Jacklean Davis Was The First Black Woman To Serve As a Homicide Detective in New Orleans. Did A Now Disbarred Prosecutor Bring About Her Fall?
In the 1990s, Davis was a policing superstar, hailed as the best crime solver the Crescent City had ever seen. But a dispute over a paid detail at a festival turned into a major federal case against her, brought by a prosecutor involved whose conduct in other cases was called ‘grotesque.’
This story was produced in partnership with The Guardian.
On Feb. 22, 2002, Sgt. Jacklean Davis was on a walk with her supervisor, Lieutenant Samuel Lee, when Lee got a call from their commander at the Seventh District in New Orleans. “The commander asked him if he knew my whereabouts, and he said, ‘Yeah, she’s here, we’re walking,’” Davis remembers.
“I need you to return back to your residence,” Davis recalls the commander telling Lee. “You’re about to be arrested. And surely, when we pulled up to Sam’s residence, they had four black cars and two police units. Four black cars for the FBI agents.”
For more than seven months, the New Orleans Police Department’s Public Integrity Bureau, the FBI, and the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana had been investigating Davis and Lee over allegations that they extorted a group of Florida promoters who hired them to work a paid detail during an Essence Festival event on July 7, 2001. A paid detail is off-duty, sometimes highly paid work for police officers, and Essence is an annual event that has become a Black cultural institution since the first festival in 1995, bringing acts like Beyoncé, Mary J. Blige, and Prince to the city.
Davis’s arrest effectively ended her 20-year career with the NOPD. She was not just a veteran officer but also the first Black female homicide detective in New Orleans history.
For years, Davis was celebrated in newspaper and magazine profiles including Ebony, which in May 1991 asked, “Is Jackie Davis The Best Homicide Detective in New Orleans’ History?” In a February 1992 profile for The Philadelphia Inquirer that also appeared in The Chicago Tribune—“Next Stop Hollywood? The Stunning Life of New Orleans’ Top Cop”—Davis was hailed for “a record better than any other detective and all the more impressive for the first black woman to join an elite corps of mostly white men who prodded her to fail.” The piece also mentioned Hollywood interest in Davis’s story from stars like Whoopi Goldberg (none of which came to fruition). After Davis’s arrest, federal indictment, and conviction in the early 2000s, a career that had shattered the New Orleans Police Department racial and gender norms collapsed into the dustbin of history.
But history may be moving her way. In 2013, the convictions of five New Orleans police officers, charged in 2005 with shooting and killing people fleeing Hurricane Katrina’s floodwaters or covering up the shooting later, were overturned because of misconduct by prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana, including Salvador “Sal” Perricone, the prosecutor in the case—and the prosecutor who pursued Davis.
The unraveling of the Danziger Bridge case over what a federal judge called “grotesque prosecutorial misconduct” by assistant U.S. attorneys Perricone and Jan Mann was a profound embarrassment for the Justice Department. Victims included a 17-year-old boy and an intellectually disabled man, and the officers engaged in an elaborate cover-up of the killings that included inventing witnesses. In December 2018, the Louisiana Supreme Court disbarred Perricone over his misconduct in that case, as well as in a federal corruption investigation into a privately held landfill company in Jefferson Parish, a New Orleans suburb. Davis, now 63, and her attorneys have long maintained that her case was tainted by prosecutorial misconduct by Perricone. Was it too late for justice?
Jacklean Davis was born on Feb. 6, 1957 in Cleveland to Lafrench and Frederick Davis. When Davis was 3, her dad, a delivery driver, died in a vehicle accident. Two years later, Davis says her mother mismanaged both a lawsuit against her father’s employer and the inheritance he left for her and her brother who was 3 at the time. “My grandfather was concerned about my brother and I’s well-being and issued my mother a threat that if she didn’t put her life together, he would have us taken from her,” Davis said.
