Priority One: Building Safer Communities
By U.S. Attorney David C. Joseph
It has now been a year since I was appointed by the President to serve as the United States Attorney for the Western District of Louisiana, a district encompassing 42 of Louisiana’s 64 parishes. On that day, I made a commitment to use the tools at my disposal to combat the violent crime epidemic that has long plagued our state; aggressively prosecute public corruption; combat opioid addiction and fatalities; enforce existing immigration laws against criminal aliens; and hold accountable those individuals and companies who damage our environment, thereby endangering our health and quality of life. By prioritizing prosecutorial resources and building meaningful and lasting relationships with our many dedicated local, state, and federal law enforcement partners, I am pleased to report that – though much work remains – we are making progress.
Our number one priority remains eradicating violent crime through the Project Safe Neighborhoods (“PSN”) initiative, which targets felons with firearms and those involved in criminal enterprises who use firearms to intimidate, threaten, and kill those living in the neighborhoods where they operate. Since the implementation of this initiative, we have more than tripled the number of firearm and violent crime cases prosecuted by my office.
And the results have been remarkable. With few exceptions, violent crime rates have dropped throughout the district. In Monroe, homicides declined 54 percent in 2018 compared to 2017, and violent crime as a whole dropped by 24 percent. Likewise, Lafayette saw a 62 percent decline in its homicide rate, while Shreveport saw its violent crime rate drop 14 percent. To put it in human terms: last year there were 257 fewer victims of violent crime in Shreveport, 261 fewer in Monroe, and 42 fewer in Lafayette. Each of these numbers represent a man, woman, or child who has been spared death, injury, or life-long trauma by our collaborative effort to target those perpetrating violence. Available data indicates that 2019 will bear out even further reduction in violent crime in Shreveport, Monroe, and Lafayette, and further expansion of the PSN initiative into Lake Charles and Alexandria.
Aggressive prosecution of street gangs also remains a core component of our strategy. Late last year, prosecutors from my office convicted the core members of the “Block Boyz”, a notorious street gang that long terrorized Shreveport’s Queensborough neighborhood with firearm violence, armed robberies, drug peddling, and witness intimidation. The members of this gang are now in federal prison and the Queensborough neighborhood is free from their menace.
Make no mistake: violent crime and gang cases are difficult and often involve personal risk to the law enforcement officers who confront these violent criminals. But the stakes of shying from our responsibility are higher. Doing nothing means that we allow our neighborhoods to be ruled by street gangs, with children afraid to play in their front yards and elderly residents afraid to answer their front doors. The Constitution mandates that my duty as U.S. Attorney is to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” Lawlessness will not stand under my watch. We will not allow a culture of violence to deprive honest, hardworking Louisianans of the freedoms and opportunities we cherish as Americans.
We are also making progress on other priorities. We continue to identify and prosecute public officials who abuse our trust or use public office as a way to illegally line their own pockets. In recent weeks, we convicted at trial Patrick Hale Dejean, a Jefferson Parish Justice of the Peace who stole hard-earned wages from vulnerable citizens appearing in his court, and former prison warden Nathan Burl Cain II, who used his position as Warden to embezzle taxpayer money. Currently under indictment are Caddo Parish Commissioner Lynn D. Cawthorne who is accused of defrauding taxpayers out of more than $500,000.
In the past year, we have also dramatically increased our efforts to enforce this country’s immigration laws – particularly against violent criminal aliens, including the capture and prosecution of ICE’s “Most Wanted” fugitive, who was here illegally after having been convicted and subsequently deported for indecent liberties with a child.
In the fight against opioids, we recently convicted two drug traffickers who were carrying enough of the synthetic opioid – fentanyl – to kill every man, woman, and child in the state of Louisiana, and we have federally charged a Monroe man with intentionally selling fentanyl-laced heroin responsible for at least one person’s death. He faces up to life in prison. We also continue to investigate and prosecute doctors, pharmacists, and other medical professionals who operate so-called “pill mills,” which fuel addiction and, ultimately, cause death.
Finally, we continue to defend the state’s environmental treasures from those who would illegally exploit or damage them. In a recent case, we convicted the owners and managers of a defense contracting company for their roles in defrauding the government and turning Camp Minden, Louisiana, into the largest illegal dumping ground for military explosives and munitions in the history of our country – resulting in a tremendous explosion that endangered countless lives.
Obviously, my office does not act alone in its mission. Without exception, the sheriffs, police chiefs, and district attorneys throughout the Western District have provided vital and enthusiastic support to our efforts. It is through coming together to uphold the Rule of Law that we can continue to “secure the blessings of liberty” for our citizens.
David C. Joseph is the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Louisiana, an area that encompasses two-thirds of the State of Louisiana, including the cities of Shreveport, Lafayette, Lake Charles, Monroe and Alexandria. Joseph serves as the chief federal law enforcement officer in his district and oversees the investigation and litigation of all criminal and civil cases brought on behalf of the United States. For more information visit, www.justice.gov/usao-wdla and @USAO_WDLA on Twitter.