Man charged as accessory in officer’s death
John Chambers, the last of six suspects who was still at large in the fatal hit-and-run accident that killed New Orleans police Office Rodney Thomas, surrendered to police Friday afternoon.
Chambers, 28, was one of three new people to be charged Thursday in the case, which now outlines a broader conspiracy to hide the damage to the Porsche that ran Thomas down after he stopped on the side of Interstate 10 last month.
The two other additional suspects, James Ratliff, 38, and Nephateria Jones, 27, were taken into custody on Thursday.
A state grand jury on Thursday charged Chambers, who turned himself in at Central Lockup, with accessory after the fact to manslaughter, obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruction of justice and conspiracy to act as an accessory after the fact to manslaughter. His bond was set at $800,000.
Justin McKey, 25; Kenneth Halley, 28; and Bill Cager, 34, who had been arrested shortly after the July 7 wreck, were re-booked this week. All three face much higher bonds than they did initially.
Police have not specified what roles Chambers, Ratliff and Jones allegedly played in the crime. Their charges relate only to the alleged cover-up that followed the accident; all three face charges of obstruction of justice and conspiring to obstruct justice. Jones and Chambers also face charges of accessory after the fact to manslaughter and conspiracy to act as an accessory after the fact to manslaughter.
When the grand jury handed up its indictments, McKey and Halley were both charged with manslaughter, while Halley also faces charges of obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice and conspiracy to act as an accessory after the fact to manslaughter.
Halley was initially booked only with obstruction of justice and accessory after the fact to manslaughter.
McKey surrendered to police a day after the wreck, saying he was the driver of the white Porsche Panamera that struck Thomas as he got out of his truck to check on damage to another car on the Interstate 10 high-rise over the Industrial Canal.
Halley, who was supposedly a passenger in the Porsche, allegedly drove the vehicle to a friend’s house after hitting Thomas. From there, he and at least one companion drove the Porsche to an auto body shop in the 2600 block of Gravier Street, in the shadow of police headquarters. Cager, who owns the body shop on Gravier, met them there, and they tried to clean up the car to hide evidence of the wreck, according to police, who have said video surveillance tapes at the shop confirmed their account.
Christopher Bowman, a spokesman for the Orleans Parish district attorney’s office, declined Friday to comment on the case and change in Halley’s charges since it remains open and under investigation. Police have not released any new information about the incident and have declined to discuss details, also citing the ongoing investigation.
Some observers have theorized that Halley was actually driving the car at the time of the wreck, because he was driving it near the Superdome a couple of hours earlier and also drove it to the body shop. But the fact that both he and McKey are charged with manslaughter does not necessarily mean authorities aren’t sure who was driving. State law does allow for a person to be charged with manslaughter if he is not directly responsible for a person’s death.
“It’s not uncommon to charge as a principal someone other than the person who actually committed all elements of the crime,” said Loyola University law professor Dane Ciolino. “The theory must be that somehow the passenger aided and abetted the driver in the killing.”
Staff writer Chad Calder
contributed to this report.