Activist claims St. Tammany resisting arrest prosecution is problematic

With Shane Gates’ Aug. 12 trial for resisting arrest quickly approaching, a north shore activist group has seized upon Gates’ case as an example of what they say are widespread problems in the 22nd Judicial District.

A jury acquitted Gates in July 2012 of a charge of aggravated flight from an officer in connection with a November 2006 traffic stop.

He is due to go to trial again for other alleged crimes committed during the same 7-year-old traffic stop.

This time, he’ll be tried for misdemeanor resisting arrest and driving while intoxicated.

Belinda Parker Brown, the president of Louisiana United International, said Thursday that Gates is the victim of an overzealous desire by District Attorney Walter Reed to maintain high conviction rates.

Brown made her comments at a Thursday morning news conference, during which her organization handed out three-ring binders filled with transcripts and documents related to the Gates case.

Gates was stopped Nov. 16, 2006, and booked on charges of resisting an officer, having an open container in his car, reckless driving, driving while intoxicated and aggravated obstruction of highway commerce.

During the stop, Gates claims he was beaten while handcuffed, allegations he repeats in a federal civil suit he filed against St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Jack Strain and Reed, among others.

The beating was severe enough to require three corrective surgeries, the lawsuit contends.

In the federal lawsuit, Gates’ attorneys have alleged the latest prosecution is an attempt to shield the sheriff and the district attorney from liability in the civil case, which has been stayed pending the outcome of Gates’ trial on resisting arrest.

In October, U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval, who is handling the civil case, rejected an argument by Gates’ attorneys that it was improper for him to stand trial for the second time in the same case.

In an order keeping the civil lawsuit closed until the pending criminal case is completed, the judge said the “elements” of resisting an officer are different than those for aggravated flight from an officer.

A jury or judge must decide whether there is evidence to support the resisting arrest case, he wrote.

Brown said a new federal lawsuit would be filed, containing “new accusations.” She refused to say what they were.

“Families are destroyed because of this kind of injustice,” she said during the news conference, held at the offices of Terry King, who with his wife has waged a campaign to expose questionable spending practices at the St. Tammany Parish Coroner’s Office.

“People are being railroaded in our system.”

Gates, who is accused of driving while intoxicated, allegedly registered a blood-alcohol content of 0.28 in a test administered at a Lacombe hospital after he was arrested.

That’s more than three times the level at which a driver is presumed intoxicated under Louisiana law.

Brown alleged the sample had no chain of custody information and Gates never gave permission for a blood sample to be taken in the first place.

In addition, less than half an hour before he was pulled over, Gates had been at a Slidell car dealership purchasing a car, Brown said.

Assuming he was sober when he purchased the car, Brown questioned how his blood-alcohol level could have gotten so high in such a short amount of time.

An adult man of typical size would have to consume roughly 10 drinks in an hour to register a blood-alcohol level of 0.28.

Brown also accused sheriff’s deputies of altering dispatch recordings and taking Gates to Hattiesburg, Miss., for treatment so the injuries he sustained during the arrest would not be reported to another Louisiana law enforcement agency.

She also accused Strain of intimidating witnesses and jury members by appearing personally in court during Gates’ first trial, when he was acquitted.

George Bonnett, a spokesman for Strain, called the accusations ridiculous.

“Mr. Gates and his supporters have a long history of making outlandish public accusations just days prior to him being scheduled for trial,” he said in a written statement.

A spokesman for Reed declined to comment on the case because it is still pending.

Gates is scheduled to be in court Aug. 12 in District Judge Richard Swartz’s court.

Because the charges are misdemeanors, the district attorney has the option of trying the case in front of a judge instead of a jury.