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Confusion, upset over Cantrell's appearance in court in support of teen carjacker's family

The DA, a few council members and, of course, social media, were either perplexed or upset with her decision.

NEW ORLEANS —  

Reactions ranging from bewilderment to outrage continued to boil over Monday to Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s appearance last week in juvenile court to support a 14-year-old carjacker and his family. 

Cantrell surprised juvenile court officials and the district attorney’s office with her unannounced court appearance Thursday in which she sat with the young perpetrator’s family as he was sentenced to probation for three first-degree robbery convictions, committed when the defendant was only 13. 

Chief Juvenile Court Judge Ranord Darensburg handed down the sentence of probation, but he said court rules prohibit him from commenting on the case other than to say, “I followed the facts and the law.” 

The story, first reported Friday night by WWL-TV, struck a nerve and went viral on social media, drawing comments from District Attorney Jason Williams and City Council President Helena Moreno among others. 

Some rank-and-file New Orleans police officers were left puzzled and disappointed in the mayor’s support for the teen just a couple of weeks after visiting with nearly every officer amid an ongoing manpower crisis that has dropped the number of officers to a 50-year low. 

Donovan Livaccari, attorney for the Fraternal Order of Police, said, “It’s an unfortunate situation. I think disappointment is the common thread. Especially given all her visits to the station.” 

WWL-TV reached out to the mayor’s office for comment Friday, then again on Monday, but the station has not heard back. 

Livaccari said the mayor’s silence is prolonging the puzzlement among officers up and down the chain of command. 

“This is probably going to be detrimental to recruiting efforts,” he said. Hopefully it won't be for long.” 

In WWL-TV’s original story, two of the carjacking victims spoke out forcefully against the mayor’s appearance in support of the youngster who robbed them. Both women said they feared for their lives, unaware that the pistol shown by the carjacker was fake. Both said they have since moved away from the city out of fear. 

“The mayor is sitting by their side, consoling his family and it just kind of makes you think, whose side is the city on? Like, are they on your side? Do they care about victims?” asked one of the victims. 

The other victim said, “As we were crying, she was there to support the attacker's mother.” 

The 14-year-old is a graduate of the Pathways Youth Internship Program, created in 2019 by Cantrell, who takes a hands-on approach with its subjects.

Designed to connect 14- to 17-year-olds who have had low-level interaction with the juvenile justice system to work opportunities, the 15-week program's graduation ceremonies are conducted by Cantrelll. She builds relationships with the children and their families, said Emily Wolff, director of the Office of Youth and Families. 

Council President Helena Moreno weighed in on the controversy Monday.

“To show up in court to show support for someone who is now being sentenced for several carjackings, I think it sends a troubling signal,” Moreno said. “I know that the public is very troubled by this. Particularly since we said that we are a city that is trying to help victims of crime.”

Moreno said that she, too, is waiting for an explanation from the mayor. WWL-TV, along with our partners at NOLA.com were able to confirm Monday that the young carjacker had been in the mayor’s “Pathways Youth Internship Program,” but Cantrell’s direct connection to this particular participant remains a mystery.

“Without a real thorough explanation as to why she was there, I think that causes additional questions,” Moreno said. “It's confusing and it's disturbing and I certainly see why the public is feeling outrage over this.”

District Attorney Jason Williams stated last week saying he was disappointed in the sentence and had not been told why the mayor was in court. He said his prosecutors pushed for detention for the robber.

“It was abundantly clear based on the facts, evidence, and circumstances that serious jail time was required,” Williams said. “We are extremely disappointed in the sentence that was ultimately handed down.”

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