminal cases are brought to trial in St. John Parish. The sheriff originally guessed there might have been 20 to 25 for all three divisions last year, but was “dumbfounded” to find out there had only been five total.
“We’re being paid to do a job, and the judges and district attorney are not getting it done. These numbers tell the whole story of where the problem is.”
District Judges Madeline Jasmine and Mary Hotard Becnel both stated they were not prepared to make a comment for this story at this time. District Judge J. Sterling Snowdy said he understands the sheriff’s frustration, but said the court system does operate sufficiently.
“Each division has 42 trial dates a year,” said Snowdy. “Not every date gets filled, but you have to look at several factors.”
Snowdy said the figures from the sheriff do not tell the whole story. He said the numbers do not include plea deals, continuances, lack of preparedness by defense attorneys, and reluctance by victims and witnesses to come forward to testify.
“It’s unfortunate, but it happens all the time,” said Snowdy. “All we can do is let them know that if they choose not to testify, that is the end of it.”
Jones also said that the district attorney’s office is not pushing hard enough to get these cases involving repeat offenders through the court system quickly. He suggested that the D.A. put together a priority list including the names of criminals with multiple arrests to get them off the streets and into a jail cell as soon as possible.
“I worked in the D.A.’s office for 10 years, and I know these guys can speed these trials up and get them to court,” said Jones. “If they don’t step up, this will only get worse. If (District Attorney) John Crum pushed harder, this situation would be a lot better.”
Crum did not return repeated phone calls for comment on this story.
Jones said he doesn’t want to point fingers, but felt the need to get his frustrations out in the open. He said he wanted to let the public know how he feels.
“I’ve got to keep my guys motivated, because they are just as frustrated as me” said Jones, referring to his deputies. “They don’t make a whole lot of money, but they put themselves out there on the line to apprehend these guys, and it kills them to see them walking the streets again. We don’t need any more excuses, we need solutions.”