ST. TAMMANY, La. -- When Shane Gates was put on trial in July on a felony charge of unlawful flight, prosecutors painted a picture of suspect out of control.
A high-speed chase with speeds topping 100 miles an hour. A wild, drunk driver. A combative suspect who flailed and fought with deputies, suffering only a minor injury in the process.
"Week-long trial in this case, the jury comes back probably before they can sit down in the jury room and say, ‘Can we all see how ridiculous this is?’” said James Williams, Gates’ attorney.
Gates' lawyers got a speedy acquittal by presenting a very different picture. An expert witness said the chase actually lasted for only six-tenths of a mile and 80 seconds. The DWI allegations were contradicted by the fact that Gates was pulled over just minutes after leaving a car dealership finance office after buying a new Pontiac.
"The jury in St. Tammany Parish did not buy the DA's theory of his case when it was tried,” Williams said. “They came back in almost record time as to a not guilty verdict."
And the allegedly combative suspect? Gates, who weighs 145 pounds, was handcuffed and pepper-sprayed by two deputies, each weighing more than 200 pounds. After Gates was taken to the ground by Deputy Roger Gottardi, his so-called "minor injuries" required two surgeries and 27 stitches, and he is awaiting another one to repair nerve damage to his face.
Meanwhile, the deputies didn't suffer a single scratch.
"The district attorney should not be prosecuting the victim,” Williams said. “The district attorney should be prosecuting the perpetrators."
Williams is representing Gates in a civil rights lawsuit in federal court. That lawsuit was filed in October 2007, 11 months after the fateful traffic stop. But that suit has been put on hold because the St. Tammany District Attorney’s Office continues to prosecute Gates.
Gates' attorneys believe St. Tammany authorities are intentionally stalling justice. One of those attorneys is the retired chief justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court, Pascal Calogero.
"The defense for the state, at least the sheriff in St. Tammany Parish, is I think avoiding paying expenses for this boy's injuries,” Calogero said.
The delays go beyond the six years it took to bring Gates to trial on the felony flight. Now the district attorney's office is pressing a misdemeanor charge of resisting arrest.
"I think it has all kinds of double jeopardy implications. As everyone knows, you can't be tried twice for the same crime in America,” Williams said.
The Fifth Amendment prohibits double jeopardy, and Eyewitness News legal analyst Donald “Chick” Foret thinks that might be happening here.
"It seems to me that the evidence is going to be almost the same, if not the same,” Foret said.
One key element of the resisting arrest charge is a letter that appears to come from Nathan Miller, the former deputy who stopped Gates. But during sworn testimony Miller said he knew nothing about the letter.
"It's hard to imagine getting beaten beyond recognition while in handcuffs, and to incur this resisting arrest charge and these injuries while in handcuffs,” Williams said.
"There was no date. It wasn't mailed. It just magically appeared on Chuck Hughes' desk and he turned it over and they added charges against me,” Gates said.
Hughes is an attorney for the sheriff's office. But in a court hearing he also admitted that his law firm represents the insurance company that provides the sheriff's liability policy.
In a courtroom exchange, Hughes admits that a resisting arrest charge could protect against an insurance claim by Gates.
Nobody from the sheriff's office, including Hughes, returned our calls for comment. But to Gates and his lawyers, the reason for all the delays and additional charges is clear.
"Now we have justice delayed – again,” Williams said. “And justice delayed in what seems even more thin than the first trial. The first trial was thin enough."
Calogero said, "I think perpetuating this, keeping him out of trial for his damages under these circumstances is just not justified."
Meanwhile, Gates has moved away from St. Tammany as he continues to wait for his day in court.
No date has been set for Gates' resisting arrest trial, but as a misdemeanor, the St. Tammany district attorney will be allowed to present the case to a judge rather than a jury.