By Meghan Gordon, and Paul Purpura, and Allen Powell II, West Bank bureau
Copyright 2006 The Times-Picayune Publishing Company
The man accused of gunning down a New Orleans police officer Monday on an Algiers street began a life of crime at age 15 and has been in and out of police custody ever since, court records show.
Eddie Allen Harrison III, 23, of Algiers, faces up to 50 years in prison if convicted in state court of attempted first-degree murder in the shooting of officer Andres Gonzalez. Federal authorities also tacked on an additional charge in connection with the shooting.
Capt. David Kirsch, commander of the New Orleans Police Department's 4th District, speculated that Harrison fled following a traffic stop and then shot the pursuing Gonzalez to avoid a possible eight-year prison sentence for being a felon in possession of a gun -- a charge leveled against him in a 2003 incident that was later dropped.
Meanwhile, relatives and colleagues maintained a vigil Tuesday for the critically wounded Gonzalez, who was cut down in the brazen afternoon shooting that left Algiers residents calling for more police patrols in response to recent violence in the bedroom community.
"There's just a sense of lawlessness in this city," said Remy Dixon, owner of Westside Cleaners on Opelousas Street, a few feet from where Gonzalez fell. "These criminals don't have a sense of fear."
Chase, then scuffle
Police said the shooting happened Monday at 3:07 p.m. Gonzalez and his partner stopped a beige Toyota Corolla in the 600 block of Slidell Avenue at Verret Street and took the driver, Joshua Hall, 17, into custody for not having a driver's license, police said. Harrison, the car's only passenger, dashed out of the car and tried to run from Gonzalez, police said.
Gonzalez chased Harrison to the 500 block of Opelousas Avenue, where the two scuffled before Harrison peppered the officer with gunfire, police have said.
The department could not confirm Tuesday whether Harrison's gun or the officer's inflicted the near-fatal injuries.
A pastor's son, Harrison entered the adult criminal justice system in 1998, when he and two other teenagers each were charged by the Jefferson Parish district attorney's office with two counts of armed robbery, according to 24th Judicial District Court records.
His grandmother, Joyce Harrison, said her son asked her not to release any information on her grandson.
"We don't really know what's going on," she said. "I didn't even know he was involved in it until this morning."
At age 17, Eddie Harrison III pleaded guilty to felony armed robbery in May 1999 in the Jefferson Parish case and was sentenced to five years in prison. He completed his sentence and was eligible for a first-offender pardon effective Oct. 10, 2003, according to the state Department of Corrections.
A month after his release, Harrison went back into police custody on new felony charges in Orleans Parish. He was booked with aggravated assault with a firearm, being a felon with a firearm, automobile theft and possession of a stolen automobile. The Orleans Parish district attorney's office refused the charges weeks later, records show.
On July 6, 2004, Harrison was booked with aggravated battery, but Orleans Parish prosecutors last year decided not to pursue the case.
The most recent charges before Monday's incident occurred Jan. 7, when Harrison was booked with resisting an officer, possession of a stolen vehicle and altering a vehicle identification number.
In addition to the attempted murder charge in Gonzalez's shooting, Harrison was booked with possession of a firearm as a felon, a charge that carries up to 15 years in prison upon conviction.
U.S. Attorney Jim Letten also announced Tuesday that the federal charge of being a felon in possession of ammunition was leveled against Harrison, who is expected to appear today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Louis Moore Jr.
"It is our intention to work closely with the Orleans Parish district attorney's office and ensure that they are able to bring all available state charges against this defendant," Letten said in a news release.
Hall, the driver, was booked Monday with being a principal to attempted murder and illegal use of a weapon. He also was cited for not wearing a seat belt and reckless driving.
Still in ICU
Gonzalez was shot in the head and remained in the intensive care unit at Charity Hospital's Elmwood Medical Center trauma unit, where doctors finished hours of surgery Tuesday about 2:30 a.m., Kirsch said.
Monica Herkes, the officer's sister, and their father declined to comment.
Gonzalez, 25, started a law enforcement career in 1999 as a "recruit bailer" for Orleans Parish Prison, where he transported inmates to and from court, Criminal Sheriff Marlin Gusman said. Gonzalez resigned in March 2004 to begin police officer training.
"He was a dedicated young man who always maintained professionalism," Gusman said in a statement.
Gonzalez joined the NOPD in September 2004 after graduating from the police academy with the highest fitness score among his class of recruits. He started duty in the 2nd District, but transferred with his partner to the 4th District three months ago.
Mayor Ray Nagin said the shooting shows that too many aggressive young people have returned to New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina and want to test the limits of law enforcement.
"It's a tragic event, and my hat goes off to that particular officer and my prayers go out to him and his family," Nagin said. "It's just something that really saddens and sickens me."
The shooting, which follows a spate of violence in Algiers, has neighbors questioning their quality of life and calling for more officers on the streets.
Several residents pointed to two shootings in the past week as evidence that violent crime is creeping closer to their community.
Torrey Gloster, 18, was shot to death and two other men injured May 16 at the intersection of Wagner and Newton streets. On Saturday, four men received superficial wounds after several gunshots were fired in the 5700 block of Tullis Drive.
Terry Decou, who works as a part-time church secretary on Opelousas Avenue, said Algiers Point has changed drastically from its once-quiet nature. The problem has only increased since Hurricane Katrina, several residents said.
"The shooting around here is ridiculous," said Decou, who has lived in Algiers for 35 years. "It used to be safe, but it's not safe around here now."
Dixon, the Westside Cleaners owner, said he often is uneasy in his 40-year-old store, because it seems like there are fewer police officers protecting residents.
Businessman Hien Le echoed that he has seen fewer officers patrolling the streets. Le, whose daughter was killed during a store robbery on Opelousas Avenue a year ago, said some businesses close earlier now because workers don't feel safe at night.
But Kirsch said the Algiers police district has grown by 20 officers since Katrina, and a patrol is dedicated strictly to Algiers Point. The commander said his district is working with other jurisdictions to target narcotics traffic and has stationed permanent patrol cars at "hot spots" throughout the community.
While Kirsch acknowledged an increase in crime, he said residents' claims that the police are not as active are off base.
"I think any time something tragic happens people have a tendency to think things are not safe," he said. "It takes a special kind of character to pull a gun on a police officer; it's not very common."
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First Bank and Trust has opened an account for donations to help Gonzalez's family. Contributions may be made at any location in the New Orleans area.
Staff writer Frank Donze contributed to this report. Meghan Gordon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (504) 826-3785. Allen Powell II can be reached at email@example.com or (504) 826-3793.
May 24, 2006
La. cop-shooting suspect had lengthy record