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Trial in officer-involved killing of Black Houma teen is set

5th March 2018   ·   0 Comments

A trial is set for April 9 in a civil suit against the Terrebonne Parish sheriff and two deputies accused of violating the constitutional rights of a Black teenager who was shot and killed by a deputy in 2014, Houma Today recently reported.

Terrebonne Parish Sheriff’s Deputy Preston Norman fatally shot 14-year-old Cameron Tillman about 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 23, 2014, at an abandoned house in the Village East neighborhood near Houma, La.

On March 26, 2015, a grand jury declined to indict Norman, who said in a Louisiana State Police investigative report on the incident that Tillman had pointed a pistol-like BB gun at him.

The teenager’s parents, Wyteika Tillman and Morrell Turner, filed a lawsuit Sept. 21, 2015, in U.S. District Court in New Orleans. It names as defendants Terrebonne Parish Sheriff Jerry Larpenter, Norman and Deputy Andrew Lewis, who also entered the house.

Lead attorney Carol Powell Lexing, of Monroe, said the suit for damages is an effort by the Houma families involved to secure justice after the grand jury decision.

“They want them to be held accountable, because they don’t want other people to experience what they’ve experienced — for the community or anyone else to avoid having to go through the heartache and pain they’ve experienced in the death of Cameron,” Lexing told The Advocate in a 2015 interview.

In the wake of the shooting, community members and school officials demanded justice, describing Tillman as a model student and a budding athlete with a bright future.

Neighbors who gathered at the scene of the 2014 shooting told CBS News that there was ongoing tension between police and some residents.

“As a citizen, I am outraged,” said neighbor Felisha Williams. “I believe that they could have apprehended the child without killing the child. That is my belief. I think that they have been through extensive training that they can go and get him without killing.”

Houma Today reported recently that the lawsuit alleges that the Terrebonne Parish Sheriff’s Office violated the Fourth, Fifth, Eighth and 14th amendment rights of Tillman and other teens in the house. The Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable searches and seizures; the Fifth and 14th allow for due process; and the Eighth prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.

According to the lawsuit, Tillman was “nonviolent” and “posed no threat” before he was fatally shot. He, his brother and four friends were sitting around a table in the abandoned home, which they used as a clubhouse, talking and listening to music, according to the Louisiana State Police report.

After a series of delays and postponements, U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo set the trial for April 9. A pretrial conference is scheduled for 2 p.m. March 14.

The Terrebonne Parish Sheriff’s Office is being represented by Houma attorney Bill Dodd and New Orleans attorneys Gustave A. Fritchie III and Richard Edward McCormack.

“The case is set for April and we’re going forward with it,” Dodd told Houma Today Monday in a phone interview. “It will be tried in New Orleans in front of a federal judge and a jury. We were ready to go to trial last time, but the court continued it because it had a scheduling conflict with a criminal case.”

Tillman’s brother, Andre Tillman, is also listed as a plaintiff, along with Yolanda Tillman, Tamika Payne, Shonell Thomas and Brenekie Thomas, whose four minor children were in the home at the time of the shooting.

Attorneys Carol Powell Lexing, of Monroe; Benjamin Crump, of Tallahassee, Fla.; and John Wayne Milton, of Lafayette, represent the plaintiffs.

Lexing declined to comment Monday.

The plaintiffs accuse Norman of failing to announce himself as he knocked three times on the door under the carport. They say the BB gun was on the table and Tillman opened the door empty-handed.

The deputies shouted profanity at the other teenagers and ordered them not to move as Tillman died after being shot four times in the torso and abdomen, the lawsuit alleges. The lawsuit also claims the deputies held the other teens at gunpoint and placed them on their stomachs outside before keeping them at the Sheriff’s Office for several hours.

The plaintiffs allege “deliberate indifference, gross negligence and reckless disregard to the safety, security and constitutional statutory rights” of the teenagers and “excessive force (and) violence.” They accuse Larpenter of failing to properly train, supervise or discipline the two deputies.

In court papers, the Terrebonne Parish Sheriff’s Office contends the deputies’ actions were done in “good faith and with probable cause, without malice and under laws believed to be constitutional.”

“The actions of defendant Preston Norman in the discharge of his weapon were legally justified based upon reasonable suspicion and probable cause and his belief that his life was in great danger as well as the life of his fellow officers, as well as the general public as this incident took place in a subdivision which was and is highly populated, and the call to which he and fellow officer, Andrew Lewis, were responding to, made mention of individuals with weapons,” the Sheriff’s Office said in its written response to the lawsuit.

CBS News reported in 2014 that Deputy Norman is an African-American officer who at the time had been employed by the Terrebonne Parish Sheriff’s Office patrol division for seven years, a field training officer and a member of the TPSO SWAT team.

Norman remains with the Sheriff’s Office, but Lewis has since transferred to the St. James Parish Sheriff’s Office, Dodd said.

“He left us on good terms and moved to St. James to be closer to his family,” Dodd said.

The plaintiffs are seeking unspecified damages, including for psychological harm, mental pain and suffering and funeral and burial expenses.

The Rev. Raymond Brown, a New Orleans-based community activist and president of National Action Now, said last week that the Tillman shooting was one of several incidents that underscore the need for a U.S. Department of Justice probe of Louisiana State Police investigations of officer-involved killings across the state.

“It certainly raises red flags,” Brown told The Louisiana Weekly. “Given the problems we’re witnessed over the past few years at the LSP and its leadership crisis there, we can’t simply take for granted that the state’s top law enforcement agency is carrying out its sworn duty to ensure that local sheriff’s offices and police departments practice constitutional policing and respect the constitutional rights of all of the state’s residents regardless of age, race or income.”

This article originally published in the March 5, 2018 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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