DA Charges Tre’mall McGee, Teen Shot in Back While Prone, With Resisting Arrest
This story originally appeared on Juvenile Justice Information Exchange on June 24, 2020.
Above: Tre’mall McGee - photo courtesy of Tiffany McGee
The Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s Office in Louisiana plans to continue its criminal case against the 14-year-old shot in the back as he lay prone on his stomach. District Attorney Paul Connick Jr., filed charges against Tre’mall McGee for resisting arrest.
That Tre’mall was shot in the back during his arrest — information that came to light since the charges were filed in March — has not swayed the district attorney’s determination. The bullet tore through his back, entered his armpit and exited through his arm.
The first hearing in the case is Thursday.
The charges drawn up by Connick against Tre’mall McGee fails to mention that McGee was shot in the back while surrendering to a deputy from the same office bringing the charge. It also fails to note that for three months the shooting was concealed by the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office.
Now the District Attorney’s Office knows about the shooting. But since the Sheriff’s Office never formally requested that the DA’s office investigate the shooting, the DA is proceeding with the case. It is unclear whether the deputy named in the bill –– Deputy Kyle Bonneval –– is the one who shot McGee, or whether he is just the officer on record for making the arrest.
The Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office will not say.
‘A bunch of cowards’
Ron Haley, who is representing Tre’mall in a civil case against the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office, is also representing him against the criminal charges pro bono. He said his client’s case is a distillation of the central complaint made at protests that have been raging around the country and the world in the wake of the killing of George Floyd: the lack of accountability for unrestrained and unnecessary police violence.
Sheriff Joe Lopinto called Tre’mall’s shooting “non-life-threatening” at a Monday press conference where he defended his deputies.
“The sheriff’s flippant response –– and I hope it’s not the case, truly –– but his flippant response is giving the impression that if a deputy shoots a child in Jefferson Parish that it can go unreported and undetected and more importantly not investigated just because the victim is a child,” Haley said. “That is utterly ridiculous. How many children need to get shot before someone steps up and says we need to look into what’s going on with the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office.”
Tre’mall’s mother, Tiffany, said she is exhausted after months of amateur sleuthing on her own to get the Sheriff’s Office to finally admit that one of their deputies shot her son.
“I’ve been frustrated. Today was the first time that I just sat down and cried and cried and cried,” she said during an interview Friday night. “I’ve been as strong as I can as a mother for my kids and I’m doing this alone. But to not be able to get justice for my son with all he is going through, scared to leave the house now, and all for something he didn’t deserve. For them to try to deny even doing this, and then to hide behind their badge, to hide in their government offices like a bunch of cowards –– that really pisses me off.”
Many sheriff’s offices in the state have a memorandum of understanding to investigate officer-involved shootings with the Louisiana State Police. That is not the case in Jefferson Parish, however.
“Instead they investigate their own cases,” Haley said. “Which I believe is a conflict of interest that any blind person could see.”
The Jefferson Parish Sheriff’’s Office said they did not comment on McGee’s shooting because it involved a minor. The Sheriff’s Office declined to comment on whether there is an investigation into the McGee shooting. The Louisiana State Police has not been notified of the shooting and is not investigating it. The LSP must be requested to be brought in to investigate officer-related shootings.
‘Fear of God’
In the New York Police Department, when an officer fires their gun, it is impossible to keep it a secret. As one veteran officer explained, “This is what happens when you shoot a locker, we’re not even talking about a kid.”
First, the NYPD officer said, a duty supervisor comes to the scene of the discharge. The supervisor takes the department-issued weapon and does a bullet count. The officer is required to go to the hospital to get checked for tinnitus, ringing from the ears from the gunshot. While at the hospital the officer is also checked for alcohol.
Then there is the mountain of paperwork. There is a firearms discharge assault report, a line of duty injury report, which triggers a witness form. The supervisor writes up a 49, basically a barebones memo that outlines where the discharge occurred, when, who was struck if anyone.
What follows is various levels of investigation from the district attorney’s office, the Internal Affairs Bureau and finally the Force Investigations Division, a unit dedicated to examining each incident of an officer firing their gun. If the shooting is controversial and high-profile enough, even the attorney general could investigate.
