Baton Rouge, LA – Louisiana citizens and law enforcement officers have lashed out at a Louisiana judge, after she repeatedly granted bond reductions to a man who went on to murder a Zachary police officer on Monday night.
Zachary Police Department (ZPD) Reserve Officer Christopher Lawton, 41, was murdered in the line of duty, when he was intentionally struck and run over by a U-Haul truck driven by 33-year-old Albert Franklin, during an attempt to serve a felony narcotics warrant.
ZPD Chief David McDavid didn’t hold back on Tuesday, when he declared that 19th Judicial District Court Judge Trudy White had “blood on her hands” with regards to Officer Lawton’s brutal death, WAFB reported.
“I want the judge to look at this man right here,” Chief McDavid said, as he held up two photographs of the fallen hero. "This man gave his life, twenty years as a fireman, ten years as a policeman, and was taken away from his family by somebody that continued to walk out that jail door every time he was arrested.”
"Uphold these laws. Quit reducing these bonds and letting these people out,” he told WAFB.
“She needs to be held accountable for her judicial mistake. That's my opinion and somebody needs to look into it,” the chief told WAFB. “It’s just, we can't continue to do this and allow these people to walk through revolving doors. It's just no sense in it."
The chief previously expressed his outrage regarding White’s lenient treatment of career-criminal Franklin back in December of 2017 – and he warned her that her soft-on-crime deals were placing ZPD officers’ lives at risk.
"It's like a revolving door and it gets frustrating," Chief McDavid told WAFB at the time.
He explained that in November of 2017, Franklin was arrested on two counts of possession and distribution of manufactured drugs, possession of a firearm with drugs, felon in possession of a firearm, resisting an officer, possession of drug paraphernalia, improper lane usage, and failure to signal.
Franklin’s initial bond was set at $88,000, and was endorsed by one of White’s commissioners, WAFB reported.
But just one day later, White inexplicably amended the bond, and lowered it by $79,000.
Franklin walked out of the jail on a measly $9,000 security bond.
Within two weeks, Franklin was arrested on a new charge of possession of a stolen firearm. A different judge set his $5,000 bond, but added a note to “notify Judge White of new arrest,” WAFB reported.
Franklin ultimately bonded out on that charge, as well.
"Usually, you see judges tweaking the amount up or down a little bit, usually down, but this amount is dramatic," Dane Ciolino, a Loyola University Professor who teaches legal ethics, told WAFB. "It's not uncommon at all for judges to reduce bonds. What's unusual and somewhat striking in this case is how much the bond was reduced.”
Questions were also raised regarding the judge’s disproportionate reduction of bonds. During one of Franklin’s arrests, his passenger, Lana Rainwater, was also charged with drug and weapon offenses. Her bond was set at $46,000, where it remained.
“Well, that certainly raises questions because unless there's some major disparity between these co-defendants, for example, unless one of them has a significant criminal record that the other one does not have, unless one of them presents a greater risk of flight than the other, the bonds should really roughly be the same if they're charged with the same offenses," Ciolino said. "If there's good reason to reduce his bond, then there's certainly good reason to reduce hers.”
According to WAFB, Franklin was arrested on three other occasions in 2017 alone, for offenses including cocaine possession, theft of a trailer, possession of stolen items, and various drug and traffic offenses.
"I'm tired of seeing the same individuals being re-arrested over and over by our officers here who put their lives in danger every day and these people just walk out of jail like it's ‘Let's Make A Deal,’" Chief McDavid said.
"I just will ask Judge White, 'Why are you continuing to let this individual out? Why did you reduce his bond? Did you look at his criminal history and see all the charges he's had before? Did you read the probable cause and see the problems he's causing in the city limits of Zachary?'" he added.
“The system failed Chris Lawton,” Chief McDavid concluded. “This guy shouldn’t have been on the street.”
White stood accused of being lax on crime long before her interactions with Franklin, however.
During her 2014 re-election campaign, she donned her courtroom robe in a video alongside an orange jumpsuit-clad Jomo Jenkins, as he encouraged voters to keep her on the bench.
"I'm down here at the 19th but check this out, I ain't gonna be here that long 'cause Judge Trudy White is fixin' to send me back home,” Jenkins said in the video, as White smiled. “So if you want somebody to show you some love, vote for Trudy White on November the 4th."
No public explanation for her absence was ever provided.
Franklin has been charged with first-degree murder, hit-and-run, damage to property, and fugitive from police in relation to Officer Lawton’s death.
Officer Lawton was the only officer killed in the line of duty in the history of the department, The Advocate reported on Tuesday.
Watch the judge’s bizarre 2014 campaign video below: