A month later, Pellerin family’s statement on body cam viewing offers window into likely lawsuit

Image courtesy The Acadiana Advocate
Attorney Dedrick Moore (left) with Michelle Pellerin and Cedrick Pellerin, parents of Trayford Pellerin, outside of the Lafayette Parish Courthouse Sept. 15. At right is another family attorney, Chase Trichell.

Editor’s Note: Trayford Pellerin’s killing by police gunfire has caused intense grief and anger in our community. We have worked diligently to publish only information that provides clarity. This story is based on a statement released to The Current on Sept. 21, following a brief interview with Chase Trichell, a lawyer for Trayford Pellerin’s family.

Shortly after issuing the statement, Trichell and his co-counsel Ronald Haley asked to pull it back, citing what they characterized as a possible, but unintended, violation of legal ethics surrounding trial publicity. Instead, they offered an interview, which we viewed as an opportunity to interrogate the contents of the statement.

Over the course of the next few weeks, after a number of communications via phone, text and email, we were unable to have that interview. Now, a month later, we are publishing the statement because the details advance some understanding of the circumstances of Trayford Pellerin’s death and of the likely basis of any civil litigation brought against the police department. These are both matters of great public interest.

Three members of Trayford Pellerin’s family and their lawyers sat down at an undisclosed location Sept. 18 to view officer-worn body cam footage that documented the 31-year-old’s fatal encounter with Lafayette police the evening of Aug. 21. Hedging that they saw video from only one officer, the Pellerins’ attorneys said in a previously unpublished statement it nonetheless shows “crystal clear” evidence Pellerin posed no threat to officers and should not have been shot. The statement and comments by the Pellerins’ legal team offer deeper detail into what the body-worn camera footage revealed. 

Civil action is likely the next step. Attorney Chase Trichell, who practices civil litigation, told The Current he feels like the remaining questions will only be answered through discovery. “For us to get any answers, we’re probably going to have to file a wrongful death suit,” he said in a Sept. 21 interview.

Family saw and heard approximately 20 minutes of pixelated body cam footage from the first officer to respond. Trichell said the family saw complete footage from the camera worn by an officer “who got there in the very beginning,” at the first Circle K gas station on Evangeline Thruway. “We saw the entire sequence,” he said.

“Regarding the footage of Trayford’s homicide, it is important to note that the Pellerins saw only one video of about 40 such videos [between the dashcams and bodycams of many responding officers],” the team of lawyers wrote in a Sept. 21 statement released to The Current on behalf of the family (see the editor’s note above for an explanation of the delay in reporting this story). “The provided video did not belong to one of the three officers who shot Trayford, but the shooting itself is completely visible.” 

The family also was able to listen to a 911 call from the Circle K, where police responded to a disturbance with a knife call, Trichell told The Current. “There’s a 911 call; we heard the audio,” he said.

Family’s legal team asserts Pellerin did not have a knife in his hand when the first officer arrived at the scene. “In response to the first officer on scene, Trayford put his hands in the air, exposed his empty palms, and revealed nothing in either hand,” the lawyers’ statement noted. 

Officers’ attorneys opposed release of body-cam footage, calling it “piecemeal” dissemination. “As we stated in our motion for protective order, the piecemeal dissemination of evidence in ongoing investigations is never prudent,” attorneys Allyson Prejean, Brett Grayson and Jordan Precht, who represent the three officers placed on administrative leave, wrote in a statement released today. “Unfortunately, what we are seeing is the result we expected — sound bites for attorneys which are not based in fact. It’s not the first time — and almost certainly won’t be the last time — that a national conversation is driven by one-sided monologues.”

In granting the late September viewing, Mayor-President Josh Guillory kept his promise to the family, even fighting in court to overcome the objections of the three unnamed officers. In court a week earlier, Assistant City-Parish Attorney Steve Oats, representing Guillory, said that work had already begun to conceal any information that would identify the three officers, providing a level of privacy officers aimed to protect. 

