NEW ORLEANS -- It was a barrage of early morning gunshots that shocked the city. When the smoke cleared from the shootout between Justin Sipp and three veteran police officers, Sipp was dead and two of the officers severely wounded.
It’s been 10 months since that 5:45 a.m. shootout near the intersection of Bernadotte and Toulouse streets, not far from Delgado Community College. The driver of the Pontiac Grand Am – the brother of the dead gunman – spoke publicly for the first time in an exclusive interview with Eyewitness News.
Earl Sipp III, now 24, was the fourth man shot at that bloody and chaotic scene. Sipp spoke out just days after the lone violation against him was dismissed – a traffic ticket for driving with a suspended license.
But when he thinks back to that violent morning, Sipp said he has trouble remembering anything after he was shot in the sudden eruption of gunfire.
“All of a sudden I was bleeding from my right leg,” Sipp recalled. “It felt like it came from the front of the vehicle when I was shot. It came from this way into this side of the leg.”
Sipp and his brother were going to work, dressed in their Burger King uniforms. It was not yet daylight. He said he was driving along Canal Street when he said he was passed by a police car traveling in the opposite direction. The officer was Jason Giroir, who was working an off-duty security detail.
Giroir made a U-turn and began following the Sipps. When the turned onto a side street, Sipp said he decided to pull over and see what the officer wanted.
“He didn’t even pull us over. We stopped before he even cut on his lights,” Sipp said.
Sipp said Giroir was quickly joined by two other officers in separate cars.
"One pulled up when he first asked me for my driver's license and registration. So that's two cars. That's when another officer just pulled up right there on the side of our car."
Sipp was, in fact, driving with a suspended license. He said he was in handcuffs when the cops turned their attention to his 20-year-old brother.
Police maintained that Sipp originally was stopped because of a broken license plate light. But Earl Sipp’s attorney, Daniel Abel, questioned how that could be the case when Giroir passed the brothers while driving in the opposite direction.
“The reason he was stopped was because the officer, who has a history of this, was profiling him,” Abel said. “Two young black men, heading down Canal Street, going to work at 5:30 in the morning.”
But police said they have videotaped evidence that the bulb for Sipp’s license plate was out. The police department even checked the bulb during their investigation to make sure it wasn’t working, spokeswoman Remi Braden said.
Nevertheless, Abel filed a motion to dismiss the only charge issued against Earl Sipp.
“How can you even get to a ticket for a suspended license when there’s no probable cause for the traffic stop in the first place?” Abel asked.
Traffic court records show that the case was set for trial six times, and continued six times. Finally, on Friday, the lone charge against Earl Sipp was dismissed by Judge Herbert Cade.
“The judge continuously set this for trial, six times, and the police officers never showed up,” Abel said. “And finally, based on our motion to dismiss, the judge dismissed the case.”
The police department said no officers were notified of the court dates. The city attorney’s office declined comment on why police didn’t receive notice or why the case wasn’t prosecuted.
Giroir could not be reached for comment. No longer with the NOPD, Giroir resigned less than a month after the shooting when the department launched an investigation into online comments he posted about the killing of Travyon Martin. In one of the posts, Giroir wrote, “Act like a Thug Die like one!”
With the only outstanding charge dismissed, the only investigation that remains is the New Orleans District Attorney’s Office inquiry into the shooting itself. A spokesman for the district attorney said there is no timetable on when the probe will be completed.
Sipp said he remembers bits and pieces of what happened. He said he already was in handcuffs on one the driver’s side of his car, when the officer’s turned their attention to his brother on the passenger’s side.
"First, they asked him what his name was, again repeatedly, and he kept telling them a false name," Sipp said.
Sipp said the scene grew tense as words were exchanged between his brother and the cops.
"He kept asking what he did, what he did? And they wouldn't even mention what he did," he said. “Then they were trying to put handcuffs on him. And as they were trying to put the handcuffs on, he said, why are you using so much force?"
Sipp said he then saw the officers push his brother against the car several times. That's when he heard the first of several gunshots.
But Sipp was unable to see who fired the first round, a question that remains unanswered as the district attorney's office continues to find an answer to the biggest remaining question in the case: was the shooting by the officers justified?
"Actually I couldn't keep up with every shot,” Sipp said. “Because I was like, frozen. It was a situation where, like, I couldn't move. As I gradually got out of the freezing moment, I was backing up step-by-step, because actually I didn't want to get shot."
But Sipp did get shot, his leg hit by a bullet that ricocheted. As he lay on the ground handcuffed and bleeding, he said another officer accused him of knowing that his brother was armed.
Sipp said he had no idea Justin was carrying a gun.
"He (the officer) kept telling me I knew my brother had a gun,” Sipp said. “I really didn't even know about it. He walked out of the house comfortably like he didn't have anything."
Sipp said he isn't placing blame on the officers or his brother, who was on probation for unauthorized use of a credit card at the time they were pulled over. Despite his brother's actions, Sipp said he misses him dearly.
“He was there all the time. Even though me and him had our faults and flaws, but we still were brothers and we still loved each other to this day,” he said. “You saw him for your whole life and now all of a sudden he’s gone. It’s like, how you can just go to work and never see him again. That’s kind of messing with me right now.”
NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas said it's important to remember the two officers – Michael Asevedo and Anthony Mayfield Jr. – who are still recovering from their wounds.
"Incredibly brave men,” Serpas said. “I mean, they've been in and out of the hospital multiple times. One officer has been in and out of the hospital for several weeks at a time. Neither of them has been back at work in any capacity whatsoever. Their lives are permanently changed. Everybody's lives are permanently changed when something like this happens."
As authorities complete the picture about what happened that day, Earl Sipp has one constant reminder of his brother, something precious that he left behind.
Just seven weeks ago, Justin Sipp’s daughter was born. Her name is Justice.