Prosecutor suspended, accused of racially insensitive comments

A veteran prosecutor for the East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney’s Office has been put on leave after being accused of making racially insensitive comments while on the job last week.

District Attorney Hillar Moore III confirmed Tuesday that he put an assistant district attorney on leave Friday but declined to name the prosecutor or detail what the comments were.

Moore also declined to say if the prosecutor was placed on leave with pay.

However, several sources — all of whom declined to be identified — said Jesse Bankston Jr. was suspended after being accused of making the comments in front of a defense attorney in a courtroom while court was not in session.

Bankston declined comment Tuesday.

In an interview, Moore said the matter came to his attention after comments allegedly made by the prosecutor were put on a social media site. He said he spoke with the prosecutor.

“It is not the practice of the District Attorney’s Office to comment on personnel matters. Appropriate action will be taken by this office following a complete investigation,” Moore added in a written statement.

Mike Mitchell, who heads the East Baton Rouge Parish Public Defenders Office, also declined Tuesday to identify the prosecutor who made the remarks July 18 in state District Judge Lou Daniel’s courtroom in the presence of one of his public defenders, whom he did not name.

Mitchell said he has discussed the matter with his employee and with Moore, but he refused to elaborate on those discussions.

“Like Hillar, I still have the matter under review,” he said. “The comments were alleged to be insensitive and inappropriate. I wasn’t there, so I don’t know exactly what was said or in what context it was said.”

“I trust that Mr. Moore is not supportive of insensitive comments made by his prosecutors,” Mitchell added.

Bankston is the brother of lawyer and former state Sen. Larry Bankston and son of the late Jesse Bankston Sr., who passed away in 2010 at 103. The elder Bankston was the longest-serving member of the Louisiana Democratic Party State Central Committee.

Jesse Bankston Jr. is the District Attorney’s Office’s section chief for Section 5 of the 19th JDC. Daniel presides over that section of the court.

“As a section chief, it ramps it up a bit,” Mitchell said of the Bankston matter. “But whether section chief or not, prosecutors have a duty not to harbor those types of attitudes.”

One of Bankston’s more high-profile prosecutions was that of Antonius Londre Jones, of Baton Rouge.

Jones was convicted in 2011 in the May 2010 shooting death of Georgia insurance agent David DeMersseman during an armed robbery at the Waffle House at 2320 S. Sherwood Forest Blvd. Jones was sentenced to life in prison.

Bankston also is prosecuting William Bouvay Jr., of Baton Rouge, who pleaded guilty in April to calling in a bomb threat that closed LSU’s main campus for more than 12 hours on Sept. 17. Bouvay is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 9.