Louisiana jury convicts 1 ex-officer and acquits another in 2022 shooting death

GRETNA, La. (AP) — A Louisiana jury has convicted one former law enforcement officer and acquitted another in the 2022 shooting death of a man who was sitting in an SUV outside a house reputed for illegal drug activity.

Issac Hughes, who was convicted Friday, and Johnathan Louis, who was acquitted, were Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office deputies when Daniel Vallee, 34, was killed in the New Orleans suburb of Marrero.

Police body camera footage showed that after a 15-minute confrontation, Vallee’s last words to officers were, “Please, put the guns down."

Hughes and Louis were each indicted on a manslaughter charge with a possible 40-year sentence. Hughes faces up to five years in prison after jurors convicted him on the lesser charge of negligent homicide.

The two were among five deputies responding to a noise complaint in the early hours of Feb. 16, 2022. Sheriff Joe Lopinto said Vallee was in a vehicle outside a suspected drug house and refused to get out when instructed by the deputies, WVUE-TV reported.

Defense attorneys said Hughes and Louis acted in self-defense because Vallee dropped his hands out of sight multiple times, even as officers commanded him to keep them visible. Attorneys said the two officers believed Vallee might “weaponize” his vehicle.

Prosecutors said deputies had opportunities to de-escalate. They said another deputy never fired his weapon but kept it at a “low ready” position, indicating other officers did not perceive an imminent threat.

“The punishment for non-compliance with a law enforcement officer is not death,” Assistant District Attorney Rachel Africk said.

Vallee restarted the SUV’s engine 45 seconds before he was shot, and four deputies drew their weapons, according to The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate. One deputy, who was not charged, yelled at Vallee to turn off the car, and Vallee shouted, “I’m scared. Y’all trying to kill me.”

Vallee dropped his right hand and honked the SUV’s horn and then Hughes, who was standing in front of the vehicle, opened fire and shot all 18 rounds from his gun toward the windshield, according to testimony. Louis was standing at the passenger window and fired nine rounds just after Hughes started shooting.

Vallee was shot eight times and pronounced dead at the scene.

Neither Hughes nor Louis testified during their four-day trial in Gretna. Jefferson Parish sheriff's officers began using body cameras in December 2021, and Vallee's death was the first shooting by deputies after that policy was put in place.