The Louisiana Republican Party is officially endorsing Jeff Landry for Attorney General rather than the GOP incumbent, Buddy Caldwell. Party Chairman Roger Villere says they noticed how Landry performed in Congress and feel comfortable he is the right candidate to move forward with in the race.
"Well we just think Jeff is a better candidate and would do a better job as attorney general. We just feel like he has the leadership qualities and capabilities to do a better job."
Neither Landry or Villere would directly explain why Caldwell was not getting the endorsement. Landry's campaign says he is honest, ethical and hardworking. He says he has 80 days before the election to give reasons why he will be a better A-G than Caldwell.
"I think the Attorney General's office gives me an opportunity to show to the voters, especially to the time when trust in government is at an all time low, that they can trust their government."
The Louisiana Republican Party says this is the first time since 1991, when the party didn't support the Republican statewide incumbent. That year they endorsed Clyde Holloway over Governor Buddy Roemer. Villere says Landry's always been a strong supporter in the Republican party.
"We just feel like when you look at the overall body of work, you look at the individuals, we're very comfortable working with Jeff, we've worked with him for a long time, we feel like he would be the best candidate."
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries have cited two men accused of stealing over 500 alligator eggs valued at over $10,000. LDWF spokesperson Gabe Giffin says agents observed 24-year-old Christopher Trahan of Lake Charles and 47-year-old Paul Canick of Grand Chenier taking alligator eggs from the marsh.
"They were told they had a collector's permit to take eggs. While one of the gentlemen did have an egg collection permit, the area he was collecting eggs from, he was not permitted to be on."
He says agents seized the eggs from the pair. Giffin says the department sold the eggs to an alligator farmer at market value.
"That money is put into an escrow fund. In the case they were found innocent, their restitution would be that money back into their pocket."
Trahan and Canick are cited for illegal possession of alligator eggs and not following refuge rules and regulations. First offense for taking unpermitted alligator eggs carries up to a $900 fine and up to 120 days in jail. Giffin says LDWF agents put in a lot of work to ensure cases like this are brought to justice.
"So, hats off to the agents involved in this in keeping Louisiana's natural resources precious and out there."
The July campaign finance report shows that Republican David Vitter has more campaign dollars on hand than his three gubernatorial opponents combined. Vitter's campaign reports more than $5 million in cash on hand for this fall's election.
Political analyst Bernie Pinsonat says this clearly shows Vitter's advantages over the rest of the field.
"He's a United States Senator, he's very well known, and he can raise lots of money as evidenced by his $5 million, which is more than double the rest of them."
Republicans Jay Dardenne and Scott Angelle report $1.8 million and $1 million in cash on hand respectively, while Democrat John Bel Edwards reports $1.1 million. Pinsonat says, at this point in the race, Vitter is the guy, but the others are hoping that will change.
"They're all hoping that after September the fourth, when people start paying attention, their money and their campaign will start making a difference."
Despite all of this fundraising activity, Pinsonat says you probably won't see a lot of ads or activity from these campaigns until Labor Day weekend. He says that's when this governor's race will really kick off.
"We'll start finding out who really has an advantage and who's going to be in the runoff, we'll get a much better picture after September the fourth."
There have been three fatal police shootings in the last three days in Louisiana. The latest occurred in Houma where a theft suspect was shot and killed by officers Monday afternoon. State Police Trooper Evan Harrell says a pursuit ensued after a failed traffic stop.
He says eventually, officers were able to stop the suspect's vehicle.
"The subject inside of that vehicle, a 45-year-old white male from the Houma area, actually stepped out of that vehicle and he pointed a weapon at the officers."
He says the traffic stop was initiated after a Terrebonne Parish deputy recognized the man as someone wanted for theft. Harrell says officers were forced to take lethal action.
"The officers, in fear for their life, opened fire on the subject and fatally wounded that subject and he was pronounced dead on the scene."
Harrell says the State Police investigation is ongoing. He says it's always difficult when police are forced to fire their weapon.
"Now all the officers involved are being debriefed and will be dealing with training and dealing with the situation that they were involved in."
The USDA has cited a UL-Lafayette research facility in New Iberia for both the injury and death of two different monkeys and for also allowing monkeys to escape their cages. According to the government report, a monkey was electrocuted to death in 2013, and another primate's leg was broken due to improper handling. Co-founder of Stop Animal Exploitation Now Michael Budkie says this isn't the first time government regulators have come down against the research facility.
"This facility has, what is essentially, a criminal history," Budkie said.
Budkie says UL-Lafayette was fined $38,000 in 2011 after three young rhesus monkeys died of negligence. He says the USDA is not done investigating the facility, and these new citations might mean a higher fine added against the center.