Soon afterward, Davis and her brother boarded a bus to Louisiana with their mother. “Evidently it had been a pre-arrangement that my grandfather made with his sister here in New Orleans,” Davis says. “My mother left and we stayed here in the state.” Davis and her brother moved in with her great-aunt, Mabel Walker, whom she called “Madea” and her husband, Willie, a Merchant Marine, in a shotgun home on Baronne Street in the Central City neighborhood.
It’s a historic Black neighborhood with deep cultural roots—jazz great Buddy Bolden lived there in the early 20th century, Tyler Perry lived across the street from Davis, and New Orleans soul singer Irma Thomas sang in local bars. Much later, Perry released a series of 11 “Madea” movies based on a fictional character named Mabel Simmons who was raised in New Orleans.
But Central City was—and remains—deeply segregated. Black people lived on “lakebound” blocks to the north, toward Lake Pontchartrain, whereas whites resided on St. Charles Avenue and “riverbound” streets, meaning those on higher ground and nearer to the Mississippi River. For Davis, the arrival of Carnival season every year temporarily broke down racial barriers. “The whole area, we all mingled together during Mardi Gras,” she says. “You could come on the street. You hear the music blasting. We had groups like the Neville Brothers who were uptown.”
Davis’s home was different from others in Central City. “As a child, I constantly saw people, a group of the same people every day. And then there were times I saw strangers. All I knew was that these men did the same job that my uncle did. They were Merchant Marines and they would come off the ship. They would come to the house. [Mabel] literally let the room, two rooms. They would stay a minute or they would hook up with the ladies that would come.” Davis says that when her great-aunt wasn’t facilitating sex work at home, she worked at a nearby bar called Shadowland. The area around the bar was violent—“People got shot. People got stabbed. People got robbed.”—but it was Shadowland’s chaotic energy that changed Davis’s life. One day, Davis witnessed a man brutally assaulting a woman near the bar. Davis watched in shock as he punched and bit her—but she fought back, and then, Davis remembers, “this woman beat him down.” Moments later, a group of police officers “just come from out of nowhere. And I’m thinking that the woman about to be arrested, but come to find out, she was a Black woman detective.”
The detective’s name was Gail Miller, but on Central City’s streets she was known as “Christy Love.” “I just became, not obsessed, but every time I saw this woman, I was just in awe,” Davis says. “This policewoman inspired me because I wasn’t a weakling. I was a loner, and I was a loner because I stuttered. … And people used to make fun of me, so I would never talk. And this woman… I mean, she just did something to me … I just had never had a Black woman to look up to. I had always, unfortunately, been told I wasn’t going to be nothing.”
I'm thinking that the woman about to be arrested, but come to find out, she was a Black woman detective.Jacklean Davis, former NOPD homicide detective
There was more than sex work going on at her great-aunt’s home. Davis remembers Madea telling her a man would be staying in the front room one night. “He technically raped me,” she said. “And I contacted my aunt and after the man left.” Madea, she said, “you didn’t mess with her … I still to the day remember my aunt getting her gun and leaving.” Did she catch the man when she set out into the night with her gun? ”If you knew Mabel Walker….” she said, her voice trailing off.
Davis says that she was also sexually abused by her great-uncle in her pre-teens until he became sick with jaundice, and then with cancer, while stationed overseas. “He died when I was 14 years old,” Davis says. “And on his deathbed he asked me to forgive him for what he had done to me. And I forgave him.”
Davis found solace from the horrors of home in school. She thrived at Carter G. Woodson middle school and then McDonogh 35 in the St. Bernard area. But in her sophomore year in high school, she got pregnant and was sent to a school “for wayward pregnant girls.” After Davis had her daughter, Christina, in 1974, she was allowed to finish school at McDonogh 35 and headed to college at the University of New Orleans. Davis studied chemistry but only made it midway through; she couldn’t afford childcare and was forced to bring Christina to class. “I wind up bringing my baby to school one time, and got so embarrassed because while the professor was lecturing us, Christina was talking to the professor.” Davis says. “Every time the professor would talk and write something on the chalkboard, she would holler out, ‘No!’”