“You don’t get your gun back until you’re cleared,” the officer said. “If I shoot my locker I don’t get it back until they know exactly what happened.”
The Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office declined to acknowledge for nearly three months that one of its deputies shot the teen as he lay on his stomach with his hands behind his back waiting to be handcuffed. Only when Tiffany McGee relentlessly pursued the truth and came forward with her story did the office acknowledge that the gunshot wound was from one of its deputies.
“The idea that his own mother –– after months of calls and getting the runaround from professional law enforcement –– finally got the Jefferson Parish Sheriff Office to admit that it was someone from their department that shot her son is absurd and pathetic,” Haley said. “At this point we don’t have a damn clue if anyone is investigating Tre’mall McGee’s shooting. And that should put the fear of God into anyone who cares about justice and fairness in policing.”
‘We rely on local law enforcement’
Lopinto said at his press conference, “I am not afraid of putting one of my deputies in jail. I’ve done it before.”
He implied that the case was under investigation, but did not offer any specifics.
“It happened during the first week of coronavirus,” Lopinto said, referring to the shooting. “I can tell you two different ways. Should an email have gone out to the press; probably so. It was a non-life-threatening shooting and it did not go out; some of the protocols in place, I’ve made sure that changed; any deputy-involved shooting, that will happen in the future.”
He did not say he would be referring the case to the district attorney’s office.
“In our office, all matters submitted to us by law enforcement are up for review. We have not received any referrals on this particular incident,” said David Wolff, chief of screening at the Jefferson Parish DA’s office. “If and when law enforcement refers it to us as a matter for our review then we review it.”
As of now, the Jefferson Parish Sheriff Office has not made that request.
“The practice and understanding of our local law enforcement is if there is a matter where there is a police use of force resulting in death or injury and they refer it to us, this office reviews it,” Wolff said. “We are not an investigative agency; we rely on local law enforcement to submit matters for our review.”
When asked whether the shooting coming to light would affect how the DA would proceed, Wolff cited Tre’mall’s age as a reason to avoid answering the question.
“The subject is a juvenile and I’m not going to comment and I’m not going to review the charges on a juvenile with you,” he said. “I’m not going to comment on that.”
Nor would he comment on how many of those referrals his office has received from the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office or other local law enforcement. Instead, he ended the interview.
“I think I’ve answered your questions to the best of my ability,” he said before hanging up.
Wolff was given the Crimefighter of the Year award last year by Crimefighters of Louisiana; his boss Connick was given the District Attorney of the Year award at the same ceremony. It’s an organization dedicated to victims of crime and strong law enforcement against violent criminals. In 2011, its founding chairman called for the military to be brought in to fight crime in New Orleans.
Haley said what is playing out in Jefferson Parish is a stark example of just the kind of rampant, unaccountable violence against Black people that has sparked the biggest street protests in the country since Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968.
Those protests showed up at the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office last week. It led to a tense encounter on the off-ramp of the West Bank Expressway, where protesters were met with officers in riot shields crowded around a military-style Humvee.
‘They were the heroes’
McGee raised her son to run to the police when he was in trouble. She said she didn’t raise him to be a troublemaker or someone who thought the police were the enemy. She raised him to say hello and be respectful.
“The cops were our protectors. They were the heroes you call when you were in trouble,” she said. “They were your friend. They are there to help you.”
Now, after three months of scrambling to find out the truth about what happened to her son she has had to revisit her entire worldview.
These days Tre’mall is scared; he thinks the cops are out to get him.
“And now,” she paused to gather herself, overcome with emotion. “Now, you got to second-guess what the hell you’ve been teaching your kids their whole lives. Now I tell them you can’t trust them, not one, not one.”
Since the shooting, McGee has been restless. She has been worrying about her son, fighting for justice on his behalf, calling law enforcement agencies all over the state. But there is one thing that worries her more than anything else.
“You can only talk about the people we know that he shot,” she said. “How many other kids did he shoot? How many kids has he shot and the mom is too scared to come forward? What happens if the next kid he shoots ends up getting killed? I’m going to feel like I didn’t do enough to stop it. That’s what scares me –– that’s what really scares me –– I feel so helpless. That I was helpless, helpless to stop it from happening again.”