District Attorney Tony Clayton plans tougher stand on youth crimes

Staff Report

The spike in crimes among young adults in Iberville, West Baton Rouge and Pointe Coupee parishes will only decrease with a tougher – and different – approach, District Attorney Tony Clayton said.

District Attorney Tony Clayton

Clayton said he wants to try offenders age 15 and older as adults when they are charged with murder or attempted murder.

“We will not tolerate it on the Westside,” he said. “I’m not playing with these juvenile offenders, and if they’re old enough to purchase a gun, they’re old enough to be tried as an adult.”

Clayton said he has met with the three parish presidents – J. Mitchell Ourso of Iberville, Major Thibaut in Pointe Coupee, Riley “Pee Wee” Berthelot in West Baton Rouge – to begin discussion on how to take violent young offenders off the street.

He said he is considering a different approach to the housing of violent teen offenders.

“You don’t want to have to lock up young people just to sit them behind bars getting three meals a day,” Clayton said. “We need to fully incorporate the educational component.”

Vehicle burglaries, along with possession of illegal drugs and weapons, have increased in the past several years.

The spike in crime warrants an aggressive approach, Iberville Parish Sheriff Brett Stassi said.

“I like the idea that he’s sending a message to the juveniles that we won’t put up with it, and we’re telling the state where we have a significant problem and we’re asking for help,” he said. “

In Iberville, suspects ages 16 and 17 were arrested after they allegedly used AR-15s to spray bullets into a vehicle and mobile home during the attempted robbery last months at a mobile home near Patureau Lane.

Korban Gillis, 16, and Laron Richard, 16, being on $300,000 bond. Clayton said he will prosecute the two as adults.

The two suspects are in private custody, excluded from other inmates, according to Stassi.

A lack of bed space at the jail prompted the sheriff’s office to put the two juveniles house arrest, in which they were monitored through use of ankle bracelets.

“Even if they would’ve killed those two people, we wouldn’t have been able to find beds for them … it’s a huge problem,” he said. “They resolved the problem of 18-year-olds and 17-year-olds in jail, but now they’ve exacerbated the problem of juveniles with no place to put them and the amount of crime juveniles are committing is skyrocketing,” Stassi said. “Some of the problems involve a lack of guidance, some not in school, others are at home in virtual classrooms when the parents are trying to go back to work. And then the ones with no parents at home make it really tough.”

The problems are not limited to Iberville Parish.

In New Roads, the shooting death of Eugene Jarreau, 43, on Jan. 25 involved suspects ages 18 and 20, along with a juvenile. The three are suspected to be part of a street gang.

West Baton Rouge Parish, meanwhile, remains a haven for drug trafficking and youth violence, particularly in the Port Allen area.

Gang violence has increased considerably in all three parishes. In many cases, adults have used teens to carry out their crimes, Clayton said.

“They know Louisiana lacks laws in terms of punishing juveniles, but I’ll tell you now that we’re not going to follow that on the Westside,” he said.

“If you’re old enough to play the adult games with guns, you’re old enough to be tried as an adult … I’m not playing with these juveniles.”

The crime rate is a continuation of a trend that has grown not only in Louisiana, but across the nation. Clayton said he saw the trend escalate during his years as the first assistant district attorney under Ricky Ward, who retired at the end of 2020.

As prisons fill to capacity with violent offenders, Clayton wants to explore ways to blend education with incarceration.

It would also keep young convicts within their home region.

Clayton said he believes T.M. Landry School in Lafayette would be the model site for students, despite what he described as “negative publicity” on the school by The New York Times regarding allegations that the administration ran the school through fear and physical and emotional abuse.

“It’s had some trouble, but I think it’s the best school in the country,” Clayton said. “They’ve taken in hundreds of young black kids and they’ve been accepted at Stanford, Harvard and other schools … they have it figured out.”

Young offenders would be a captive audience in which they go to class five days a week and remain on site during the weekend.

“They won’t be listening to rap music in this facility,” Clayton said. “They would listen to the theories of algebra, history, origin of mankind … stuff of that nature.”

The Iberville Parish Jail has taken on some of that approach, but the time to educate an inmate is far more limited in a pretrial jail, Stassi said.

“We have a limited time if they bond out, but we still have a reading program in there and they can get their GED because we don’t want to waste one minute,” he said.

Clayton laments the closing of the Louis Jetson Center for Youth north of Scotlandville, which served the purpose of rehabilitating youth criminals.

But he said believes T.M. Landry would serve the same purpose.

Students learn Chinese, math, algebra and trigonometry, along with other classes. Clayton said he believes it would make a huge difference in the life of a juvenile offender.

“That student could go to Harvard, Yale, LSU, Southern or another university and become a productive citizen who could care less about taking guns,” he said.

“I would make him pay his debt to society for armed robbery and then make him a productive citizen. “

Clayton said the educational approach would be against the grain of the current approach to rehabilitate criminals.

“When I see them in jail, I want to see them in books,” he said. “The Tony Clayton model will work … I guarantee 80 or 90 percent will go to college and the other 20 percent will choose to be a bricklayer or do Sheetrock, but they will never go back to their old craziness because by then, they’d be too smart.”