Oats did not respond to a request for comment.

“Out of respect for the family, all parties involved, and the investigation, we will not be commenting further,” Guillory’s spokesman, Jamie Angelle, told The Current in an emailed response.

The Aug. 21 police shooting death of Trayford Pellerin sparked weeks of protests. Photo by Travis Gauthier

The viewing was “painful” but “therapeutic,” Trichell said. “It’s gut-wrenching. Everyone in the room is crying,” the lawyer recalled. “It was a very, very powerful moment.” Trichell declined to say which Pellerin family members sat for the viewing.  

Trichell said he’s “actually pretty pleased” with how the city coordinated the presentation of evidence. “We weren’t allowed to film it or record it,” he noted. “No cell phones [were allowed].”

In the September phone interview, Trichell would not address if the footage provided clarity on whether Pellerin was tased at any point during the encounter or if he had a knife in his hand when police fired a barrage of bullets as he attempted to enter a second gas station about a half mile from the initial scene on Evangeline Thruway. An independent autopsy paid for by the family showed no evidence of taser marks on Pellerin’s body, and the lawyers said in the statement that the viewing reveals one officer acknowledging his taser failed to deploy. 

The family’s lawyers maintain the shooting was not warranted. “Trayford should be alive today,” they wrote. After hearing and viewing the limited evidence, the lawyers outline the following claims in their statement — “facts” they say are “crystal clear.” The following is verbatim from the statement (which can be viewed in its entirety here):

  • No actual crime was articulated to police or witnessed by police
  • Trayford never once ran from police or made a single threatening gesture to any officer
  • Police allowed Trayford to slowly walk unimpeded for hundreds of yards before he reached the Shell station parking lot (where he was ultimately shot at least 10 times)
  • One cop admitted to having a “bad taser,” which failed to deploy
  • At least two cops were seen using their own knives to remove articles of Trayford’s clothing following the shooting (and were told on camera to leave the knives on the scene)
  • Trayford’s limp body was handcuffed not once, but twice after being gunned down
  • While a leashed K-9 dog was only feet away from Trayford at the time of the killing, it was never used
  • No rubber bullets were used
  • No officer shot to wound Trayford (for example, below his waist); all visible entry wounds were shots to kill
  • The police failed to utilize a myriad of tactics available to the dozens of officers on scene to prevent Trayford from getting anywhere near the Shell station entrance 

Trio of officers’ lawyers also viewed the same body cam footage. “We previewed the audio/video shown to the family and their attorneys and unequivocally state that points provided by the family’s attorneys are generalizations, false, and show a lack of understanding of the reality of the situation the officers were faced with,” the three lawyers wrote in their own statement. The defense attorneys claim the officers were confronted with a “violent situation created and exacerbated by Trayford Pellerin’s noncompliance” and then forced to make “split second tactical decisions … to protect the safety of innocent store patrons.”

Pellerin family is thankful to Guillory. “Cedrick Pellerin, Michelle Pellerin, their families, and their supporters want to thank Mayor-President Guillory for keeping his word,” the family’s legal team wrote. “The City of Lafayette stood alongside the Pellerin lawyers in court and fought the unjustified [restraining order] filed on behalf of three anonymous cops. And as soon as that battle was won, the mayor’s office saw to it that the footage was made available to the Pellerins without further delay. For those efforts, we are appreciative.”

The Aug. 21 shooting death sparked weeks of public outcry and protests demanding social justice and police reforms. Louisiana State Police is in charge of the investigation and will turn the probe’s results over to District Attorney Keith Stutes, who may decide to move the evidence to a grand jury, which would determine whether there is probable cause to indict the officers.  

The statement ends with a request from the family for privacy. “Beyond being heart-wrenching, shocking, and nauseating, the video reinforced what the Pellerins already knew — that their son would be alive today if cops saw themselves in those they pursue,” the lawyers wrote.