NEW ORLEANS — John Honore racked up at least seven arrests and 25 separate charges as juvenile, but he was back on the street when police say he carjacked 73-year-old Linda Frickey, who was dragged to her death, her arm severed from her body as Honore allegedly drove off.
April Butler was booked with attempted murder, accused of shooting another woman in a parking lot. After being released on a $110,000 bail, she was arrested again a month later for allegedly pulling a gun on a witness to the earlier shooting. A judge set bail on the new charge at less than one-tenth the original amount: $10,000.
“When they don't get bail or they're not restrained, then we're just seeing how these crimes escalate,” Mayor LaToya Cantrell said recently on the national news show Face the Nation. “People need to be held accountable.”
From victims to cops to Mayor Cantrell, frustration over a perceived revolving door in the criminal justice system is louder than ever, especially with the NOPD stepping up crime-fighting while dealing with a historically low number of officers.
Honore and Butler are still awaiting trial, but WWL-TV’s exclusive stories last year revealed missed opportunities to keep more people from becoming victims.
Now, fresh new victims like Chelsea Desmornes are expressing the same frustration.
On Jan. 25, Desmornes was sitting on the steps of the French Quarter hotel where she works as a receptionist when a man robbed her at gunpoint. In broad daylight.
“When he showed me the gun, that's when I realized, OK, he really is serious,” Desmornes.
Desmornes followed the robber as he rode away on a bicycle. She saw him duck into a bar and called for the police. The officer who responded checked the bar's surveillance video, and instantly recognized the man as 20-year-old Keni Landix.
“He told me he arrested the guy before,” Desmornes said. “And he kept telling me that the judge just keeps letting the guy out. They keep letting him out, they keep letting him out.”
Police again obtained an arrest warrant for Landix and his family turned him in the next day. His arrest was highlighted by the NOPD on social media.
Court records show why police were so familiar with Landix. The records show he was arrested three times in the three months prior to the armed robbery starting in October when he was booked in the first-degree robbery of a convenience store clerk. He was arrested two more times in December in a string of car break-ins. In one of the cases, officers caught him almost immediately with a hammer allegedly used in the break-ins.
Rafael Goyeneche, president of the non-profit watchdog group the Metropolitan Crime Commission, says with the police department struggling with a record low number of officers, re-arresting the same people is yet another blow to morale.
“Not only does that undermine the public confidence in the system, I think it also undermines the morale of police officers that are forced to re-arrest and investigate the same people over and over again,” Goyeneche said. “Every time an offender like this goes back out and recidivates, it means it's putting more and more pressure on the police department.”
In cities around the country, the bail system that was once used to slam the brakes on repeat offenders has been under fire as a draconian measure that is especially punitive against the poor. The same anti-bail sentiment has sparked a vigorous debate in New Orleans.
“If we're going to allow someone to be released when they have victim crimes, where there are victims, then we need to make sure that the public is safe,” said Jill Dennis, operator of ASAP – Assured Supervision Accountability Program – an electronic monitoring company.
Ankle bracelets as a condition of bail have been viewed as a reform measure that can keep people out of jail, while still imposing restrictions.
But a series of New Orleans magistrate commissioners who set bail following each of Landix’s arrests did not apply any conditions. In fact, after getting booked three times within eight days in January, Landix’s bail got lower each time: $24,000 for two simple burglary and criminal damage counts on January 12th, $15,000 for another burglary the next day, and $6,000 for yet another car break-in burglary just eight days later on Dec. 21. After that arrest, Landix confessed to many of the smash-and-grabs, according to a police report.
His family bailed him out each time.
“I think some conditions being set on him way in the beginning probably would have helped. Especially after the second or third arrest,” Dennis said.
Court records show another startling fact. Criminal court uses a process to determine the risk of a defendant not showing up for trial. The process includes rating suspects on a scale of one to five based on variables such as current charges and prior criminal history. The higher the number, the higher the risk. Landix started with the lowest risk rating of 1 in October, but quickly escalated to 3 and finally to 4.
But his bail amounts kept getting lower. WWL-TV reached out to a criminal court spokesman for comment, but he did not respond.
“No one should be stuck in jail simply because they can't afford their bond, but we do need to base release on history and charge,” Dennis said. “And it seems that Mr. Landix is having a bit of an issue in a short time span.”
Even though the magistrate commissioners did not raise Landix’s bail or add conditions like monitoring or curfew, his family was concerned about his behavior, so they requested an ankle bracelet themselves.
“There hasn't been any restriction on him outside of what mom did,” Dennis said.
But without any court-ordered consequences, Landix kept getting into trouble. After his third arrest right before Christmas, his original bail company dropped him, and ASAP removed its bracelet.
Landix was taken into custody the day after police said he robbed Desmornes. His bail was set at $250,000 and he remains locked up.
While Desmornes waits to testify against Landix in court, she is determined not to become a victim again.
“I never really felt like I had to carry a gun. Now I have to carry a gun. I have to carry a knife,” she said, displaying the weapons she now uses to protect herself. “I'm constantly living in fear now.”
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