Two in custody, two wanted for vicious French Quarter attack

Dejuan Paul went to his pastor at noon Monday with a confession: he was one of four men seen in a widely-circulated surveillance video of a brutal beating and robbery of two men Saturday night in the French Quarter.

NEW ORLEANS -- Dejuan Paul went to his pastor at noon Monday with a confession: he was one of four men seen in a widely-circulated surveillance video of a brutal beating and robbery of two men Saturday night in the French Quarter.

And it was that pastor who called police to tell them he was bringing in the first of four people detectives sought in the mugging of the Boston-area men who were in town with a religious convention.

Those details were revealed as Paul sat in an Orleans Parish courtroom -- where he often dozed off -- for his bond hearing Tuesday morning, a hearing that was cut short and reset for Friday morning after prosecutors said one of the victims was “close to death.”

At the same hearing, it was revealed the second of the four assailants, 18-year-old Joshua Simmons, was arrested. Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office records show he was booked about 2 a.m.

Meanwhile, police said they obtained warrants for Nicholas Polgowski, 18, and Rashaad Piper, 20, the final two suspects who remained at-large.

All men face charges of second-degree robbery.

During the morning court session, Magistrate Judge Harry Cantrell agreed to resume the bond hearing at 10 a.m. Friday and detain Paul and Simmons without bond until then.

Defense Attorney Kenneth Barnes objected to that, arguing there was no reason to detain either man.

According to an arrest warrant, Paul told Pastor Derrick Johnson of Mount Kingdom Missionary Baptist Church that he saw himself in surveillance footage and admitted his role in the robbery.

Johnson brought Paul to the New Orleans Police Department’s 5th District station in the St. Roch neighborhood, at which point officers moved him to the 8th District station in the French Quarter, where the case was being investigated.

Once at the Orleans Parish jail, officers found two plastic bags with white powder in them in Paul’s front pocket, according to the warrant. A test of the power was inconclusive, and additional tests are pending.

Paul was booked Monday evening on a count of second-degree robbery and possession with intent to distribute false drugs. Cantrell set bond for the drug charge at $5,000.

Though Paul turned himself in quickly after police released the surveillance footage, authorities picked up Simmons after someone told police where he was.

Police Superintendent Michael Harrison urged Polgowski and Piper to turn themselves in as Paul did before officers have to bring them in.

The mugging happened about 9 p.m. Saturday as James Curran and Tim Byrne, Unitarian Universalist Association information-technology staffers, who were in New Orleans for the religious association’s annual meeting, walked back to their hotel room.

The video shows Curran get punched in the face. He suffered a fractured nose, a family member told WWL-TV. Byrne, who was knocked unconscious and fell face first on the sidewalk after he was punched, suffered “serious brain injury,” according to the warrant.

A source told WWL-TV that Paul wore brass knuckles when he allegedly delivered the blow to Byrne’s face and head.

Police have said Byrne was hospitalized in critical condition. Harrison said Byrne's condition has since improved slightly.

All four suspects face second-degree robbery charges instead of simple robbery because of the severity of the injuries, police have said.

State law defines second-degree robbery as taking “anything of value” from someone and inflicting “serious bodily injury.” It goes on to define serious bodily injury as someone being unconscious or in extreme physical pain, among other things.

Anyone convicted of that crime must serve a minimum of three years and no more than 40 years.

Paul, Piper and Polgowski have no prior criminal records in Orleans or Jefferson parishes.

Simmons has no prior criminal record in Orleans Parish, but a search of Jefferson Parish court records shows he was arrested last year in Gretna on suspicion of popping door handles and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. A 14-year-old was with Simmons when he was arrested. Those charges were later refused by the Jefferson Parish District Attorney.

A source said three of the four assailants live at Covenant House on North Rampart Street.

"Covenant House cares for runaway and homeless youth -- many of whom are troubled and suffer from mental illness," executive director James Kelly wrote in a prepared statement. "We are deeply saddened by the incident and are praying for the victims and their families."

WWL-TV reporters Paul Murphy, Katie Moore, Kristin Pierce, and Katie Steiner, and New Orleans Advocate reporter Ramon Antonio Vargas contributed to this report.

© 2017 WWL-TV


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