"The University of Louisiana-Lafayette at the New Iberia primate center has an ongoing pattern of negligence, which is injuring and killing animals," Budkie said.
The USDA report did say corrective actions have taken place. And UL-Lafayette says they remain committed to animal well-being and biomedical research. But Budkie says there are more advanced ways to conduct this type of research, without harming primates.
"Using animals to approximate human physiology is last-century technology," he said.
Today, the Louisiana Republican Party is expected to announce their endorsement of former Congressman Jeff Landry in this year's Attorney General's race. Landry is seeking to unseat current AG and fellow Republican Buddy Caldwell.
LaPolitics-dot-com Publisher Jeremy Alford says there is no doubting Landry's Republican stripes.
"This is a guy who has run to the right of the field in every race he has ever participated in. He polls well with the Tea Party Republicans. He polls well with evangelicals."
West Baton Rouge prosecutor Martin Maley has also declared for this race. Alford says this endorsement would be a big blow for Caldwell, but not very surprising. He says Caldwell has rubbed a lot of people the wrong way in recent years.
"He's gotten crossways with the governor, the legislature, the business lobby, the oil and gas industry, and obviously, in this case, it looks like the Louisiana Republican Party."
He says Caldwell received a lot of criticism among Republicans for offering encouraging words to former Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu in her unsuccessful bid for re-election last year. Alford says the Republican Party endorsement of Landry will show that Caldwell is in for a major race this fall.
"I think it points to just how contentious this election may be. I think it's going to be the barn-burner election of the 2015 cycle."
The Department of Health and Hospitals has established resources for residents who are having a hard time dealing with last week's Lafayette movie theater shooting and are looking for someone to talk to. Brad Farmer is with the Acadiana Area Human Services District. He says people can reach out to professionals if you think you need help.
"Whether they were a bystander, a witness, a first responder, law enforcement," said Farmer. "Anyone who is having any sort of issue or just needs to talk to someone about finding out more about crisis services."
Farmer says they are also offering information to parents on how to speak to their children about such an event.
He says people are affected by tragedies of this magnitude differently -- possibly feeling physical or emotional draining, anger, guilt or sadness at various times.
"Some people might be good for a week and then all of a sudden start having some anxiety or some issues or depression," said Farmer. "We are just trying to get information to the community about all the different supports that are available."
You can get information on 24-hour-crisis hotlines and support groups online at dhh.louisiana.gov. Farmer says their 24-hour-crisis line is toll free at 1-877-655-8241.
He says there may even be people out there who are not directly connected to the shooting, but are still struggling with dealing with it and can seek help.
"This could remind them of something they experienced somewhere else or just the tragedy of them having this happen in their community," said Farmer.
Lafayette Police say they are done with processing the crime scene at the movie theater, where John Russell Houser fatally shot two people and wounded nine, and they've returned the building back to the owners. It's unclear when the movie theater will be re-opened to the public.
Authorities say they also found a journal type book in Houser's Lafayette hotel room and that has been turned over to a specialist to be analyzed. Police are not releasing any information regarding the content of that journal at this time.
Police also say two people who were shot last Thursday remain hospitalized.
The Shreveport Police Department says they are working an officer involved shooting which has left the suspect dead. Chief Administrative Assistant Bill Goodin says they got a 911 call from a woman who reported she and another victim had been held hostage for several hours by the suspect who was armed with a gun but eventually left.
"At that point the suspect had gone back to the home and fired at least two gunshots at his estranged wife," said Goodin.
The suspect is identified as 33 year old Khari Westly.
Goodin says the two female victims who had been allegedly taken hostage were aged 16 and 19 and were related to the suspect. He says officers responded to the location where they heard the man firing shots at his estranged wife when she was arriving to check on the victims.
"Ultimately our officers had pursued him and the suspect turned toward the officers and fired another shot at them," said Goodin. "At that point 4 officers fired back at the suspect striking him multiple times."
Goodin says the suspect was transported to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead. He says four officers were placed on paid administrative leave while detectives process all the evidence in this complex case.
"They've got to analyze this and ultimately will forward that investigation to the Caddo Parish District Attorneys," said Goodin.
The St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s office says they’ve arrested 15 suspects as part of a major heroin bust. Sheriff Jack Strain says an extensive 14 month investigation resulted in arrests in both St. Tammany and Tangiaphoa Parishes.
"We've been able impact the heroin trade in the entire region," Strain said.
Strain says their work is not done, as they have additional arrest warrants out for 12 other individuals. He says the fight against heroin use is something all law enforcement agencies around the state are battling.
"It's such a cheap drug, it's readily available and many times tied to prescription drugs," Strain said.
