By Rob Masson | WVUE | February 24, 2023
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) – A decision made by a top prosecutor within the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s office freed over a dozen people who were found illegally carrying a weapon during Mardi Gras festivities and is now facing heavy criticism.
A crime watchdog group and the DA’s office are now calling for and promising a review of all cases Assistant District Attorney Emily Maw was involved in.
Maw was brought in to head the civil rights division of the Orleans DA’s office two years ago.
The Metropolitan Crime Commission says Maw stepped in as a prosecutor in the magistrate section of Orleans Criminal District Court on Tuesday when she dropped charges against 15 people who had been arrested in a gun sweep during Carnival on the condition they turn their guns in.
Among those freed was star LSU wide receiver Malik Nabers, who was arrested around 9 p.m. on Lundi Gras, accused of carrying a firearm on Bourbon Street. He was booked into the jail around 2 a.m. Tuesday and was released later that morning without being required to post bond.
“What happened on Mardi Gras day with Emily Maw… the ADA presiding over magistrate court… that never happened in any of the sections (of court) during Mardi Gras before Mardi Gras day,” Rafael Goyeneche with the MCC says.
The charges were dropped before police reports were turned in, New Orleans Police Interim Superintendent Michelle Woodfork says.
This comes after the City of New Orleans spent more than $1 million to bring in dozens of outside officers to enforce laws such as the prohibiting of carrying weapons within 1,000 feet of a parade route. Woodfork says officers seized nearly 250 firearms during Carnival.
“You don’t see a prosecutor doing things like this,” Goyeneche says. “I think it’s entirely appropriate to go back and look at what’s happening in the civil rights division to determine if she’s following proper procedure and using good judgment because she didn’t use it on Mardi Gras day.”
In a statement, Orleans DA Jason Williams called Maw’s decision “improper” and has ordered an “extensive” internal review.
“Taking guns off the street through aggressive enforcement and prosecution under existing gun laws is a top priority of our office. Prior to Mardi Gras, the DA met with our law enforcement partners at LSP and NOPD to reaffirm our joint support for this work.
The DA’s Office is committed to a thorough screening process for each charge delivered from law enforcement, the Assistant DA assigned to the initial review of these cases during first appearances deviated from our standard practice. We communicated this to our law enforcement partners and reaffirmed our shared commitment to the importance of prosecuting gun crimes to abate violence in our streets.
The Assistant DA’s strategic decision to refuse these misdemeanors in exchange for forfeiture of the weapons at first appearance was improper and does not represent our office policy or procedure. DA Williams has ordered an extensive internal review of each matter brought before magistrate court on this date, as well as appropriate remedial measures to prevent similar unauthorized activity in the future. This instance will otherwise be handled as an internal personnel matter.
DA Williams remains resolute in his commitment to seek justice for the people of this city and extends his sincere gratitude to all the men and women in law enforcement, locally and from afar, who worked tirelessly this past week, risking their own safety, to ensure a swift response to potential threats this Mardi Gras season.”
The Police Association of New Orleans (PANO) says lax enforcement of gun laws could contribute to more concealed weapons being brought to big events in the future.
“I certainly can see where the average person would reconsider whether to carry a weapon if they know nothing will happen to them,” says Eric Hessler with PANO.
Legal analyst Joe Raspanti says refusing charges without a police report even being written is “extremely unusual.”
Charges against the more than 200 others arrested for weapons violations are pending.
Maw also dropped charges for three individuals arrested for sexual battery, criminal trespass, and unlawful machine guns. Raspanti says it’s demoralizing for NOPD officers and those who were brought in from outside jurisdictions.
“It says to the officers we don’t care about the work you do,” Raspanti says. “We are going to do what we want to do when it comes to getting guns out of the Quarter.”
The DA’s office says they may still screen the cases for possible prosecution but Goyeneche says there could be issues since deals were already struck.
“That’s going to be a problem for the DA’s office because there was a give-and-take in exchange and that’s another headache the DA’s office will have to deal with,” Goyeneche says.