Demanding more transparency, Trayford Pellerin’s family releases independent autopsy challenging details of official story

Attorney Ronald Haley, who represents the family of Trayford Pellerin, addresses the crowd that gathered Aug. 22 in protest at the north Lafayette Shell station where Pellerin was killed by Lafayette police a day earlier. Photo by Travis Gauthier

The gist: After police shot 10 bullets into Trayford Pellerin, they handcuffed him, claims the attorney representing Pellerin’s family. Citing an independent autopsy, the attorney challenges the official account of the events leading up to Pellerin’s killing and continues to call for authorities to release body cam footage and other documentary evidence that could clarify what happened.

More than 10 shots were fired, according to attorney Ronald Haley, who said he personally counted what appears to be several additional holes in the wall of the north Lafayette Shell station where Pellerin, a 31-year-old Black man, was shot and killed by Lafayette police Aug. 21 as he attempted to enter the store. Haley, who lives in Lafayette but works in Baton Rouge, says another bullet hit the glass door, shattering it. 

Haley questions whether Pellerin was tased. The report does not reveal any of the signature marks tasing often leaves behind. While the forensic pathologist found no evidence on Pellerin’s body (he was fully clothed) that he was tased, that lack of evidence isn’t definitive, Haley says. “I just got off the phone with the pathologist,” Haley told The Current Tuesday. “She said that doesn’t mean they didn’t tase him.”

On the night of the shooting, officials said Pellerin had been tased, and a day after the shooting, Louisiana State Police again said in a press release that Pellerin was tased. “Officers deployed Tasers as they pursued Pellerin, but they were ineffective,” the agency wrote. The following day, Mayor-President Josh Guillory reiterated that Pellerin was shot after “multiple tries to subdue the knife-wielding suspect through the use of tasers.” Additionally, a bystander who filmed the shooting remarks that police are tasing Pellerin. The unidentified woman, who captured Pellerin walking away from police and into the Shell station parking lot, says Pellerin is carrying a knife and isn’t obeying police commands. “Get on the ground,” she pleads. “They tasing him,” she says, growing more concerned. “He’s not even doing nothing.”

Citing a public records exemption, local officials aren’t releasing any additional information. According to Louisiana’s public records law, the exemption applies to “pending criminal litigation or any criminal litigation which can be reasonably anticipated.” Outside of comments made the night of the shooting, and State Police’s initial press release, which states that Pellerin was still armed with a knife when he attempted to enter the occupied convenience store, no other details have been made public. “Until the investigative process is complete, we must be prepared for any type of litigation until the matter is either adjudicated or otherwise settled,” wrote Malcolm Bussey, who identified himself as a member of LCG’s legal department in responding to The Current’s request.

Late Wednesday afternoon, in an emailed response to The Current’s questions about the autopsy’s findings, interim Lafayette Police Chief Scott Morgan said he would forward the request to “our records request personnel.” State Police Public Information Officer Derek Senegal declined to comment on the autopsy report, saying the agency would only respond to formal public records requests. The Current submitted those requests Thursday. 

Pellerin had no other defensive markings. Nothing in the report suggested Pellerin had been in any sort of scuffle. Haley says there were brush burns present on Pellerin’s knees as a result of him falling to the ground after being shot. The spray of bullets covered much of his body, including his right arm and left index finger, chest, right hip, abdomen, both thighs. One bullet hit in the mid, lateral right back, according to the autopsy. (View the full report here.)

Pellerin was handcuffed. Haley described “cruel, uncaring, unjust” bruising on Pellerin’s wrists. “This means that after Lafayette Police shot Mr. Pellerin ten times and [he] lay dying on the concrete, those officers handcuffed Mr. Pellerin’s limp and lifeless body,” Haley wrote in a press release sent to The Current Wednesday. Haley also provided to The Current grainy images showing what looks to be handcuffs on Pellerin after the shooting. Handcuffing a gravely injured man may be the Lafayette Police Department’s policy, Haley says, “but it is still inhumane.” The practice of handcuffing after a shooting has been common but controversial in much of the country, particularly when the shooting victim appears to be incapacitated. Jacob Blake, the Black man shot and paralyzed by police in Kenosha, Wis., a day after Pellerin’s shooting death, was handcuffed to his hospital bed for nearly a week because he had an outstanding felony warrant.  

Attorney Ronald Haley believes this grainy photograph, which appears to have been taken directly from a cell phone screen, shows Trayford Pellerin handcuffed as officers render aid. (Photo provided by Haley and published with permission from the Pellerin family)

Pellerin’s family paid for the autopsy. “It is a political and moral failing of our elected officials and the Lafayette Police that Mr. Pellerin’s family had to incur the significant expense of an independent autopsy simply to begin to get answers about why and how their loved one died,” Haley wrote in the press release. 

The autopsy, conducted by American Forensics out of Mesquite, Texas, is preliminary; a final report is pending results of toxicology testing.

Haley says more transparency can easily put much of what is in dispute to rest. The attorney sent an extensive public records request to state police and the Lafayette PD to release body cam and other footage from both the Circle K, where police responded, and the station where Pellerin was shot, as well as from other businesses and bystanders. He will again make the appeal when he and the family meet with Guillory and Morgan Friday morning. 

“We sent preservation of evidence letters to the Shell gas station, the Circle K, the eyeglass store and the Metro PCS,” Haley says. “I think right now they should release the evidence that cannot be changed … the camera can’t move, the camera can’t change. The 911 call needs to be released.” 

Basic questions are going unanswered. Haley says no one will tell him whether Pellerin — who did not have permanent residence at the time of his death and was known to sometimes sleep at a motel near the Shell — was a real threat at the Circle K. “If he was just being a jerk and didn’t immediately leave when somebody asked him to leave, but then left before any law enforcement intervention. If there wasn’t a direct threat made to the clerk … and he’s just having a bad night, for whatever reason, and he’s gone, then there is no probable cause or reasonable suspicion for them to ever engage,” Haley contends. “I have not heard what crime he committed to warrant police intervention.”

State police called the family earlier this week. Haley says he joined the call while driving and didn’t get the officers’ names. “[Two state police representatives] said there was a disturbance involving a knife at the Circle K, is why the police were called. They didn’t say it was a crime, didn’t say he assaulted anyone, didn’t say threat, they said a disturbance,” Haley says. “They said they engaged Mr. Pellerin in the parking lot and he walked away from them. 

“If he did not commit a crime at that store and if he was not apprehended at the time, at that store, then why do we have such a large police presence for something that hasn’t yet been articulated to be a crime? A disturbance isn’t a crime.”