Following the shooting of a suspected drug dealer at a motel on U.S. 190 in Port Allen involving a law enforcement officer, the West Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office turned the investigation of the incident to the Louisiana State Police.
That report was completed and delivered to the District Attorney’s Office of the 18th Judicial District last week.
Prosecutors with District Attorney Ricky Ward’s office will request the state Attorney General’s Office to examine the findings of the investigation and determine if any criminal charges need to be filed.
Josef Richardson was killed by a single shot July 25 from Vance Matranga Jr. almost immediately after officers with the Riverwest Narcotics Task Force, using a no-knock search warrant, kicked in the door to Richardson’s room in July based on information the man was dealing drugs.
The incident quickly brought protests from the public and soon after the shooting, a press conference was held on the steps of the West Baton Rouge Parish Courthouse with members of Richardson’s family and attorneys with the NAACP in attendance.
After Richardson’s body had been removed from the motel room, detectives arrested Jessica Clouatre, 39, a woman identified as his girlfriend, on one count each of distribution of marijuana and distribution of methamphetamine and one count of the additional charges of possession with the intent to distribute both drugs.
No weapons were found during the search of the room.
During the press conference shortly after the incident, Clouatre has said through her attorney Richardson was trying to surrender when he was shot.
At the time of Richardson’s death and Clouatre’s arrest, the deputy involved in the shooting had not been identified but about two weeks later, the Sheriff’s Office identified the suspected shooter as Matranga, who has been employed as a deputy since 2010.
During the press conference, members of Richardson’s family and their attorneys as well as attorneys with the NAACP, including well known civil rights attorney Ben Crump, called the shooting unjustified and the large group on hand began shouting “Justice For Josef” and demanding transparency during the investigation.
An autopsy conducted by the East Feliciana Coroner’s Office determined Richardson, 38, died from a single gunshot to the back of the head and the report concluded Richardson’s death to be homicide. The conclusion of homicide does not necessarily indicate a crime was committed.
The autopsy became public record after it was completed but the State Police report will not until the District Attorney’s Office forwards the case to a grand jury or determines there is insufficient evidence to charge Matranga with a crime.
Records from the Sheriff’s Office indicate Matranga has worked primarily with the narcotics team and as a firearms safety instructor.
Those records also indicate Matranga won Medal of Honor award for saving a state trooper’s life and had been the defendant in a lawsuit alleging he hit a suspect with his unit in 2016 and broke the suspect’s leg during a pursuit. Matranga has since been removed as a defendant in that suit.
Matranga has 50 hours of basic SWAT training and certifications in use-of-force certifications for at least two years.
In addition to transparency throughout the investigation, Richardson’s family and the attorneys involved have also demanded thoroughness during the State Police investigation and prompt attention.
“The Louisiana State Police is committed to conducting a thorough, independent and impartial investigation,” the agency said through a statement released after the case was turned over to it. “However, the investigative process takes time.”
About a month after the shooting, attorneys representing Richardson’s family filed a lawsuit with the U.S. District Court against the West Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office, Sheriff Mike Cazes and others over what they claim in the suit as a “wrongful death.”
“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,” the lawsuit claims.
Another Sheriff’s Office employee, Brett Cavaliere, was named a defendant in the lawsuit after it was revealed he was the law enforcement officer who requested the search warrant.
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.
“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,” Crump said in a press conference after the lawsuit was filed. .
“…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,” said attorney Ron Haley, another lawyer involved in the lawsuit.
“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.
“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.”