That means individuals addicted to prescription painkillers are turning to heroin.
A Baton Rouge woman faces charges after she allegedly threatened to shoot someone inside a movie theater over the weekend. East Baton Rouge Sheriff's office spokesperson Casey Rayborn Hicks says 27-year-old Gaynell Haydel verbalized her threats near the ticket booth at the Cinemark Perkins Rowe theater.
"This woman was repeating over and over again that she was going to shoot someone, to the point where a few of the patrons left the movies because they were so concerned," Hicks said.
Hicks says they are not sure why Haydel threatened to shoot someone inside a movie theater, but after what happened in Lafayette last week, deputies didn't take any chances and arrested her.
"Safety is our number one priority, we want the members of this community feel like they can go out and about and be safe," Haydel said. "We are going to make sure we follow through with any kind of threat like that."
A Colorado judge has determined that jurors deciding the fate of Colorado theater shooter James Holmes could still be impartial despite seeing media coverage of last week's Lafayette theater shooting. Legal analyst Tim Meche says Holmes’ lawyers were concerned that the incident in Lafayette may sway the jury’s decision.
"The jury has been instructed not to instruct any news coverage of their case, nevertheless over the weekend they may have been exposed to the extensive media coverage of the Lafayette case."
When asked by the judge if they had seen or read anything about the Lafayette shooting, the twelve jurors raised their hands. Jurors were then questioned individually about what they knew and if they discussed it with anyone. Meche says one scenario could have derailed Holmes’ sentencing process.
"One or more of the jurors say that news coverage has unduly affected and will influence their ability to be a fair juror."
Testimony in the sentencing phase of the trial has resumed. Holmes is facing the death penalty for killing 12 people and injuring 70 others at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado in 2012. Meche says this procedure is just another part of the sentencing process.
"Any time something like this happens, it's completely appropriate and advisable for the judge to protect the integrity of the record by asking each juror if they have been influenced."
The Lafayette movie theater shooting has re-energized the debate of installing metal detectors inside movie theaters. Shreveport Representative Barbara Norton says she is already working on legislation to do just that.
Norton says she views going to the movies as a family outing.
"I feel that it's a sad day in America when we, as parents or grandparents, cannot feel safe in the movie."
If re-elected this fall, Norton plans to introduce the measure during next year's legislative session. She says hand-held metal detector wands start at $50, while walk-through models can cost theater owners one to two thousand dollars. Norton says no amount of money is worth more than people's safety.
"What is more important? Is my $1,000 or my $50 more important than a life? I think not."
She feels that legislators have a responsibility to do whatever they can to make sure Louisiana residents are safe. There are some that say metal detectors could scare off potential customers and increase wait times for movie goers to get to their film. Norton says standing in line for a few minutes is a small price to pay to save lives.
"You want to tell me that, if my safety is in question, I'm going to have a concern about standing in line for 10 or 15 minutes to make sure that I'm safe. I don't think so."
College football analyst Phil Steele believes the LSU Tigers will be one the surprise teams in the upcoming season. Steele says LSU's defense will be fast and one of the best in the country and he likes the offensive line.
"Three starters back, veteran unit," Steel said. "They've got the receiving corp with Travin Dural and Malachi Dupre, Dillion Gordon at tight end. They've got the running back in Leonard Fournette. Now can Brandon Harris deliver and yes I think he'll win the (quarterback) job."
Steele says quarterback is the biggest question mark on LSU's team. But he anticipates that sophomore Brandon Harris will perform well.
"I think he'll have a much better this year, give LSU average to above average quarterback play and if you throw that into the mix, LSU becomes a national title contender."
But Steele is predicting that Alabama will win the SEC west. He likes the Crimson Tide's defense.
"Alabama comes with my number one rated defensive line, number three set of linebackers, number seven DBs, in my mind the best defense in the country."
In Louisiana Radio Network's ongoing gubernatorial Q&A we asked the major candidates about the TOPS scholarship program. We posed the question, if elected, what changes would you propose to ensure TOPS can remain a successful program?
Lt. Governor Jay Dardenne says reasonable reform is needed to preserve the program and the bill passed by the legislature this year is a responsible way to do that.
"It caps the award at the present level but allows the legislature to authorize additional payments instead of the automatic increases that now apply whenever tuition goes up."
State Representative John Bel Edwards says it may be necessary to control the costs of the program by de-linking the program from automatic tuition increases.
"The result would still be a very generous program that would cover at least 90% of the cost of tuition, but it may be necessary to limit this cost in order to preserve the program itself."
Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle says, if elected, he would work with legislators to find innovative ways to sustain the program. Angelle says he would propose a budget that fully funds scholarships.
