In criminal cases, as in politics, optics can often mean everything. As we’ve seen in the protests that have shaken the country in recent months in Ferguson and elsewhere, taking control of the narrative is often as important as the marshaling of facts. And sometimes, no matter what those facts are, the arc of public sentiment may swing too far beyond one’s grasp to reign it back in.
We can only speculate whether or not our citizenry’s current precarious pas de deux with law enforcement agencies played a role in the January 19th indictment by a Ouachita Parish grand jury of Jody LeDoux, a West Monroe, Louisiana police officer. It certainly can’t have helped that the crime LeDoux stands accused of—negligent homicide in the shooting death of Raymond Keith Martinez—happened on December 4th.
Just one day earlier, a New York City grand jury had failed to bring an indictment against Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who infamously strangled Eric Garner to death in a video seen around the world. Perhaps, one might safely posit, this was one case of police violence too many.
Unlike in Staten Island, the details of Martinez’s death have been kept tightly under wraps. According to news reports, West Monroe police arrived at a convenience store around 7 p.m. on Thursday evening, after employees called to complain about Martinez loitering outside. Martinez was well known to many in the area, and the local newspaper recently featured an item about him drunkenly directing traffic.
Surveillance tapes of what transpired on the night of his death do exist, were reviewed by the Ouachita Parish Sheriff’s Office, and handed over as evidence to the grand jury, who returned with an indictment after only a few hours. That timing doesn’t sound good for LeDoux.
“They unloaded the gun on him,” a woman who knew Martinez and lived nearby told the Monroe New Star.
Neither does that.
LeDoux’s supporters believe this is all a matter of optics and bad timing. They’ve created a fundraising page in support of LeDoux, who remains on paid administrative leave at press time.
“Unfortunately due to our current country’s climate towards police Jody has fell victim to an indictment that has no real substance,” their appeal reads.
“While he is being paid his base salary, Jody is not allowed to work off duty details or receive any overtime. As many of you know police officers do not make much money and many depend on these off duty details to pay bills and take care of their family. WE BELIEVE JODY‘S FAMILY SHOULD NOT HAVE TO SUFFER ANY MORE THAN THEY ALREADY ARE DUE TO THIS OUTRAGOUS INDICTMENT.”
That page has raised less than $500 so far, a far cry from the almost half million raised by supporters of Darren Wilson. Perhaps shooting a man just isn’t as good for business as it used to be.
Other efforts to raise money for the LeDoux family seem to be going somewhat better. A Facebook page “I support Jody LeDoux” talks of some $2000 raised through the sale of t-shirts, and its members have been brainstorming other ideas, like a car wash staffed by police, or a bake sale. Many of his fellow officers have made shows of solidarity with LeDoux, including attending his indictment hearing. we’ve all become overly familiar with the optics of the blue wall of late. A little too familiar.
Then there’s one of the more promising efforts concocted in support of LeDoux, a $5 raffle ticket for a drawing at Tool Town in West Monroe gives the holder a chance to win a top prize that makes a lot of sense: a Beretta ARX160 Tactical 22LR Rifle.
If you can find a better metaphor for the last year in American politics than a prize drawing for a machine gun to raise money to support a police officer who killed a citizen, you’ve got a pretty good career in speculative fiction ahead of you.
It just doesn’t look good, and for those of us—mercifully—on the outside of these sorts of stories, that’s all we really have to go with. Appearances are everything when it comes to police encounters with citizens, and grand juries’ decisions to indict—especially perhaps, in the latter. Boyd and Martinez, unlike Garner and Mike Brown, incidentally, happened to be white.
Did that have anything to do with the decision to bring charges against their killers? Hard to say, but it doesn’t look good.
And yet, of course, we don’t truly know as yet what happened. In cases like this, even when we do know, we can’t seem to agree on what we’ve seen. Were the members of that grand jury considering that two members of the Albuquerque Police Department were charged with murder of James Boyd, a homeless man camping outside of the city who was shot and killed on camera? They were charged just days before.
Also not working in LeDoux’s favor? He is currently the subject of a civil suit brought against himself, a fellow officer, and the department earlier this year. A man, who they had detained over a suspected theft, Donald W. Harger, claimed in the filing that LeDoux pushed him, told him to get on his knees, and said “I’m going to light you up.”
Is it becoming harder—if incrementally—for police to get away with murder these days? Although the data doesn’t exist to look at the percentage of indictments brought against police, it is exceptionally rare that a police officer is indicted for murder—especially when compared against the percentage of grand juries that find against civilians.
West Monroe is the county in which Duck Dynasty tapes, of all places. If you can’t shoot someone there, where can you? Of course maybe that’s just the optics of a fabricated reality playing tricks with my judgment.