Shot by police: Questions remain a year after Thibodaux man's death

Lt. Gregg Falgout told investigators he clocked Preston Perez Sr. driving 92 mph in a 55 mph zone the night Perez hit a guardrail and ended up in the treeline along La. 308 near Raceland’s Alidore neighborhood.

Falgout, who had tried to stop the minivan, said he asked Perez if he needed medical attention and told him to step out of the vehicle. Perez leaned over in the van “as if he was reaching for something” and started muttering about a gun.

Perez straightened up with a dark object in his hand, and Falgout fired twice. Still holding the object, Perez got out of the van, said he would either shoot or be shot, and raised the object toward the state trooper.

The trooper shot Perez in the abdomen, a wound which later led to his death. Police discovered the object Perez had held was a flip flop; they never found a weapon.

Monday marks a year since the shooting, as detailed in a State Police investigative report, took place. Lafourche Parish District Attorney Cam Morvant II concurred with the findings, telling The Courier and Daily Comet he is satisfied with the “thorough” investigation.

But some questions remain unanswered.

‘MAKE US SHOOT HIM’

The Courier and Daily Comet learned of the shooting the next night from a reader who posted to one of the newspapers’ Facebook pages. State Police never sent out a news release, but Lt. Nick Manale provided information upon request two days after the shooting.

Perez was taken to Ochsner St. Anne Hospital in Raceland then transferred to University Medical Center New Orleans. Manale described Perez’s injuries as non-life-threatening and said he was to face charges upon release.

But according to an affidavit, Perez was in critical condition at University Medical Center as of April 13. The Thibodaux resident died there April 29 at age 48.

Perez’s father and stepmother declined to comment for this story, saying they were waiting to talk to an attorney.

State Police also did not send out a news release after Perez’s death, and officials would not explain why. Upon request, they released the initial complaint of the shooting and the investigative report.

A Jefferson Parish Coroner’s Office report shows the cause of death as a gunshot wound to the abdomen and the manner of death as homicide. A Lafourche Parish Coroner’s Office examination yielded the same results, except the report describes a gunshot wound “secondary to suicide by cop.”

‘LET ME BLEED AND DIE’

Master Trooper Bart Robichaux and Trooper First Class Simon Besson provided backup for Falgout at the scene.

Robichaux told investigators that as officers searched Perez and tried to treat his injuries, Perez said he had cancer and asked why Falgout hadn’t shot him in the head.

“When we asked him about a gun, he said no he did not have a gun, he would not hurt anybody, but that if he had a gun he would have used it to shoot over our heads to make us shoot him,” Robichaux said.

The Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office also responded to the shooting. A deputy reported that Perez tried to move his hand from the gunshot wound, saying, “Just let me bleed and die.”

A lab analysis at University Medical Center in New Orleans showed Perez had cocaine and medications for pain and anxiety in his system when he arrived at 12:07 a.m. April 4, two hours after the shooting. The amounts are not included in the State Police report, and University Medical Center would not provide that information.

According to the State Police report, Perez’s medical records showed he had stage-four liver cancer and a history of a mental issues. Police would not elaborate on his mental issues.

AN EARLIER SHOOTING

This wasn’t the first time a law enforcement officer shot Perez.

In August 2001, Perez was awarded $125,000 in an out-of-court settlement of a federal lawsuit he filed after a deputy shot him in the head May 1998. The Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office paid $110,000 of that, and the city of Thibodaux paid $15,000.

Perez had accused the Sheriff’s Office and Thibodaux Police Department of using excessive force. According to police reports, Jason Terry, then a Lafourche sheriff’s deputy, and two other officers witnessed Perez and two other men participating in a drug deal in the parking lot of the Aquarius Lounge in Thibodaux.

As the officers tried to arrest the men, authorities said, Perez got in his truck to flee and tried to hit Terry with it, at which point Terry shot him.

Perez was initially charged with attempted first-degree murder but later pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and was sentenced to four years in prison. While incarcerated, he told The Courier and Daily Comet that he suffered brain damage and partial vision loss from the shooting.

LAST YEAR’S ENCOUNTER

The night of April 3, 2016, Thibodaux Police received a complaint from a woman who said Perez had carjacked her van. The two attended the same church.

According to the woman, Perez had a cut on his hand and asked her to take him to a local medical facility. At one point, she told Thibodaux Police, he made her stop and get out of the van, telling her, “I have a gun, and I really don’t want to shoot you.”

The woman said Perez apologized and told her he’d return the van, according to the Thibodaux Police report. She told police she never saw a weapon but believed Perez had one.

Later that night, after he heard about a reckless driver over his police radio, Falgout headed out to stop the man, according to the State Police investigative report. Police later realized Perez, who was legally blind and without a license, was driving the stolen minivan.

Robichaux said that at one point, Perez walked around the front of the van and headed toward him and Besson. He told investigators he could not see exactly what was in Perez’s hand but believed it to be a weapon.

However, the investigative report says Robichaux was recorded at the scene saying, “I don’t think that’s a gun, Bubba. I don’t know.”

State troopers did not have body cameras at the time.

TROOPER CLEARED

Robichaux’s dashboard camera was pointed away from the scene, and Falgout was not wearing a microphone, the investigative report says. State Police would not say why.

Besson told investigators his assigned vehicle was being repaired, so he was using a surplus vehicle that did not contain the standard audio and video recording equipment.

Master Trooper Josh Van Etta filed the investigative report.

“Based on the information detailed in this report, Lt. Falgout’s use of deadly force was in direct response to P. Perez’s actions and did not violate Louisiana state law,” he wrote.

Lt. J.B. Slaton, an agency spokesman, said no disciplinary action was taken against Falgout nor was he put on leave. He had never before been involved in such an incident.

-- Staff Writer Bridget Mire can be reached at 448-7639 or bridget.mire@dailycomet.com. Follow her on Twitter @bridget_mire.

© 2017 WWL-TV


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