After dropping out of college, Davis worked a series of odd jobs until she decided to pursue her long-held dream of police work. She succeeded on her fifth attempt at the test to become an officer. Davis chose the New Orleans Police Department’s “Urban Squad” as her first assignment which meant patrolling major housing projects in both the city proper and the Westbank, the area across the Mississippi River on its western banks. Davis says she was deployed to public housing because drug dealers handed off drugs and weapons to women, so a female officer allowed for an easier and more comfortable search. She was then sent to the First District, followed by a stint in the Eighth District, which includes the French Quarter, where she worked with a white female partner. The two were nicknamed “Salt and Pepper,” and they patrolled the Quarter, where street-level sex work flourished in the early 1980s. “I knew about prostitutes and pimps, having lived with them most of my life,” Davis says. “So, whenever there was an issue dealing with a prostitute or pimp, they called us.”
After a transfer to the Sixth District, Davis was promoted to vice, which landed her back in the French Quarter. Davis says she made more than 500 arrests during a year and a half period. And it was during her time in vice that the notion of Davis as a mythic New Orleans character began to take hold. In the French Quarter, Davis conducted vice busts in front of neighborhood restaurants and bars, to the delight of patrons who she said watched her arrests. “It became a spectacle,” Davis remembers.
Davis says she also made a potent—and entertaining—trial witness. When one wealthy man took his vice arrest to court, his defense attorney condescendingly asked how his client could have found Davis, who wore white tennis shoes, jeans, and a crop top during the bust, attractive. “Detective Davis, show the court why my client solicits you or alleged to have solicited you,’’ Davis remembers the attorney asking. “And I said, ‘Are you sure you want to see it?’ He said, Yes.’ I stood up, took my coat off. I had a pencil skirt on, and by then, I was, 34, 24, 38. I turned my backside, and I tooted it open and pat my butt … the whole court erupted. They had people running out the court laughing. So after that, I turned around and put my coat back on and sat down. The district attorney said, ‘Detective Davis, do you have anything else you want to tell the court or show the court?’ I said, ‘No.’ Got off the stand, walked out the court. The jury deliberated for 15 minutes and found the man guilty.”
Police department officials made Davis wear a wire for almost two months because she was so productive, she said. “I was making so many vice cases that they couldn’t believe that I was actually making the cases.” Davis says the wire turned up nothing improper on her part; The Appeal obtained her personnel file and found no disciplinary actions related to her tenure in vice.
After vice, Davis worked on rapes which she has described as “therapy” after having been a victim herself. She says she was instrumental in the arrest of David Fleury, a serial rapist who terrorized New Orleans in the mid-1980s. In 1986, a New Orleans judge handed Fleury mandatory life sentences on each of two counts of aggravated rape, 15 years on each of two counts of crime against nature, 99 years for an armed robbery and 500 years for an aggravated burglary.
Soon after, Davis joined the homicide unit. She says there was just one other woman, Julie Jones, in homicide and she was white; her supervisor, David Morales, remembered at least three white women in homicide when Davis arrived. “They didn’t want me in homicide,” Davis says. “They accepted Julie, but they didn’t accept me because for one thing, I was Black. I am a dark-skinned Black woman. And then I was arrogant. I knew I was good at what I did.”
Photographs of Aunt Jemima were regularly posted in her work area. Tape dispensers and other office supplies were glued to her desk. Dog feces was placed in her desk drawers and in her office mailbox.
Davis says her early success was partly the result of mentorship by three veteran white detectives: Morales, Norman Pierce, and Pascal Saladino. But they didn’t spare her from racist attacks by her fellow detectives. Photographs of Aunt Jemima were regularly posted in her work area. Tape dispensers and other office supplies were glued to her desk. Dog feces was placed in her desk drawers and in her office mailbox. At one point, Davis’s mailbox was defaced so badly that her name wasn’t visible. “She took a lot of abuse when she came to homicide because she was a Black female,” Morales told The Appeal. “They went after her constantly.” Sometimes detectives would go to the file room and “tear her files up,” Morales recalled. “It got to the point where I would actually keep her files in the trunk of my car.”
