District Attorney Clayton takes aim at youth crime

Staff Report

District Attorney Tony Clayton will take on juvenile crime in the tri-parish area of West Baton Rouge, Pointe Coupee and Iberville during his first year in office.

District Attorney Tony Clayton

Without a facility to house juvenile offenders, he fears crimes like vehicle burglaries and shootings by young people will continue unabated, so he has a proposition for local leaders.

This year, he will roll out a plan to increase law enforcement officer pay and construct a juvenile detention center in the former Central Pointe Coupee High School. But he will need the OK from local government officials and residents to put it into action.

The two-phase plan will require a realignment of millages. The realignment will not increase taxes but divert them from other parish government operations, such as the library, and direct those funds to law enforcement for an officer pay raise and the renovation and operation of a juvenile detention center for the 18th Judicial District.

“It’s not an increase to taxes,” he said. “I want to be clear on that.”

Clayton’s sights are set on the former Central Pointe Coupee High School property. He called it “the geographically ideal location.” The property offers a buffer from neighboring communities and comes equipped with classrooms, which will be used to provide educational opportunities to juveniles housed at the facility. The realignment of property taxes would provide for the renovation and maintenance of the space as well as the operation, which will require the hiring of law enforcement officers, psychiatrists and educators.

Currently, juvenile offenders are transported to a facility in Lafayette for housing. However, the facility only accepts about 10 percent of juvenile offenders from the West Side and comes with a hefty price tag of $300 to $400 a day, Clayton said. One juvenile offender has cost Pointe Coupee Parish more than $70,000 to house for one year. The other 90 percent are sent back home, sometimes with ankle monitors.

In the past year, Iberville Parish Sheriff Brett Stassi took aim at a rash in drug trafficking, gun violence and illegal weapons used by teenagers across the parish.

Last year, more than 30 vehicles were burglarized between February and April in Port Allen by an alleged crime ring involving several juveniles. According to records, 27 juveniles have been arrested or issued a summons by the Port Allen Police Department over the past two years. Eleven of those involved weapons or burglary.

Clayton said juvenile crime has escalated in recent years, and now, they are not afraid to shoot.

“These 15 and 16-year-olds won’t leave a witness,” he said.

Recently, a young man was murdered after friends mistook him for a homeowner as they burglarized vehicles. Even Clayton has been a victim of the recent rash of vehicle burglaries. In the fall of 2020, a young man burglarized the Clayton, Fruge and Ward law practice’s van, which Clayton said was used to transport clients. The firm’s security cameras show the youth carrying TVs, a stereo and other electronics ripped from the van before creeping around the office wielding a gun. Clayton said that had one of his secretaries been 30 minutes early to work that day the situation could have been much worse. ”It’s out of control,” he said.

The most common crime committed by juveniles in Port Allen is burglary, records show. Records from the West Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office and Brusly Police Department have been requested but are not yet available. Sheriff Mike Cazes has not responded to interview requests on the subject.

Juvenile crime begs the question - what about their parents? In some cases, Clayton said parents are not only complicit but supportive in the crimes their children commit.

“I do think the parents should bear some responsibilities in that they’re the first line of defense for doing their job with their kids, but it’s law enforcement’s job to protect the rest of us from the violent behavior of kids,” he said. “It’s going to take the whole community to get involved to protect ourselves from the violent nature of what’s going on.”

Clayton has begun a grassroots effort to get the community involved, speaking to organizations and starting talks with local leaders to put his proposal into action. The next step will be defining how local taxes should be realigned to cover the proposed tax increase and discussing those changes with local government officials.

For now, Clayton said residents should install lights and security cameras to hinder potential burglars.“They will be reluctant to go to a home with a camera and a light,” he said. If you have a camera, make sure the timestamp is accurate and it is recording. You may register your device with the West Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office, this does not give them access to your camera but should a crime occur in your area, they will reach out to you to share footage to assist with the investigation.