Controversial Baton Rouge Police Shooting Case Slated to Go Before Grand Jury
Helen Frazier, the mother of Jordan Frazier, holds up a Christmas tree ornament memorializing her son in December. Photo credit: Clarissa Sosin
By Daryl Khan and Clarissa Sosin
This story originally appeared on Juvenile Justice Information Exchange.
Initially former Baton Rouge (La.) Police Officer Yuseff Hamadeh was considered a hero for killing a suspect during a traffic stop. Now, he might end up behind bars.
Hamadeh, who resigned in disgrace after a scandal in which his false accusations put an innocent man in jail, will be brought before a grand jury this week, according to the parents of a man the officer killed and several sources familiar with the investigation.
East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar C. Moore III will be presenting evidence against the former Baton Rouge police officer, a member of the elite Street Crimes Unit, for the cases involving Jordan Frazier and Raheem Howard. The Frazier case is slated to go before the grand jury at the 19th Judicial District Courthouse in downtown Baton Rouge on Thursday. The evidence in the Howard case will be presented a week later, on Jan. 23, sources close to the case said.
Hamadeh shot and killed Frazier during a traffic stop in June 2017. He shot at Howard and missed during a traffic stop in August 2018. He falsely accused Howard of having a gun during the incident, which resulted in a citywide manhunt, jail time and the prospect of the young man — then 21 — spending the next 50 years of his life in prison.
The East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney’s office did not reply to requests for comment for this story. Neither did a lawyer who has represented Hamadeh in the past. A spokesperson from the Louisiana State Police (LSP), the agency that investigated Frazier’s case, said they don’t have any comment on pending criminal proceedings.
Sgt. Don A. Coppola Jr. from the Baton Rouge Police Department (BRPD) emailed, “We are not going to comment.”
Helen and Henry Frazier, whose son Jordan was fatally shot by Hamadeh, said they were told by a special prosecutor assigned to the case that it was going before a grand jury after 2½ years of waiting and wondering.
“It’ll be three years in June, three years,” Henry Frazier said. “It was obviously being slow-walked off the front page to a point where the attention had gone away from it. But there are a lot of people who never gave up on it. And they’ve been praying and encouraging us all along.”
Ronald Haley Jr., the lawyer representing Howard in his civil case against the city and who consulted with the Frazier family in the wake of his killing, said he wasn’t always confident that Hamadeh would ever face justice. He thinks DA Moore is making a good-faith effort but acknowledges that Hamadeh could still not face charges.
“It’s great that they’re taking it to the grand jury but let’s get to the next step before we call this a victory lap,” Haley said. “We’re not ready to claim victory in this matter or the Frazier matter. I think it’s a great first step.”
Frazier’s case will be 3 years old in June and Howard’s case will be 2 years old in August. It’s been a long wait for the families, a wait that can destroy one’s faith in the criminal justice system, he said.
“We will not hold our breath until we get hopefully confirmation that some charges are brought onto Mr. Hamadeh,” Haley said.
He is concerned that Hamadeh will rejoin law enforcement in another department, Haley said. Asked if he would be surprised if Hamadeh would kill again under the color of law, his answer was quick and terse.
“No,” he said.
The two cases have striking similarities. Both involved traffic stops. Both suspects were black young men. Both involved accusations that he fired at suspects said to be armed. One tragic difference is that Frazier did not live to give his account of what happened; Howard did.
After Frazier’s shooting, no disciplinary action was taken against Hamadeh. While the case remained under criminal investigation, he was put back on patrol and awarded a Medal of Valor for the shooting.
Howard, on the other hand, was alive. He desperately told local press that he was innocent, swearing he didn’t have a gun and begging for investigators to give him a battery of tests to prove his innocence.
He was telling the truth. Although Hamadeh had his body camera off and his dash camera tilted down, audio from the rear dash camera revealed that only one shot was fired, and that was from Hamadeh’s gun. The charges against Howard, attempted first degree murder of a police officer, were dropped.
Then-Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul fired Hamadeh in October 2018 but it was not for the shooting, it was because he lied about crashing his patrol vehicle into Howard’s car during the traffic stop. Hamadeh succeeded in getting the termination overturned due to a technicality and was reinstated. He then came to an agreement with the chief to resign. That same October, DA Moore announced that BRPD detectives said there was no probable cause a crime had been committed by Hamadeh during the incident with Howard.