One day, when Davis’s daughter Christina called the office, a white officer—who she refused to name—called her a “little bitch.” After Christina called Davis in tears, Davis confronted the officer. She was furious with him, and she said he went to put his hand on his gun during their clash. “We about to shoot each other. When two detectives intervened, he takes his hand off his gun, and he raised back like he’s gonna hit me. They told him, ‘We want you to hit her. You gonna get the best ass whopping that you’ll ever get up here.’”
Around the time of that standoff, murders in New Orleans were escalating. Between Aug. 23, 1986 and Dec. 28, 1986, a gunman went on a killing spree, committing eight murders, and several rapes and armed robberies. The cases were particularly terrifying because the assailant targeted couples.
In one incident, the man shot and killed Archie Chapman in his car, under the Interstate 610 overpass, after Chapman handed over some cash. The man then took Chapman’s girlfriend, also in the car, to the St. Louis Hotel, where he raped her.
Morales says the search for suspects was hobbled in part because law enforcement “didn’t believe there was such a thing as a Black serial killer.” Davis disagreed and voraciously pursed leads, which included a Black man who said he witnessed at least one of the murders. “This guy would commit the murders and stay on the scene, and go up to the homicide officer and pretend to be a witness of the murder he committed,” Davis remembers. “And the detectives took him up to the homicide office and took a statement from him as a witness. Well, I wind up getting the case, wind up clearing the case, and making a name for myself that a lot of the detectives started getting pretty much upset about.”
In February 1987, John Brooks was indicted on eight counts of first-degree murder, though prosecutors later elected to try Brooks on four counts. Brooks was convicted on all four counts in the case, but because the jury deadlocked at the penalty phase, he was sentenced to four life sentences instead of death. In 1991, Brooks went to trial for the murders of Chapman and another man, and he was convicted and sentenced to death. On appeal, the death sentence was reversed by the Louisiana Supreme Court, though his conviction remained intact.
The early 1990s were the pinnacle of Davis’s career in policing. She was just in her mid-30s, riding high in the homicide department (she boasted that of 100 cases assigned to her, she solved all but two) and celebrated in national media for her sleuthing skills. “She was the best I ever saw at solving a murder case,” Morales told the Philadelphia Inquirer. ”There was nobody close to her in the history of the homicide division.” Morales said many of the homicides in the majority Black city occurred in its housing projects, and Davis quickly built up a reserve of trust with residents. Morales says white detectives regularly struck out with eyewitnesses who would later cooperate when Davis talked to them. “It used to make the other detectives so mad. She would solve these cases.” But last year, in an investigation into a 1987 homicide, The Lens, a New Orleans-based nonprofit news outlet, claimed that Davis withheld exculpatory evidence and gave inaccurate testimony about her investigation during the trial of a man who was quickly arrested, indicted, convicted of murder, and handed a life without parole sentence.
They didn’t accept me because for one thing, I was Black. I am a dark-skinned Black woman. And then I was arrogant. I knew I was good at what I did.Jacklean Davis, former NOPD homicide detective
After her stint in homicide, Davis was promoted to Internal Affairs (IAD), where she worked on complex police corruption cases. In 1992, the sister of a cocaine dealer lodged a complaint with IAD about an officer who she said was protecting him and using cocaine at his home. Davis surveilled the home—in the police department’s Fifth District—and in early 1992 officers arrested four suspects and seized 15 plastic bags of rock cocaine. The officer under investigation by Davis wasn’t at the scene, but an informant told an officer working with Davis that the officer smoked crack cocaine and frequented the residence. In a January 1993 hearing on the officer’s firing, Davis said she “never saw him at the residence.” A few months later, in June, the New Orleans Civil Service Commission affirmed his termination after he tested positive for cocaine in a non-random drug test.
