Judge blocks release of Pellerin body cam videos

A crowd gathered at Lafayette City Hall Aug. 23 to demand racial justice after the fatal police shooting of Trayford Pellerin. Photo by Travis Gauthier

The gist: A district judge granted a temporary restraining order Tuesday afternoon preventing the release of police body cam video and other evidence related to the Aug. 21 shooting of Trayford Pellerin. Officers involved in the fatal encounter, in which Pellerin was struck 10 times by police gunfire, sought the order to protect their identities. 

The order will at least delay a viewing of the footage promised to Pellerin’s family by the mayor-president. It applies to Louisiana State Police, which is investigating the shooting, the Lafayette Police Department and Lafayette Consolidated Government. 

Mayor-President Josh Guillory sought to reconcile with the grieving family last week. In a two-hour meeting with Pellerin’s family Friday, Guillory offered to show the family police body cam footage in hopes of bringing clarity and closure; after the meeting, Guillory’s spokesman said the mayor-president was “hell-bent” on following through. Chief Communications Officer Jamie Angelle told The Current the administration did not anticipate any roadblocks in showing the family the footage.

Guillory “vehemently opposes” the restraining order. “The position of the administration is that the family should be allowed to view this video, with the officer’s (sic) names and faces blurred out [in compliance with internal rules/laws governed by the Officers’ Bill of Rights],” CAO Cydra Wingerter wrote in a Tuesday afternoon email to Ronald Haley, one of the Pellerin family’s attorneys. Wingerter also said the administration does not oppose the family intervening in the suit and noted that the mayor is doing “everything he can” to keep his promise.

A hearing is set for Sept. 15 at 10 a.m. Fifteenth Judicial District Judge David Smith will hear arguments on the motion for a protective order; the motion was filed under seal. (Read the TRO here.)

In a statement Wednesday afternoon, Guillory said he has directed city-parish attorneys to advocate for the accommodation of a private viewing at the hearing next week.

Guillory also said he sent a letter Tuesday morning to District Attorney Keith Stutes informing Stutes that he intends to show the footage. Angelle tells The Current the letter was sent to Stutes because the district attorney is the “prosecutorial authority and would be representing the ‘state’ in whatever comes next.” Once state police completes its criminal investigation, Stutes will decide whether to present the case to a grand jury.

The Pellerin family’s attorneys say they are “profoundly disappointed by the restraining order. In a press release issued late Tuesday night, the attorneys say they are disappointed but not surprised. “It leaves us no choice but to wonder what they are hiding,” the attorneys write. Haley tells The Current the mayor’s promise was to show the footage to family members and their attorneys.

“Video footage does not change,” the family’s attorneys write. “It will be the same today, tomorrow, and 10 years from now.”

Officers’ lawyers want to block the release. Allyson Prejean, Brett Grayson and Jordan Precht, three lawyers representing the unidentified Lafayette police officers, say video and other evidence should not be released until administrative and criminal investigations are complete, arguing the action “would impair the integrity of the ongoing investigations and anticipated civil litigation.” The Professional Law Enforcement Association, a legal defense fund, is paying for the officers’ legal representation. In her email to Haley, Wingerter mistakenly stated that it was the local police union seeking the restraining order, misinformation Haley repeated in his statement about the litigation.

The Police Association of Lafayette issued a statement Wednesday morning. In its first official statement since the fatal shooting, the association distanced itself from the litigation. “While a restraining order has been filed,” writes union President Jarvis Mayfield, “it was filed by the attorneys personally representing officers involved in this incident.”

Mayfield says union members believe that once the facts are presented in their entirety, “a much better understanding will come of the split second decision those officers were faced with on this tragic night.”

“As we support our fellow officers, we also grieve for our community and with the Pellerin family,” Mayfield continues. “We pray for comfort in this tragic time.”