As details emerged about the Howard case, the Fraziers thought back to the initial whirlwind in the wake of their son’s killing. They had accepted their son’s fate. They respected law enforcement and had raised their son to do so as well. If he had shot at an officer as the Louisiana State Police said he had, then he deserved the cards he was dealt. But then that same week at the funeral home, they found out their son had been shot in the back. And then LSP told them as well. The stories they were hearing about what happened that night stopped lining up.
The fence that Raheem Howard jumped while running away from former Officer Yuseff Hamadeh during their violent encounter in Baton Rouge. Photo credit: Clarissa Sosin
Investigators had cleared Hamadeh internally of any wrongdoing and produced a gun that they said Frazier pointed at him and the trainee he was partnered with that night. Nearly a year after the shooting, Hamadeh was awarded the medal of valor at a BRPD soiree called the Annual Meritorious Awards ceremony at L’auberge Casino. The award read: “As they exited their marked unit, Officer Hamadeh quickly observed the passenger exiting his vehicle with a handgun. Officer Hamadeh acted without hesitation to protect his trainee from an apparent ambush.”
There is a picture from that evening of Hamadeh smiling and shaking hands as he poses with Police Chief Murphy Paul. When the Fraziers saw that picture on the front page of The Advocate they were outraged. The decision to turn Hamadeh into a hero prompted outcries from the community and from his parents who said that the case was still being investigated by the Louisiana State Police and the District Attorney for possible criminal charges.
Never had a gun
Months later, a witness, the driver of the car the night of the fatal traffic stop a year earlier, came forward. After the shooting police had produced a large handgun they said was found by Frazier’s body.
The witness, a friend he had spent the evening with driving around town, said Frazier did not have a gun. She asked that her name not be used because she had started receiving death threats. She said the night of the shooting that police asked her again and again about a gun. She said she kept telling them he didn’t have one.
“I'm going to tell you right now. The story that she gave you and allegedly the story the state police have are different. They are diabolically different,” Henry Frazier said. “Her conscience bothered her so much that she had to tell somebody. They should be ashamed of themselves if this turns out that this young lady was muscled into shutting up for whatever reason.”
Both LSP and the BRPD declined to comment for this story.
The district attorney’s office has not been able to find any police officers in the BRPD to come forward to say there is any probable cause that Hamadeh commited a crime, a source said. That doesn’t surprise Baker (La.) Police Chief Carl Dunn. Dunn, a critic of the BRPD and its lack of accountability, served as a BRPD officer and worked his way up the ranks before retiring and running for office in the nearby town of Baker.
“He’s going to walk. Trust me, he’s going to walk,” he said of Hamadeh. “You know what they say? You can indict a ham sandwich? Well you can also not indict a ham sandwich. And they’re not indiciting this sandwich. This is all formality. They’re just going through the motions. Which isn’t fair to the families.”
Louisiana law enforcement is too cozy to provide any meaningful accountability when an officer does something wrong, Dunn said.
“The police department and the district attorney’s office work too close together for there to be any accountability,” he said. “The DA’s office will only do something if the police department tells him to, and Murphy Paul is over there too scared of his own shadow so what can they do.”
‘Heaven help us all’
The Fraziers hope Dunn is wrong. In the past both parents have been sharply critical of Mayor Sharon Weston Broome, Police Chief Paul and especially of the investigations by the BRPD and the Louisiana State Police into their son’s killing.
“From day one if my son, or any other child, had done what they say our son had done, may God have mercy on his soul, he did the wrong thing,” Henry Frazier said. “But when we started getting the facts they didn’t line up with the incident, including — including! — the state police. It’s amazing though how the system we are supporting tried to dress this thing up to make it look like it had some credibility to it, you know?”
Now after a long wait and a long fight, they said they want to give the system an opportunity to redeem itself.
“We definitely don’t want to kick them in the knee if they are trying to do what is just and fair,” he said. “As parents and citizens of our city here, we would like to give the system a chance, and see what happens. “
Frazier said his experience with his son’s killing and the subsequent twists and turns into the investigations by city and state police involving Hamadeh shook his faith in law enforcement.
“When those institutions have a question mark by them, our society, our world, has a question mark. I believe in right and wrong. I believe in the institutions of right and wrong,” he said. “When they are being compromised — heaven help us all.”