Davis believed that was the end of the matter—and there were bigger cases occupying her attention. She investigated Len Davis, a Fifth District officer nicknamed “Robocop” for his brutality and protection of major New Orleans drug traffickers. He is not related to Davis.
“I was his albatross,” Davis remembers. “I knew a lot about Len Davis.” Davis opened two IAD cases on Len Davis, but a separate inquiry into the officer who had been fired for his drug use and alleged relationships with drug dealers sidetracked her. At a 1994 hearing in the case, Davis contradicted her earlier testimony but insisted it was a mistake. “I saw him at the house,” she said in the hearing. Then she said, “Well, no, I didn’t go inside the house. I knew that the associate was inside the house, and I did see [him] go to the house. So I would assume, at this point, that he was inside the house with the guy.” Davis maintains that the contradiction was a mistake. She also says her boss told her, “This is not perjury. It’s just a discrepancy in statement.” But on Aug. 30, 1994, police Superintendent Joseph Orticke Jr. wrote her up for perjury and she was suspended from Aug. 31 to Oct. 11.
As she served her suspension, an extensive federal investigation into Len Davis and his network of corrupt officers and drug dealers neared its conclusion. Federal agents wiretapped his and his associates’ cellphones, and informants fed intelligence on him to the FBI. On Oct. 13, just one day after the end of Davis’ suspension, two men murdered 32-year-old Kim Groves on orders from Len Davis. He ordered the murder because Groves witnessed Davis and another officer beat a man—and then reported the excessive-force incident to IAD. He was caught on a wiretap telling a man named Paul “Cool” Hardy to kill her. Hardy tracked down Groves and shot her in the head. Along with eight other police officers, both men were quickly indicted and later convicted in federal court on charges ranging from civil rights violations to drug trafficking; Davis remains on federal death row in Terre Haute, Indiana. In 2011, Hardy was resentenced to life after a federal judge ruled that he was intellectually disabled, which made him ineligible for the death penalty. Davis says she was devastated by the murder of Groves and feared for her life; Len Davis, she said, “put out a contract on me.”
The year 1994 was a dark one for New Orleans—and for Davis. “The city’s soul is in jeopardy,” Mayor Marc Morial lamented. The city recorded 424 homicides—a staggering number for a city of its size—including James Darby, a 9-year-old who had written a letter to President Bill Clinton that April. “Dear Mr. Clinton,” Darby wrote, “I want you to stop the killing in the city. People is dead and I think that somebody might kill me. So would you please stop the people from deading [sic]. I’m asking you nicely to stop it. I know you can do it. Do it. I now [sic] you could.” Ten days later, on Mother’s Day, Darby was shot to death at a New Orleans park; an errant bullet, fired by a 15-year-old who was attempting to settle a score with a rival, killed him. In July, Clinton told Darby’s story during a weekly radio address urging Congress to pass his Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act which included $8.7 billion for prison construction for states that enacted “truth-in-sentencing” laws requiring people convicted of violent crimes to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences. “That waiting has to end, and end now. … The random violence violates our values, our sense of family, our community, our whole hope for the future,” he said.
When Davis returned to work in late 1994, she was no longer in Internal Affairs. She spent the mid to late 1990s working in different districts across New Orleans; her work in homicide was history as were the glowing profiles in the national media. She began working in the Seventh District—which covers New Orleans East, a historically Black, working class part of the city so far from downtown that it feels like an exurb—under Lieutenant Samuel Lee. In the early summer of 2001, Florida-based promoters with a sports oriented website called BigPros Inc. approached Lee about hiring officers for a paid detail during an Essence Festival event. At the time, Davis worked details at the Superdome and at a Walmart in New Orleans East, where Lee also worked a detail. Davis says that she agreed to work a three-day detail, but the BigPros promoters insisted that she extend it to four days.
