This is a follow-up to an investigation published on Dec. 5, 2017.
To see the first part of the story, click here.
METAIRIE – A criminal complaint filed by a Jefferson Parish Code Enforcement agent against a former Metairie resident who had repeatedly criticized the agency was thrown out Thursday after video evidence refuted the agent’s allegations.
Jefferson Parish Code Enforcement officer Edgar Lane brought a misdemeanor “interference” charge against Woody Mulkey in October, while Mulkey was living in Metairie. Mulkey was in the process of selling his family home and leaving Jefferson Parish at the time, saying that he felt “terrorized” by a scrapyard on his next-door neighbor’s property and vexed by parish officials’ inability to stop it.
“I was treated today and for the last six months like I broke laws,” Mulkey said after the charge against him was dismissed in First Parish Court. “So, today feels like a win, like a good day, one of the best days of my life.”
Mulkey is emotional because the criminal charge was the last thing keeping him tied to a years-long fight against his former neighbor, Thomas Centanni. Centanni has been cited by Code Enforcement at least 20 times for using heavy industrial equipment and keeping scrap, old cars and a broken-down shed on his residential property.
But the code violations didn’t appear to deter Centanni, who kept operating machinery day and night in the yard and allegedly made threats against Mulkey and his girlfriend after they filed official complaints.
Mulkey and live-in girlfriend Pam McLellan met with Parish President Mike Yenni last year, repeatedly went before the Jefferson Parish Council and came to WWL-TV to complain about how Code Enforcement was handling their complaints against Centanni. But that’s when Code Enforcement agents, including Lane, started showing up at Mulkey’s house, asking to enter for inspections without giving a reason or posting violation notices on his door.
WWL-TV featured the scrapyard scrape in a December report. In that story, Jefferson Parish President Mike Yenni said his Code Enforcement office was doing all it could to stop Centanni. He also denied they were taking aim at Mulkey for complaining too much.
“No retribution whatsoever,” Yenni said in a November interview. “I don’t operate like that, I’ve never operated like that, we don’t do selective code enforcement.”
But after Mulkey recorded cell phone video of Lane doing an inspection down the street, Lane pressed criminal charges against Mulkey.
In the police report, Lane alleges he told Mulkey to stop filming him, asked Mulkey to leave him alone and told Mulkey the current inspection had nothing to do with him. Lane also told police that Mulkey “kept advancing toward him in an aggressive manner,” the police report says.
Mulkey’s cellphone video does show Lane saying, “Don’t video me. You don’t have my consent," but the video, which Mulkey shot from his own property or in the public street, appears to contradict the rest of Lane’s allegations.
It shows Lane walking down the street, away from Mulkey, to make a phone call. Lane doesn’t say anything more to Mulkey, Mulkey never speaks to Lane and doesn’t ever get close to the enforcement agent in the video.
After going back inside his house, Mulkey re-emerges to record a second cellphone video as Centanni, the next-door-neighbor, drives away in what looks like a parish vehicle. A few seconds later, Lane drives away in his parish vehicle.
In pressing charges against Mulkey, Lane told police he “tried to drive away, only to be stopped by Mulkey who was standing in path of his truck,” according to the police report. “Edgar said he had to back up and get away from Mulkey, because he was unsure if Mulkey may have a weapon,” the police report states.
But Mulkey’s second cellphone video and simultaneously recorded surveillance footage from the front of Mulkey’s house clearly show Lane driving away unimpeded as Mulkey points his cellphone from the side of the road. In the video, Lane never has to stop or back up the truck, as he alleged to police.
Based on a review of cellphone videos and the surveillance video from Mulkey’s home, WWL-TV concluded the recordings capture all of the potential interactions between Lane and Mulkey during Lane’s visit.
The Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office attempted to speak with Mulkey after receiving Lane’s complaint, but Mulkey did not respond. The police issued Mulkey a summons without getting his side or seeing the video. Mulkey tried to show the District Attorney’s Office the video before his arraignment, but prosecutors refused to speak with him.
Mulkey’s attorney, Robert Evans III, finally got to show the videos to the District Attorney’s prosecutor during a pre-trial meeting at First Parish Court on Thursday. Prosecutor Jessica Raines then called Lane into her office.
“They talked to Edgar Lane … and his story didn’t meet up at all with the facts,” Mulkey said.
Within moments of finishing the meeting with Lane, the prosecutor dropped the case against Mulkey. But asked why the charge was dismissed, the District Attorney’s Office declined to comment.
Asked if any action would be taken against Lane for pressing charges and making allegations refuted by the video, Jefferson Parish’s chief operating officer Keith Conley said: "We stand by our employees and the claims presented. We also respect the decision of the courts and their final ruling.”
Conley added that because the case did not go to trial, “no evidence was presented, and there was no judicial decision of any sort. No inference as to the facts of any case can be drawn from the exercise of the prosecutor’s discretion."
But Mulkey said the video was what saved him from being railroaded.
“They should be told by someone in authority that this is unacceptable,” Mulkey said. “I know this happens to others. … Thank God I had video.”