Haley and Crump

Attorneys Ron Haley, left, and Ben Crump explained the details of a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court against the Sheriff's Office, Sheriff Mike Cazes, two deputies involved in an incident that resulted in the death of Josef Richardson, and several insurance companies. 

Attorney’s representing the family of the late Josef Richardson have filed a lawsuit with the U.S. District Court against the West Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office, Sheriff Cazes and others over what they say was an “wrongful death.”

Richardson died July 25 as deputies with the River West Task Force burst into his room with a “no knock” warrant and was allegedly shot in the back of the head by Dep. Vance Matranga.

The death was ruled a homicide by the East Feliciana Parish Coroner’s Office. The determination does not necessarily indicate a crime occurred. That decision will be made by District Attorney Ricky Ward’s office, which could send the case to a grand jury.

“There was no legal cause to justify the use of force against Mr. Richardson and the force used against Mr. Richardson was unreasonable and excessive,” according to the lawsuit. 

Last week, Matranga was allowed to return to work but was reassigned to desk duty and was not issued a department weapon, the Sheriff’s Office said, although he can carry a personal handgun.

“The conduct of defendants Cavaliere and Matranga were in willful, reckless and callous disregard of Mr. Richardson’s life and rights under federal and state law,” it continues.

The attorneys for the family are also requesting an expert hired by them be allowed to examine the weapon used the night of the incident while it is the possession of the State Police.

The Sheriff’s Office asked the State Police to handle the investigation right after the shooting. 

“We don’t know if there’s something they (the State Police) missed in the investigation or not,” said Ron Haley, one of several attorneys involved in the case.

The attorneys are concerned the handgun used by the deputy that night might have been tampered with, possibly by reducing the tension needed to fire it, or a “hair trigger.” 

“We don’t know if the gun was altered or not but it certainly would explain the eyewitness account of him (Richardson) being on his knees and his head being blown up from the back,” said Ben Crump, a well known civil rights attorney. 

“…That’s the question that will get to the crux of the matter,” he continued. 

“The only way we can prove that is if we have access to that firearm and we’re allowed to examine it because we want the truth,” Haley said.

“What we don’t want to happen is for that gun to be manipulated in any way from what it was the night of the shooting,” Crump said. 

“The best way we feel to be able to do that is to allow our expert—under their (the State Police’s) supervision to be able to examine the weapon,” he continued.

Based on their assertions made in the lawsuit, the attorneys are seeking damages for emotional distress, trauma, the loss of enjoyment of life, psychological harm and pain and suffering.

“Mr. Richardson was not armed with a weapon, nor was a weapon found inside of the motel room that he occupied,” the family’s attorneys state in the suit. “In fact, Mr. Richardson was only clothed in his underwear when the West Baton Rouge Sheriff’s deputies entered the room.” 

“According to eyewitness Jessica Clouatre, (who was also sharing the room with Mr. Richardson), Mr. Richardson was shot only a few seconds after the deputies entered the room,” the lawsuit continues. 

The lawsuit also says Clouatre  “recalls the firearm being pointed directly to the back of Mr. Richardson’s skull before it discharged.”

Clouatre, 39, was arrested later the night of the shooting and charged with one count each of possession with the intent to distribute marijuana, possession with the intent to distribute methamphetamine and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Matranga is believed by the attorneys to be the shooter and the lawsuit says there’s reason to believe Cavaliere was with the task force when the incident occurred.

Both deputies were placed on administrative leave after the shooting.

“This community is suffering and the only way to heal it is with transparency and accountability,” Crump said. “If this is a bad shoot, the shooter needs to be held responsible.”

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