Davis says that on July 7, 2001, she got into an argument with the promoters at a Sheraton hotel on Canal Street downtown. She says that at the end of the night, the promoters said they weren’t going to pay for the detail and that she radioed Lee, who was working a detail at Walmart that night, for assistance. When Lee arrived, the promoters said they refused to pay. Davis says the promoters claimed she and Lee did not deliver the agreed upon number of officers—23—for the detail. Davis insists that all 23 officers worked the detail and that the promoters then took her to a hotel room where they paid her. Davis says she accompanied one of the promoters, Tim Crockett, downstairs at the hotel where she wrote out a receipt. “I specify, was there any issues with this detail?” Davis remembers. “Crockett said no. You willingly providing the officers with this amount of money. He signed it. I shook his hand, we then parted. Sam paid me my 400 and something dollars. He left, I left.” Davis and Lee later said they provided this receipt to their attorney, whom they said lost it.
“I specify, was there any issues with this detail?” Davis remembers. “Crockett said no. You willingly providing the officers with this amount of money. He signed it. I shook his hand, we then parted. Sam paid me my 400 and something dollars. He left, I left.”
A few weeks later, the BigPros promoters filed a complaint about Lee with IAD that was forwarded to federal investigators. Crockett and his promoters told a story about the night of July 7 that was strikingly different from Davis’s account: They said Lee insisted they pay nearly $10,000 for the detail, twice the negotiated amount, with fewer than 23 officers. Crockett and his fellow promoters also said that Lee, who was armed, warned that when Tupac Shakur shorted them on a detail years ago, he took the rapper and his entourage “on a trip downtown.” “Tupac came to the city and he didn’t want to pay,” one promoter recalled Lee saying, “and by the time we were through with him, he paid the money.” Both Davis and Lee were indicted in federal court on extortion and conspiracy and aiding and abetting charges in February 2002, despite the fact that Davis “was not named in the original complaint, and it is unclear how she became a target of the ensuing investigation” according to her post-conviction counsel. The pair was prosecuted by Perricone, an assistant U.S. attorney. During a two-day trial that August, a stream of damaging testimony about Davis and Lee emerged from prosecution witnesses. One promoter testified that Davis grabbed him as he attempted to leave a ballroom at the Hilton. Absent from the witness stand was Davis. A jury convicted both her and Lee, and she was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison and ordered to pay $2,000 in restitution.
Just one day later, however, a prosecutor with the Orleans Parish district attorney’s office contacted the U.S. Attorney’s Office to say that he’d read a newspaper article about the guilty verdicts. He told federal prosecutors that the Orleans Parish DA had issued an arrest warrant on June 2, 2002, for Crockett over a bad check for $12,500 to New Orleans nightclub Tipitina’s related to a January 2002 event. Restitution was made to Tipitina’s, and no criminal charges were filed against Crockett. But to the attorneys for Davis and Lee, the warrant seemed like Brady material that should have been disclosed to the defense by prosecutors. On Sept. 9, 2002, they filed separate motions and memorandums for acquittal and new trials. Lee also filed a pleading that asked for the judge to examine the Brady material. The district court granted Lee and Davis’s requests for an oral argument and an evidentiary hearing, and it conducted a review of the government’s files in the Lee and Davis cases.
After reviewing the government’s files, however, a judge wrote that he “found nothing in the files that would constitute Brady or Giglio material.” On appeal, Davis’ post-conviction attorney argued that trial counsel was ineffective and “adamantly refused ” refused to allow her to take the stand. But The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Davis’s conviction, writing that although prosecutors failed to disclose the arrest warrant, it was not material to guilt or punishment. “Even assuming that the factual circumstances surrounding the warrant and the civil complaints could have been used to impeach the testimony of the BigPros partners, there was sufficient corroborating evidence to support the jury’s verdict,” the judges wrote. “Appellants have not shown a reasonable probability that the outcome of the trial would have been different had the evidence of Crockett’s arrest warrant been disclosed.”
Daniel Medwed, a Northeastern University law professor, said the standard the judges used, the materiality standard, “is too high, especially when it’s applied in hindsight,” Medwed told The Appeal. “Psychologically it’s difficult for a judge or others to say ‘hey that evidence would have made a difference.’ It’s a fool’s errand.”
