Ascension sheriff targeting gang activity in Donaldsonville area

The Ascension Parish sheriff promised to crackdown on juvenile curfew violations in light of a recent increase in gang activity in west Ascension Parish.

Beginning Monday, Sheriff Jeff Wiley said, juveniles found on the streets after curfew will be picked up and detained at City Hall, where their parents will be contacted. Offenders’ parents, meanwhile, will be held responsible for their children’s activity.

“We’ll have someone wait and sit with (the juveniles) until their parents come,” Wiley said. “If we wait much longer than an hour, we’ll arrest the parents.”

According to city ordinance, children under 17 years of age are not allowed to be on the streets between the hours of 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.

Wiley shared his concerns with a recent uptick in crime on the parish’s west bank at last week’s Donaldsonville City Council meeting, promising that his office would increase patrols to help deter some of the crime. Although Donaldsonville is an incorporated municipality, it contracts with the Sheriff’s Office to provide law enforcement services.

“Frankly, it’s been a rough spring and summer in the city of Donaldsonville and in west Ascension,” the sheriff said. “That’s not to suggest that we don’t have our plate full across the river. But, statistically, I could make a strong argument that we have issues here with pockets of the community that are clearly lawless.”

Since March, Wiley said, his office has tallied 186 crimes against people, including simple battery, simple assault, armed robberies and murder. Wiley told the council those statistics reflect a dangerous trend that must be curtailed, and that enhanced law enforcement measures will hopefully be the answer.

“When you take a small community such as this, and you look at the statistical data, it does cry out for some special attention,” he said.

Some of the recent criminal activity on the west bank appears to be gang activity, Wiley said. The July 19 shooting death of 19-year-old Brisecon Jasmin is one of those instances, he said, along with other signs such as uniforms and tattoos, that show a clear increase in gang activity.

“It’s evident that territorial groups — you can call them gangs — have become part of this community,” Wiley said.

Evidence also shows that the Donaldsonville-based gangs have apparent conflicts with groups in neighboring areas, the sheriff said.

“We have groups here that can’t get along with the St. James groups or with the White Castle groups or the Gonzales groups, all of whom have guns and about all of whom I can tell you stories of violent crimes that have occurred because of their encounters,” Wiley said.

Chief Criminal Deputy Tony Bacala said Sheriff’s Office investigators have been working for months to counteract some of the increase criminal activity in Donaldsonville.

“We’ve made dozens and dozens of drug arrests in the past year, and we’re going to do more,” he said. “We’re going to take the low-hanging fruit, which is the street-level drug dealers, and we’re going to try to manifest that into the middle levels. But we’re going to take on the street-level drug dealers and move them down the bayou, across the river or back into their own homes.”

Wiley said the contract between the Sheriff’s Office and the city pays for 16 officers working five officers per shift. However, he’s committed to providing more because of the danger being posed to the community.

“You’re going to get way more than that,” he said. “We’re going to put our money where our mouth is.”

Mayor Leroy Sullivan Sr. said he and the council welcome the sheriff’s heightened activity in the community, pledging that city officials will offer whatever assistance possible.

“While we may never rid our community of all of these activities, if we work together, we can have it to a minimum where everyone can live peacefully and safely in this community and not be afraid to walk the streets or go in certain areas,” Sullivan said.

“We need to do something, because it’s getting pretty bad,” Councilman Lauthaught Delaney Sr. said. “We want our kids to grow up and feel comfortable. We’ve been holding events such as these ‘stop the violence’ marches, but we still have a problem. I really think that it’s high time we step up.”