Addis police drawing fire for handling of death investigation

The Addis police department is coming under criticism for its handling of an investigation into a 59-year-old woman’s death.

An autopsy report listed Sandra Rinaudo’s death on Aug. 9, 2013, from “multiple traumatic injuries” as a homicide. But a grand jury indicted no one, which prosecutors say was due to a lack of evidence developed by investigators.

Assistant District Attorney Tony Clayton said Tuesday he agreed with the grand jury’s decision, and that the Addis Police Department could be partly to blame because it lacks the proper training to investigate homicides.

“I have a serious problem with small municipalities like Addis conducting homicide investigations,” Clayton said. “I wish the legislature would make it mandatory they request the help of the Sheriff’s Office on homicides. Most times we’re invited to a homicide scene. (Addis) didn’t invite me to the scene.”

Addis Police Chief Ricky Anderson on Tuesday defended his handling of the Rinaudo case. He said he won’t be releasing any information related to the case, however, because “it’s not a closed investigation, per se.”

Anderson’s defense came a day after an investigative report Monday on WBRZ-TV first raised questions about how the investigation has been handled.

Rinaudo suffered multiple blunt force injuries that fractured some of her ribs, split her pancreas in half and broke her nose, according to the autopsy report.

Dr. Michael Cramer, a pathologist who conducted the autopsy, ruled Rinaudo’s death a homicide.

She was discovered unresponsive by her husband, Eddie Rinaudo, who called 911 from their home, located in the 4000 block of Foret Street in Addis.

Clayton said he presented the case to the grand jury last year with Rinaudo’s husband considered a “person of interest,” along with opposing theories that the woman’s death could have been an accident because her blood-alcohol level was four times over the state’s .08 percent legal limit when she died.

The autopsy report list Rinaudo’s blood-alcohol level at approximately .371 percent.

“There was a theory that she had fallen down the stairs,” Clayton said.

He said he couldn’t disagree with the grand jury’s determination that there was not sufficient evidence presented to jurors to warrant an indictment.

Rinaudo’s daughter Ragean Bellelo told a WBRZ reporter she was shocked when she reviewed her mother’s case file because Addis police conducted their investigation with her father still present inside the house.

Ragean Bellelo did not return calls from The Advocate on Tuesday seeking further comment on her mother’s death, and a phone listing for Eddie Rinaudo on Foret Street was disconnected.

“During the investigation, the detectives were having him hold the tape measure on different objects, she could have fallen on,” Ragean Bellelo said in the WBRZ report on Monday. “I saw the pictures.”

Bellelo also told WBRZ the family had concerns about how the District Attorney’s Office for the 18th Judicial District handled the case after presenting it to a West Baton Rouge Parish grand jury on Nov. 14, 2013.

The WBRZ report noted prosecutors did not invite Dr. Cramer, who examined Rinaudo’s body, to testify during the grand jury proceedings. The District Attorney’s Office instead used a third-party forensic pathologist to interpret Dr. Cramer’s autopsy report, the news report said.

Clayton said his office has had problems in the past getting Cramer to show up in court and to testify and that not having him appear before the grand jury didn’t pose a problem.

“I took Cramer’s report and had Dr. (Alfredo) Suarez interpret it,” Clayton said. “He didn’t add or subtract anything. He’s an expert. And these are experts we invite to come in and look at reports and give me opinions.”

Col. Richie Johnson, a spokesman for the West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office and interim police chief for the town of Brusly, defended the way the Addis police department handled the investigation.

Johnson said he spoke with the Addis investigator who was in charge of the investigation and he’s convinced the department properly investigated the incident.

“We just found out the validity of the investigation was being questioned by the media,” Johnson said Tuesday.

Johnson added, “Just because the media reported it doesn’t make it fact. We have not been requested by anyone to look into it further. If we were requested to investigate this matter, we would have a hell of a time since all this information has been released that shouldn’t have been released.”

Johnson said Tuesday that he is personally offering a $5,000 reward for anyone who brings forward new information that leads to the arrest and conviction of a suspect.

Anderson said he’ll do the same.

“This family means enough to me; I’d like to see this solved,” Anderson said late Tuesday. “If someone can come forward and prove this is a homicide, I’m willing to offer up my personal money.”

Clayton said, from the DA Office’s perspective, Rinaudo’s case is not closed.

“Bring me some evidence and I’ll bring it back before the grand jury tomorrow,” Clayton said. “But I’m not going to indict someone with no evidence.”