In January 2003, more than a decade after the Ebony feature, Davis was profiled by the Times-Picayune in New Orleans. This time, a reporter captured Davis not in homicide division stardom, but tearily hugging her daughter Christina as she boarded a bus at the Greyhound terminal in New Orleans bound for a federal prison in Tallahassee, Florida. “It’s like a Greek tragedy,” her attorney Robert Jenkins said.
Davis says that in Tallahassee she was housed in general population, a dangerous placement for a former police officer. “Robert told me that they wanted to put me in population to try to break me,” Davis says, “but my first week there, I came across over a hundred women that knew of me. And they told me that they had my back.”
This time, a reporter captured Davis not in homicide division stardom, but tearily hugging her daughter Christina as she boarded a bus at the Greyhound terminal in New Orleans bound for a federal prison in Tallahassee, Florida.
On Dec. 30, 2004, Davis was released from prison to a halfway house in New Orleans and then to her longtime home in New Orleans East. She took a job at the law office of her post-conviction attorney Laurie White (who is now a judge in New Orleans).
The post-Katrina years, however, were good to Perricone and the U.S. attorney’s office in New Orleans. In 2010, they indicted police officers for the murder of Henry Glover, who was falsely suspected of looting on the Westbank, shot to death by police who then set his body on fire. And then, the same year, they indicted six officers in the Danziger Bridge case (earlier, five other officers entered guilty pleas in the case). Clancy Dubos, political editor of New Orleans alternative weekly The Gambit, hailed U.S. Attorney Jim Letten, Perricone’s boss, and his prosecutors as “modern-day untouchables.”
But in 2011, Billy Gibbens, a defense attorney for one of Perricone’s targets—Frederick Heebe, a businessman facing a federal investigation over a $160 million landfill contract—noticed that a commenter on the Times-Picayune’s website named “Henry L. Mencken1951” sounded like Perricone. Gibbens hired a former FBI language expert who analyzed writing in the Unabomber case to examine the posts and filed a lawsuit alleging that the anonymous commenter was someone in the U.S. attorney’s office. On March 20, 2012, he resigned. It was later determined that beginning in or around November 2007 through March 14, 2012, Perricone posted more than 2,600 comments on nola.com using at least five online identities—“campstblue,” “legacyusa,” “dramatis personae,” “Henry L. Mencken1951,” and “fed up”—and that between 100 to 200 of those posts related to cases prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s office. Heebe was never charged in the investigation; in April 2012, Heebe sued Perricone for defamation related to comments he made about him under the “Henry L. Mencken1951” alias. About one month later, Heebe voluntarily dismissed the lawsuit without prejudice.
Verdicts in the Danziger Bridge and Glover cases were suddenly at risk. An internal investigation by the Justice Department found that other high-ranking members of the office had made similar comments online. In September 2013, the Danziger Bridge verdicts were overturned, and in 2016, five of the officers entered guilty pleas to charges that significantly reduced their sentences to three to 12 years. That same year, a federal judge reduced the sentence of former New Orleans officer Gregory McRae, who set Glover’s body on fire after another officer shot him, from 17 years to just under 12 years.
Perricone’s online commenting also led to Letten’s resignation. But Perricone’s comments about police misconduct overshadowed comments about Black people—and the Black community in New Orleans. He lamented “30 years of Black rule” in one post, according to The New Orleans Advocate. In another, Perricone wrote “one of our founding fathers said it best … The Negro is not given to reflection, but to sensation” Such posts carried profound equal justice implications for a prosecutor bringing cases in one of the Blackest cities in America.
