Two Louisiana sheriff’s deputies were fired and arrested on manslaughter counts after they shot and killed an unarmed man inside his car, which the Jefferson Parish sheriff said was “not justified.”
Deputies Isaac Hughes and Johnathan Louis responded to a noise complaint in the early hours of Feb. 16, Jefferson Parish Sheriff Joseph Lopinto said. Authorities believed the residence was associated with illegal drugs.
There they found Daniel Vallee sitting in a parked car in front of the house.
Lopinto said Vallee, who was also wanted for questioning in separate investigations, refused to comply with officers’ commands to exit the vehicle. At one point Vallee started the car, and officers believed he intended to drive away, the sheriff said. Vallee, whose hands were up, then dropped his hands and hit the horn, which Lopinto said caused the deputies to fire.
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Hughes and Louis both fired multiple shots, Lopinto said.
“My opinion, that horn, whether it scares my deputy or whether my deputy reacts to the shot of the horn, ends up firing his weapon,” Lopinto said at a press conference Monday. “That in turn, the second deputy fired his weapon reacting to that gunfire. Both those deputies fired those gunshots in reaction to that.”
Lopinto said Vallee refused to follow officers’ directions for 12 minutes before the shooting: “They begged him. They threatened him… he refused to cooperate.”
Both deputies face manslaughter charges. Lopinto said they turned themselves in and were remorseful. Lopinto said at the press conference Monday that Vallee had been “in and out of jail” over the years and “had every opportunity to comply.”
“There was force that was certainly justified in this moment but it wasn’t deadly force,” he said.
Vallee’s family members told local news outlets that he dealt with drug addiction, but wasn’t a violent person and didn’t deserve to die. Vallee had a 12-year-old daughter, NOLA.com reported.
“He’s a struggling addict. That doesn’t mean he should have been shot and killed in the manner that he was,” his aunt, Tara Phillips, told NOLA.com.
An initial statement put out by the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office the morning of the shooting said Vallee “escalated his refusal to cooperate by starting his vehicle’s engine.”
Attorney for Vallee’s family Glenn McGovern told WWL-TV that wasn’t enough cause for deputies shoot.
“You can’t automatically shoot the car, shoot the occupants in the car if you can get out of way. It has to be an immediate danger and we know, apparently, from reports he wasn’t armed. So, where’s the immediate threat?” he said.