Questions remain in FBI shooting case

Advocate staff photo by John McCusker  --  New Orleans police and other law enforcement officers including the FBI, US Marshalls and State Police are on the scene of a Motel 6 in New Orleans East Tuesday, July 30, 2013.
Advocate staff photo by John McCusker -- New Orleans police and other law enforcement officers including the FBI, US Marshalls and State Police are on the scene of a Motel 6 in New Orleans East Tuesday, July 30, 2013.

Victim reportedly avoided arrest earlier

Sometime this year, the New Orleans Police Department’s Gang Task Force pulled over Allen Desdunes in his Nissan Murano and found about four ounces of heroin in the vehicle. The four-time felon was driving alone with several thousand dollars in narcotics, according to a police report, yet apparently avoided arrest.

Just how, or even where and when the stop took place, are questions left unanswered Friday as the FBI remained mum about an agent’s fatal shooting of Desdunes on Tuesday afternoon in the parking lot of a New Orleans East motel.

The stop came to light in court documents related to the booking of a second man, Terry Lane, who was in the same Murano on Tuesday.

Desdunes, 37, was mortally wounded by an FBI agent who was part of a multi-agency task force investigating drug dealing activity.

According to a police report filed Thursday at Orleans Parish Criminal District Court, Desdunes was the target of an ongoing FBI Gang Task Force narcotics investigation before his death this week.

That investigation included the use of confidential informants, physical surveillance and “other techniques,” according to the police report.

That new information, linked with the FBI’s refusal to answer questions about the investigation into Desdunes’ death, has frustrated his family. And relatives were incredulous at the heroin claim. Desdunes’ wife, sister, sister-in-law and cousin on Friday said they had heard nothing about it before his killing.

A New Orleans police spokesman on Friday could not immediately find any documentation of the stop they reportedly conducted earlier this year.

Rain Jackson, however, says she remembers it well. Indeed, she says she called Desdunes while it was happening, and a law-enforcement official picked up his phone.

Jackson, who described Desdunes as her live-in boyfriend, said it occurred a few months ago near Franklin Avenue and Interstate 610 in Gentilly. She said Desdunes later told her he was stopped, pulled out of his car, thrown to the ground and had his pants pulled down and car searched — by police or federal agents she wasn’t certain.

“He was hurt for like a month,” said Jackson, who described Desdunes as “a sickly diabetic.”

Just what happened Tuesday remained unclear.

FBI spokeswoman Mary Beth Romig said she couldn’t discuss details of the case, and wouldn’t name the agent who killed Desdunes until after a report is turned over to the offices of Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, U.S. Attorney Dana Boente and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

A statement from the FBI said those reports were expected to be handed over early next week. The investigation is being led by the FBI’s Washington, D.C.-based inspection division, with help from the local FBI, NOPD and State Police.

“I can only confirm (Desdunes) was part of a federal investigation. I can’t define him as a subject or a target. I can’t talk about our investigative procedures relative to any specific case,” Romig said.

The report related to the shooting Tuesday that killed Desdunes was filed with arrest papers for Terry “T” Lane. Lane, 32, was arrested after the shooting and booked with distribution of heroin, according to court records.

The NOPD report says Desdunes and Lane were in the parking lot behind the Motel 6 on the south Interstate 10 Service Road, near Bullard Avenue, on Tuesday afternoon to sell heroin.

Members of the FBI, along with the NOPD’s Gang and Major Case Narcotics units, were casing the lot and saw the men inside of Desdunes’ Murano.

One man who was in a nearby Chevrolet Tahoe with a friend got out of that SUV and got into Desdunes’ vehicle. “Seconds” later, that man got out of the Murano and walked back to the Tahoe, according to the report.

Authorities followed the Tahoe to a Walgreens on Bullard Avenue to question the two men since the activity appeared to be a drug deal, according to the report.

Jonathan Vittur, 42, of Bay St. Louis, Miss., and Christopher Scarborough, 42, of Gulfport, Miss., told investigators they traveled to town to buy a half-ounce of heroin for $1,250 from Vittur’s drug dealer, whom the men identified as “Al.”

Authorities found a bag of heroin in the center console cup holder in Scarborough’s SUV, the report said.

Vittur and Desdunes set up the deal for Tuesday afternoon in the motel’s parking lot, Vittur told authorities.

Vittur and Scarborough drove to the Walgreens parking lot after the alleged deal, where detectives stopped them.

The report does not say what time the men were stopped and when Desdunes was shot, but at 2:06 p.m., New Orleans police broadcast a signal 108, a police code that often means an officer’s life is in danger. That’s the same time listed for the arrests of Lane, Vittur and Scarborough.

Desdunes’ family has said that two cars boxed in his vehicle — citing witnesses they say they talked to the day of the shooting — and agents hopped out and “ambushed” him without identifying themselves.

Danette Desdunes said her husband was not armed and posed no threat to the agents.

Asked if they thought Allen Desdunes might now be working with the authorities as a confidential informant, his relatives said no.

Instead, they said, it seems that the FBI set up Desdunes.

“It seems like this was pre-planned from the beginning,” said Erniquia Desdunes, his sister-in-law. “Who became his judge, jury and executioner?”

Jackson told a similar story, saying Desdunes had cleaned up his act after leaving federal prison in 2008. He served seven years after a jury convicted him of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

For a while he attended Delgado Community College for auto mechanic training, but dropped out, Jackson said.

Asked why a major gang unit would be after him, Jackson said she didn’t know.

“Who else was the target? Who else was the gang?” she said. “Allen didn’t hang out with nobody for the past two or three years. We rolled from sunup to sundown. I didn’t see no drug transaction. ... He was doing good.”

Jackson said she heard from a man who had seen Lane at the jail as Lane was booked. Lane told this man a story of seeing an unmarked car behind them. Desdune pulled over at the motel to check, then was bashed from behind by the following car, the man who spoke to Lane recounted, she said.

An officer or agent then ran up and broke the window, and a tussle with Desdunes ensued, according to the man’s story, Jackson said.

Whether the FBI recovered any weapons from the scene is another unanswered question.

Jackson said Desdunes would never allow anyone with a gun in the car, knowing “that’s automatic going to jail.”

In addition to the federal gun conviction, Desdunes has three prior convictions from Orleans Parish, two of them in the 1990s for possession with intent to distribute cocaine.

Under Louisiana’s habitual offender law, one more conviction could have meant life in prison.