New Orleans police arrested a man this week and charged him with a hate crime and other offenses after police say he damaged a window at a French Quarter hotel and then shouted slurs at a witness and officers, according to the man's arrest warrant.
It appears to be the first time Louisiana's so-called "blue lives matter" provision has been used to charge someone with a hate crime involving police officers, according to the Anti-defamation League.
Raul Delatoba, 28, was booked Monday (Sept. 5) on charges of simple criminal damage to property, disturbing the peace and a felony-level hate crime, his arrest warrant says. During his arrest, but after he had broken the window, Delatoba is accused of using sexist and racial slurs against police officers, the document shows.
The regional director of the Anti-defamation League, an organization that trains law enforcement agencies to enforce hate crimes, said she does not believe a hate crime occurred in this incident, based on the circumstances described in Delatoba's warrant.
Allison Padilla-Goodman, the group's director, said she believes Delatoba is possibly the first person charged with a hate crime under the "blue lives matter" provision the Legislature recently added to the state's hate crime law. The provision adds law enforcement occupation to the list of targeted victims for which a hate crime applies.
According to arrest documents, Delatoba was drunk and banging on a window at the Royal Sonesta Hotel, 300 Bourbon St. around 5:15 a.m. Monday, when a witness who heard the banging told him to stop. Delatoba's warrant says he yelled at the witness, "calling him a n-----."
That witness, a security guard who works at a nearby building's mezzanine, along with a security supervisor for the Royal Sonesta, flagged down two Louisiana State Troopers who then escorted Delatoba to NOPD's 8th District station, the warrant states. Once at the station, the warrant states, Delatoba began to verbally "attack members of the New Orleans Police Dept." The warrant states Delatoba called one female officer a "dumb a-- c---" and another officer a "dumb a-- n-----."
The warrant states Sgt. S. Jackson instructed NOPD Officer Williams Knowles to charge Delatoba with a hate crime in addition to damaging property and disturbing the peace. "The hate crime charge stems from Delatoba's attack on individuals based on their race, sex, and occupation," the warrant states.
A police officer and the security guard who worked at a nearby building are listed as victims in the case, along with the Royal Sonesta and the state of Louisiana.
Lindsey Hortenstine, a spokeswoman for the Orleans Public Defender's office, declined Wednesday to comment on Delatoba's case, noting OPD typically does not comment on open cases.
Defining hate crimes in Louisiana
Padilla-Goodman, who directs the Anti-Defamation League for Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas, said after consulting with the group's attorney that she does not believe the incident qualifies as a hate crime because the verbal attack on police officers — "while it's horrible" — does not connect to an underlying crime.
She said the Royal Sonesta window does not appear to have been targeted in relation to the security guard Delatoba is accused of calling by a racial slur or the police officers at the 8th District station, based on information in the warrant.
Louisiana's hate crime statute makes it illegal to commit specific "underlying offenses" when the victim of those offenses is selected because of their race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, nationality, age, or because of their "actual or perceived employment as a law enforcement officer, firefighter, or emergency medical services personnel."
The underlying offenses listed in the law range in seriousness from simple criminal damage to property, such as vandalism or breaking a window, to murder.
"Proving a hate crime is tough," said Padilla-Goodman, noting the motive of the underlying crime is key.
If the underlying offense is a felony, a hate crime can tack on an additional five years in prison and a $5,000 fine, Louisiana law states. If the underlying offense is a misdemeanor, a hate crime can tack on an addition six months in jail and a $500 fine.
'Blue lives matter' law's sponsor says use at discretion of prosecutors
The sponsor of the "blue lives matter" legislation, State Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, said he pushed for the provision to give district attorneys "an extra tool in (their) toolbox" and offer additional protection for first responders. The change to the law received wide, bipartisan support in the legislature.
Harris said he was not aware if the law enforcement provision he helped add to the hate crimes statute had been used in Louisiana yet. Whether the police officer provision in the hate crime law applies in this case or in others, Harris said Wednesday, would be "left up to the DA's interpretation."
Leston Smith, the security guard listed in Delatoba's booking records as a victim in the incident, said Wednesday he parks his car near the Royal Sonesta for work and was near there when he heard and saw a man believed to be banging on the hotel's window. Smith said Delatoba was "stumbling everywhere," and called Smith a racial slur.
Assistant District Attorney Christopher Bowman, spokesman for Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro's Office, said the office will review the police report and interview victims and witnesses before moving forward with any prosecution.
"Based up on that review, the office will make a determination whether or not to initiate formal charges, and which charges to initiate," Bowman said.
NOPD spokesman Tyler Gamble said the department did not have any comment on the arrest.
Delatoba was not in court Tuesday (Sept. 7) during his scheduled first appearance hearing. Lindsay Jeffrey, an attorney with the Orleans Public Defenders office, said Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office deputies indicated Delatoba was detoxing at the jail.
Magistrate Judge Harry Cantrell on Tuesday set Delatoba's bond at $15,000 — $10,000 for the hate crime charge and $2,500 each for the charges of disturbing the peace and simple criminal damage to property. Court records show Delatoba was taken to court Wednesday morning and notified of his bond.
Anti-Defamation League opposes provision
Padilla-Goodman said the Anti-Defamation League this spring did not support the proposed legislation adding law enforcement officers to the list of targeted victims in the hate crime statute.
She said enhanced penalties already exist for crimes against law enforcement officers. "As a society we take those crimes very, very seriously," she said. Moreover, the group worried that adding another variable, such as occupation, could water down the hate crimes law.
Even before law enforcement officers were targeted in killings in Dallas and Baton Rouge, Padilla-Goodman said, she could understand why law enforcement officers would "feel under siege." The "truly horrific" events of this summer, though, have not changed the league's stance on the change to Louisiana's hate crime law, she said.
However, since law enforcement and other first-responder occupations have been added to the law, the organization has embraced it and incorporated the new provision into their hate crimes training programs for law enforcement officers, she said.