City, State, Zip
Office of Disciplinary Counsel
4000 S. Sherwood Forest Blvd., Suite 607
Baton Rouge, LA, 70816
To Whom It May Concern:
I am writing to request an investigation into the conduct of LaSalle Parish District Attorney Reed Walters over the last year with regards to several incidents, culminating with the prosecution of Mychal Bell, Robert Bailey, Bryant Purvis, Theo Shaw, Carwin Jones, and an unidentified minor. I am concerned that DA Walters has selectively and aggressively used his prosecutorial discretion in several cases over the last year and I believe he is unable to be an effective and impartial advocate for justice in LaSalle Parish.
In a statement published in a New York Times op-ed on September 26, 2007 that now appears on the Louisiana District Attorney Association website, Walters describes his role as District Attorney as one where he has to "...match the facts [of a case] to any applicable laws and seek justice for those who have been harmed. " What Walters ignores in this definition is the tremendous latitude prosecutors have to raise, lower, or dismiss charges as they see fit, under the doctrine of prosecutorial discretion. It has become clear that when Reed Walters is making decisions, white perpetrators in Jena receive a completely different kind of discretion than black ones.
When it came to prosecuting three white students for hanging nooses in the so called "white tree" at Jena High School after black students sat under it, Walters said (in the same New York Times op-ed) this act "broke no law. I searched the Louisiana criminal code for a crime that I could prosecute. There is none." But Louisiana Revised Statute 14:107.2 creates a hate crime for any institutional vandalism or criminal trespass motivated by race. His discretion, not Louisiana law, is what led to a lack of charges in this case.
Similar discretion was applied after an incident on December 1, 2006. A black teenager, Robert Bailey, was attacked by a group of whites, beaten to the ground, and apparently hit with a beer bottle. Bailey suffered a gash to his head, and Walters could have prosecuted the group of whites with felony charges. Instead, Walters charged one man with a misdemeanor, but that person served no prison time. The others walked.
A very different and more dangerous form of discretion was applied three days later, when an assault on Justin Barker, a white student, occurred. Robert Bailey and five other black teens were arrested and charged by the police with aggravated second-degree battery, a very harsh charge under the circumstances. But Walters went even further and used his discretion on December 7th to increase the charges to attempted murder, later arguing that the students' tennis shoes were dangerous weapons.
A week later, Walters announced that he would try Mychal Bell for attempted murder as an adult, another example of his discretion being aggressively used to bring harsh punishments only to certain young people. When Walters reduced the charges against Bell, he should also have taken the case back to juvenile court. His failure to do so is another example of an inappropriate application of discretion. The result was a conviction that could have ended with a 22-year prison sentence. The 3rd Circuit Court has already ruled that Walters' decision was improper, and nullified the decision.
Walters' misconduct extends beyond these instances of uneven application of his discretion. After black students staged a sit-in under the contested tree to protest the light punishment for the noose hangers, Walters came to Jena High School and told the student body that if they did not settle down, "[he could] make [their] lives disappear with a stroke of [his] pen. " This statement was confirmed by Walters during Mychal Bell's court proceedings, and clearly connects to the actions he took after Justin Barker was assaulted.
Walters' threats against the Jena 6 defendants were not limited to the school assembly. In December 13, 2006, he published a statement in The Jena Times reading in part "I will not tolerate this type of behavior. To those who act in this manner, I tell you that you will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and with the harshest crimes that the facts justify. When you are convicted, I will seek the maximum penalty allowed by law. I will see to it that you never again menace the students at any school in this parish." There are clear problems with his public characterization, prior to any trials, of the young men who had been arrested for the assault on Justin Barker as criminals who had been menacing the school. The wording of the statement and an introduction associating his tirade with the "recent two incidents at Jena High School" created the impression that those accused of involvement in the fight were also suspected of setting the November 30th, school fire. The Louisiana Rules of Professional Conduct 3.6(a) clearly state that: "A lawyer who is participating or has participated in the investigation or litigation of a matter shall not make an extrajudicial statement that the lawyer knows or reasonably should know will be disseminated by means of public communication and will have a substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing an adjudicative proceeding in the matter." His statements to The Jena Times clearly violate this code.
It seems clear from my knowledge of this case that there are ample grounds to conduct a timely and thorough investigation into Reed Walters' conduct as District Attorney of LaSalle Parish. If you choose not to investigate DA Walters, I expect to receive a written explanation of why you deem that an investigation is not warranted. Otherwise, I look forward to hearing the results.
Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.