It's a scene that has become tragically familiar: A crime is committed in front of a crowd of people, but when police arrive, nobody saw anything. None
Nobody heard anything.
In the June 15 stabbing death of Brittany Seymour in the French Quarter, the tragedy extends even further. The limited snippets of video obtained by police and prosecutors show a crowd of people at the scene of the homicide, many using their smartphones to record the confrontation.
But nobody intervened to stop the deadly fight.
“They are videoing, they are using their cell phones to capture the event that is taking place,” Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro said. “But as far as people sort of getting involved or taking, doing their civic responsibility to at least tell police what they saw, we don't have that.”
The basic facts about Brittany Seymour's stabbing death are well-established. The 22-year-old went to the House of Blues in the French Quarter to celebrate her birthday, relatives said.
Inside the music club, Seymour crossed paths with her cousin, 20-year-old Dannisha Green. A lingering feud over Seymour’s ex-boyfriend sparked a fight, first inside, then spilling onto Decatur Street.
There is cell phone video of the two women arguing and flailing at each as a cluster of people follows them toward Canal Street. As the fight turns more and more physical, the onlookers can be heard yelling, but their words are unintelligible.
Then the footage stops. Before any knife is seen. Before Seymour is stabbed multiple times. Before she bleeds to death on the street.
To the frustration of Cannizzaro and his prosecutors, none of the witnesses – which include family members and friends of both women – have come forward to cooperate.
Despite the missing information, Cannizzaro's office charged Green with second-degree murder.
“A young woman's life is taken in the French Quarter,” Cannizzaro said, shaking his head. “It’s very, very clear that there are a number of witnesses who are observing this.”
With the help of detectives, the DA's office obtained a second video from a business surveillance camera down the street. Like the cell phone video, it doesn't show the stabbing.
But it shows something else just as troubling.
“In the video, you can see at least 10 people who are there watching or videoing what's taking place,” Cannizzaro said, pointing to tell-tale flashes of light in the distance. “We can see people holding their cameras in their hands and you can see the lights of the cameras flashing.”
Cannizzaro isn’t the only person who wants to see the missing video. Green's defense attorney Jeffrey Smith has also tried to locate the footage, but his pleas have fallen on deaf ears.
“Anyone that took the video to show the fight, I would love for them to come forward,” Smith said.
Smith said the missing video would show his client trying to avoid the confrontation.
THIS ISN'T THE FIRST TIME
Smith compared the case involving his client to the infamous rape and murder of Kitty Genovese in Queens, New York, a case that has come to symbolize bystander apathy. In the Genovese case, dozens of people saw or heard portions of the attack, but nobody called police until it was too late.
“We all hear about the famous Kitty Genovese, the lady who was raped and murdered in New York,” Smith said. “All the neighbors basically say, well, someone else will help her. And no one helps her.”
Cannizzaro also sees the comparisons between the Genovese case and Seymour’s killing, but with a cruel 21st century twist.
“It's almost as if though they're at a competitive event where they're cheering each other on, they're cheering their respective side on,” Cannizzaro said. “It's almost a depraved conscience, so to speak, to just go out and try to video this and not try to offer and help or aid to the victim.”
Based on what he has gathered about the killing, Smith has come to the same conclusion.
“In this case, we probably had ten to fifteen adult males that were within ten feet of this and easily could have stopped it,” Smith said. “From the video that we do have, we see big, strong, healthy men watching two women fight in the street. And absolutely any one of them – there’s no guns, no gunfire – could have stepped in.”
The problem of cold feet by witnesses goes well beyond this killing between cousins.
“Snitching has caused individuals to be put in mortuaries. And caskets,” said Tamara Jackson, founder and president of Silence is Violence.
Jackson says the criminal justice system needs to confront the very real dangers witnesses face in New Orleans.
“The fear factor takes over,” Jackson said. “Even though there's a large crowd of individuals who are videoing and have their phones out, they have relationships sometimes with the perpetrators of these crimes, they live in the same community, they may be the neighbor of their family member."
Until witnesses feel protected, Jackson says this won't be the last time that cold feet leads to unanswered questions and incomplete justice.
After getting released from jail after posting a $150,000 bond, Green got permission from the court to relocate to Texas. Smith said he made the request because she received multiple death threats.
Green has since returned to New Orleans, but is remaining in hiding for her protection, Smith said. A pre-trial court hearing has been set for Dec. 18.