"I'm confident that the legislature will always support a fully funded TOPS program because, clearly, it stands on its own merit. It produces among the highest return on investment on our tax dollars."
US Senator David Vitter says he would support whatever is necessary to keep the popular TOPS Scholarship program viable and sustained for the future.
"It's been very successful, including in helping keep some of our best and brightest right here in Louisiana," said Vitter.
The Lafayette theater shooting is sparking arguments over gun control once again and whether more laws are needed to prevent such tragedies. Violence Policy Center Executive Director Josh Sugarman says we need stronger gun laws so that Americans can feel safe going about their daily lives.
He says the entire gun industry needs serious reform.
"It's how their products have changed and how that facilitates shootings like this," said Sugarman.
Sugarman says in 2013, Louisiana's per capita firearm homicide rate was the first in the nation, and it ranked second in the rate of overall gun death according to the CDC.
He says the all too often unacknowledged fact is that gun violence takes a heavy toll on the state.
"Louisiana has a gun violence problem, it's well documented," says Sugarman. "And this unfortunately lays manifestation of it."
59-year-old John Houser opened fire on a theater full of people last week and two women died while several others were injured.
Wade Duty with the Louisiana Gun Association says piling on additional gun laws would not have altered this man's behavior.
"I'm not even sure how the dots connect in a rational person's mind how additional restrictive gun policy is going to improve the behavior of the mentally ill," said Duty.
Duty says the best immediate response to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. He says the Lafayette Police Department did an amazing job responding to the scene very quickly, but cops aren't there when a shooting takes place.
"You are your own first responder. Law enforcement is coming as fast as they can, but you're the one on the scene," says Duty. "You don't wait for the fire department if you already have a fire extinguisher in your kitchen."
Louisiana Attorney General Bubby Caldwell wants to assemble a team of health professionals to help identify unstable and violent persons and communicate that information with law enforcement. Caldwell says he’s tired of seeing mass shootings like the one that happened Thursday night in Lafayette.
“We have to find some solutions and we also want to use technology to our advantage, I mean you can’t go in a theater, in a church or in a school safely anymore and these are all safe havens.”
Caldwell says we need to start pulling our resources together. He says we need to learn from these tragedies and then find a solution.
“Use our number one resource and that’s to look to our prison system where we’ve had a lot of success in treating mental illness and see what we can learn.”
There’s evidence the Lafayette movie theater gunman John Houser suffered from mental issues. Caldwell says he is going to take action and doesn’t understand why it’s taken so long to confront these problems.
“I’m sick of how we have not really addressed this problem efficiently.”
Lafayette Police Chief Jim Craft says John Houser used a high point .40 caliber semi-automatic handgun, when he fatally shot two other people and wounded nine inside a movie theater on Thursday night.
Craft added that the gun was purchased legally at a pawn shop in Phenix, Alabama. And Houser bought the gun in 2014. Authorities say 15 shell casings were recovered from the theater in various areas.
Craft, along with Governor Bobby Jindal, and other authorities toured the crime scene on Friday. Jindal says based on the evidence, it appears Houser was methodical during his shooting rampage.
Craft says they've also been able to determine that Houser briefly left the theater after he first shot his weapon. He exited through a side door and then returned inside the theater once he saw police arriving. The police chief says Houser fired a few more shots and then ended his own life.
Governor Bobby Jindal named two teachers heroes after their actions during the Lafayette Grand movie theater shooting last night. Jena Meaux (Left) and Ali Martin (Right), of Iberia Parish, were both shot by John Houser. One teacher jumped in front of a bullet, which could've hit her friend in the head. Jindal says these women risked their lives to save others.
"Now both teachers ended up shot, the second one, the one whose life was saved, even though she was shot in the leg she had the presence of mind to pull the fire alarm to help save other lives."
A GoFundMe page was set up immediately by a friend to help with the cost of medical bills for Meaux and Martin. Jindal says one teacher has been released from the hospital.
"These are two teachers just out to watch a movie during their last few days of summer break, getting ready for the new semester, they never imagined that their little outing would be interrupted by this senseless act of violence, this awful tragedy."
Sydney Lancon was taught by both Meaux and Martin at Jeanerette Senior High School. She says their heroic actions in the tragedy come as no surprise as Meaux has always shown how much she cared for people around her.
"She's very courageous, she puts others before her all the time. Look, she loves everybody and it doesn't surprise me she was trying to save someone."
Lancon says Martin was a smart and loving woman. She says Martin was very involved with her students and wanted them to succeed.
"Ms. Martin is so sweet and it just means a lot that she cared so much about everyone so deeply, so it doesn't surprise me at all."