Inmate witness claims Orleans prison guard beat him up

A convicted killer, brought from his Florida prison cell to testify in New Orleans about one of the most infamous crimes in the city’s recent history, claimed in court Tuesday that while he was in Orleans Parish Prison, a guard threw him to the ground without provocation, beat and choked him. Then, he said, other jail officials refused to treat him for his bleeding wounds and dislocated knee.

Darran Reppond, who has become a central character in the saga surrounding the 1995 massacre at the Kim Anh restaurant in New Orleans East, filed a motion asking the judge hearing the case to order that he be sent back immediately to his Florida prison.

Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman, in a three-sentence statement, blamed Reppond for starting the scuffle: “There was an incident on Dec. 1 instigated by inmate Darran Reppond. An investigation was initiated at that time. Inmate Reppond was treated by OPSO medical staff and returned to his tier.”

Neither a Gusman spokesman nor his public relations firm would elaborate on the details of the incident or the status of the investigation.

Reppond has not been charged with any crime as a result of the confrontation.

Reppond claims that a former cellmate confessed that he gunned down a police officer and two young siblings at the Kim Anh restaurant in 1995. Another man, Rogers LaCaze, was convicted and sentenced to die for the crime.

Reppond was brought from a Florida prison to the city’s troubled jail on Nov. 22 to testify at a hearing on LaCaze’s behalf.

He was assigned to protective custody, as inmate witnesses often are. But the prison, out of protective-custody space, put him instead in the mental-health cellblock, according to a motion LaCaze’s attorneys with the Capital Appeals Project filed Tuesday.

At 6 p.m. Sunday, a sheriff’s deputy attacked Reppond with no provocation, LaCaze’s attorneys alleged.

“Mr. Reppond was slammed to the floor, beaten about the face, dragged face-down, choked and had his head slammed to the floor,” attorney Sarah Ottinger wrote to ad hoc Judge Michael Kirby, who is hearing the case at Criminal District Court. “To date, medical staff have not treated Mr. Reppond for the injuries he received, only giving him Band-Aids to self-administer. ...”

Ottinger wrote that as of Tuesday, Reppond appeared to still have open and bleeding wounds and a dislocated knee.

Katie Schwartzmann, an attorney whose class-action lawsuit against the Sheriff’s Office and the jail resulted in the sweeping reforms mandated by a federal consent decree, said other inmates corroborate Reppond’s story.

The consent decree orders a raft of reforms at the jail, which is notorious for rapes, escapes, beatings, stabbings and shoddy mental-health and medical treatment.

Reppond has a troubled history of his own. He is serving a 35-year sentence in Florida for slashing a man’s throat to steal his truck and his credit cards. He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in 2001, according to news accounts, and has acknowledged a long history of drug abuse and crime.

He became involved in the Kim Anh case two years later, when his cellmate allegedly began gloating about killing a police officer in New Orleans.

In 1995, rookie police Officer Antoinette Frank and a friend, LaCaze, were convicted of gunning down Frank’s partner, Officer Ronald “Ronnie” Williams II, and young siblings Cuong and Ha Vu at the restaurant during a robbery gone awry.

Both Frank and LaCaze were sentenced to die for the crime, but LaCaze has, for nearly two decades, maintained his innocence, and his case resurfaced recently.

During an eight-day hearing in June, attorneys with the Capital Appeals Project tried to prove that his conviction, obtained under former District Attorney Harry Connick, was so corrupted by withheld evidence and an incompetent defense attorney that LaCaze deserves a new trial.

Central to their case is the claim that Frank carried out the massacre with her brother, Adam, who was an initial suspect but was never charged.

Enter Reppond.

He and Adam Frank, awaiting trial on an armed robbery charge, shared a prison cell in 2003 at the South Louisiana Correctional Center in Basile. They played cards together, watched television and, for a time, hatched a plan to escape together, Reppond testified at a hearing last month.

Frank, meanwhile, regaled Reppond with stories from his time in New Orleans. He used to pretend to be a police officer, he allegedly claimed, so he could pull people over and steal their money and drugs. He also allegedly told of a massacre in a restaurant, saying an officer “shook him and his sister down over some money,” so he and his sister “ran him down and shot him in the head.”

Adam Frank had been arrested in Rayville years earlier, in 1998, when a confidential informant told police he’d been boasting about killing a New Orleans police officer. He was caught carrying a 9 mm Beretta, the same brand and caliber used in the massacre. The serial number was filed away, but police recovered a portion of the number. It matched the gun believed to have been used in the killings.

However, prosecutors scoff at Reppond’s story. Adam Frank has denied both participating in the shooting and bragging about it to Reppond. Frank stands a foot taller than LaCaze, which prosecutors point to as evidence that witnesses would not have been likely to confuse them.

But he remains central to LaCaze’s defense.

“Mr. Reppond knew he’d receive no benefit, and knew the risk that other inmates would harass him for testifying to Adam Frank’s confession. Still, he thought it was important to do the right thing,” Ottinger wrote. “But Mr. Reppond did not think the threat to his safety would come from an Orleans Parish sheriff’s officer entrusted with protecting him at OPP.”

Kirby took no action Tuesday on Reppond’s request to be sent back to Florida.