Robert Jenkins, the attorney who represented Davis at trial, referenced Perricone’s comments during the trial of another client, former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, who was facing bribery and fraud charges. In a memorandum to support a motion to continue filed in September 2013, Jenkins argued that “on-line postings already evidence wholly unacceptable personal and racial commentary about the defendant,” referring to posts by Perricone. In a May 2009 post on nola.com, Perricone wrote fictitious dialogue between Nagin and Ed Blakely, the city’s former recovery chief who famously promised a post-Katrina construction boom with “cranes in the sky”: “Did you say crane, man? You know we ain’t got none of dem things here, man.” In a June post, Perricone wrote: “For all of you who have a penchant for firearms and how they work, Ray Nagin lives on Park Island.” But in July 2014, Nagin was sentenced to 10 years in a corruption case brought by federal prosecutors in New Orleans. In 2015, the Times-Picayune obtained a copy of a report about the online commenting from the Department of Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility. The report was heavily redacted, but it did note that Perricone and Mann “caused significant damage to the good will and reputation” of both the DOJ and the U.S. attorney’s office.
I will say this: the entire nola.com ‘scandal,’ as your occuaption [sic] calls everything, was a shill and coverup for major corruption operating Orleans and Jefferson Parishes.Salvador Perricone, former prosecutor, U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana
The Appeal asked Perricone to comment on the failure to disclose the Crockett warrant, his conduct in the Danziger Bridge case and others, his response to a federal judge’s statement that he committed “significant, repeated” misconduct in the cases, and how Davis ended up targeted in the 2001 federal paid detail investigation even though it was Lee who arranged it. In an email, Perricone wrote: “I will say this: the entire nola.com ‘scandal,’ as your occuaption [sic] calls everything, was a shill and coverup for major corruption operating Orleans and Jefferson Parishes.” Of his online comments about Black people, Perricone wrote that “I just repeated the words [of] Thomas Jefferson. Besides, most of the people I prosecuted for corruption and orgaized [sic] crime were white … The people who were slaughter [sic] on the bridge were black, and I felt deeply for them. They were murdered. And in my career, I have seen a lot of death. If I was a racists [sic], as you think I am, I wouldn’t have taken up their cause. And I pray they get justice in another realm. I hate corrupt reporters, cops and judges, for our society has suffered ineffiable [sic] damage from all three.” Perricone did not respond to The Appeal’s other questions.
Davis wasn’t pleased by Perricone’s fall: “When all of that stuff started happening to Sal … It really saddened me. I actually felt pity for Sal.” But “he destroyed my family. He destroyed my daughter,” she said. “I’ll never forget, when that jury came back and the judge said ‘guilty,’ my daughter cried so loud in court that everybody held their head down.” Davis says she finds a deeper pain—and a sense of camaraderie–with the Danziger Bridge and Glover families. “I can understand the hurt and the betrayal that those families have to live with the rest of their life. I can understand that.”
Davis has also long warned of the dangers of excessive force but in the wake of George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis, she doesn’t feel satisfaction that her worldview has been redeemed. Instead, she says she is mourning both Floyd’s family—and her former profession. “In regards to the protests I’m 100 percent behind them,” she said. “As a supervisor, if I had a subordinate like Mr. Chauvin I woulda been on him like gravy on rice … If you cross that line you ain’t gotta worry about internal affairs, you ain’t gotta worry about the superintendent. You gotta worry about me. Because I’m gonna be the one to throw you underneath the bus.” She adds, sounding relieved, that a grandson who was interested in joining the New Orleans Police Department, and later the feds, is going into education.
Now, as COVID-19 continues its deadly spread in the city—particularly among Black residents—Davis feels a different, more personal pain. “Being a homicide detective, civilians think we have no feelings,” she says. “But during this virus, people that I interacted with, people I knew, people I care about, became victims. The last matriarch of my family, my mother’s baby sister, passed away. And I lost 10 friends. So coronavirus put me on a whirlwind of feelings.”
“I’m the one that stood over death so many years,” she said. “I’m the one that saw the worst of society, but coronavirus took a toll. Everyone that I loved and continued to love, I say this: I will meet you in the afterlife. I have no regrets. God could take me tomorrow. I lived my life.”