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May 17, 2013

Arrests in New Orleans parade shootings cheered

NEW ORLEANS — Days after sudden gunfire brought a chaotic and bloody end to a Mother’s Day neighborhood parade in New Orleans, news of six arrests gave an organizer of the traditional event reason to celebrate again.

“I’m just ecstatic,” Edward Buckner, president of the Original Big 7 Social Aid and Pleasure Club, said Thursday.

Two brothers were booked with 20 counts each of attempted second-degree murder in Sunday’s shooting spree in which 19 people were struck by bullets and one was injured while fleeing. Authorities said three people remain in critical condition.

Akein Scott, 19, was captured Wednesday night. A $10 million bond was set for him in the shooting case Thursday and he was ordered held without bond, pending another hearing on an unrelated gun and weapon charge. His brother, Shawn Scott, 24, was arrested Thursday morning. The district attorney’s office had said Shawn Scott would make an initial court appearance Friday, but court records show bond was set at $10 million for him in a hearing Thursday evening. An additional $91,000 in bond was added for other drug and weapon charges.

Four others were arrested for allegedly helping Akein Scott avoid capture. They are charged with being accessories after the fact to attempted second-degree murder and obstruction of justice, police said.

Motives for the shootings have not been given but police said the shootings were believed to be drug related and that the Scott brothers are thought to be members of a gang called the Frenchmen and Derbigny Boys.

News of the arrests in a case of violence that brought unwanted national attention to the tourist-dependent city was welcomed by San Francisco freelance journalist Mark Hertsgaard, shot in the leg as he watched the parade.

“I love New Orleans and I love anything that helps to heal New Orleans from this event, including bringing justice to the perpetrators,” Hertsgaard said Thursday in a telephone interview from his home in San Francisco.

Sunday’s shooting happened during a “second line” parade, so called because watchers of the procession of musicians and festively clad marchers often join in, forming a second line of marchers.

Buckner said the Original Big 7 club plans to re-stage the parade on June 1. Sunday’s parade drew an estimated 400 along its route through a neighborhood in New Orleans’ 7th Ward.

The abrupt end came when bullets started flying in the crowd. Surveillance camera video released early Monday showed one man apparently firing into the crowd, immediately scattering the assembled parade-watchers as some fell to the ground. Police said Akein Scott has been identified by an unnamed witness as the person seen on the video. Shawn Scott’s role was not immediately clear.

Their arrests pleased Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who held a news conference at the shooting site Thursday at noon, along with police chief Ronal Serpas and District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro. Dozens of uniformed officers and an array of police vehicles were in the background at an intersection that is off the beaten path for most tourists but less than two miles from the popular French Quarter.

Landrieu, who strongly promotes the city’s tourism industry and its successful hosting of Super Bowls, music festivals and the annual Mardi Gras celebration, said the arrests are the latest evidence of the city’s determination to stop the gunplay that mars its image.

“We all came back here to make it clear that the culture of death and violence on the streets of New Orleans is unnatural, it’s unacceptable, and the people of New Orleans have had enough,” Landrieu said.

He credited tips from citizens to the Crimestoppers organization, which contributed to a $10,000 reward in the case, with helping lead to the arrests. He also said the arrests are proof that cooperation among police, the district attorney and federal law enforcement agencies — U.S. marshals helped in the arrest — is paying off. He pointed to last week’s indictment of 15 people on gang-related charges including the killing of a 5-year-old girl hit when gunfire broke out during an outdoor birthday party last May.

Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, an independent watchdog group, said it appears there is better cooperation and coordination between police and the district attorney’s office in recent years. He credits Cannizzaro, elected district attorney in 2008; Landrieu, elected mayor in 2010; and Serpas, picked to head the police department by Landrieu.

“The police department and the DA’s office were basically silo operations as opposed to partners,” in years past, Goyeneche said.

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