DA’s Office to drop attempted-murder charge against N.O. cop

An attempted-murder charge leveled Friday against a veteran New Orleans police officer will be dropped, leaving Detective Robert Hurst facing only a misdemeanor simple battery count over an incident in December involving his pregnant ex-girlfriend, a spokesman for Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office said late Tuesday.

Assistant District Attorney Christopher Bowman said Cannizzaro and senior prosecutors reviewed the evidence and found it didn’t warrant the higher charge.

“To prove an attempted second-degree murder, you have to prove the defendant had the specific intent to kill the victim. That evidence did not exist, and that’s an essential element of the crime,” Bowman said.

He added that the office couldn’t file domestic violence charges against Hurst because he and the woman never lived together. He said the attempted murder count will be dropped Wednesday.

Hurst, a 10-year NOPD veteran who worked in the Fifth District, pleaded not guilty to both counts Monday. Criminal District Court Judge Keva Landrum-Johnson issued an order barring him from contacting the woman and set a bail hearing for next week.

Hurst’s attorney, Eric Hessler, has argued that the detective acted in self-defense.

The ex-girlfriend told authorities that the 39-year-old detective threatened to kill her, then straddled her and licked her face while he choked her during a drawn-out fight in December, according to a police report.

She said Hurst then kneed her “three or four times” in the stomach after laying her out across the kitchen counter, the report said. She was 15 weeks pregnant at the time.

The report also said the woman had picked up a tire iron and pulled a knife on Hurst at the apartment complex where both lived.

Later, in a text-message exchange that police found through a search warrant for Hurst’s iPhone, the woman asked Hurst if he had been trying to end her pregnancy.

“No I was trying to get you to stop biting me damn,” Hurst replied. “Just let it go. You were biting my chest. That’s it. My hands were holding the hands you were holding knives with. So when you bit I used my knee. Not a kick.”

“That wasn’t your stomach,” he added. “And I’m tired of this. It’s always the same.”

The woman reported the fight months later and claimed she suffered pregnancy-related bleeding afterward. The police report noted no injuries and prompted no conclusion from police about whether probable cause existed to arrest Hurst.

Hessler called dropping the attempted-murder charge “the only thing they could do unless they would be willing to try to prove an allegation there was absolutely no evidence of. To have been labeled an attempted murderer was certainly concerning to him, to say the least, especially when he was the actual victim.”

Hessler professed his client’s innocence of the simple battery charge as well.

Police never booked Hurst, leaving the charging decision to Cannizzaro’s office in a practice that has sparked criticism over how the NOPD handles criminal complaints against its own.

NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas, however, said cases that take time to develop are not unusual, whether involving police or not. The charging decisions on Hurst, he said, were reached in conjunction with Cannizzaro’s office.

The NOPD placed the detective on emergency unpaid suspension Friday, shortly after Cannizzaro’s office filed the initial charges.

The woman gave her account to the NOPD’s Public Integrity Bureau in April. Shortly after the incident, she commented about it on Facebook.

“When is it ever okay for a man to kick a pregnant woman in the stomach,” she wrote.

Hessler said Hurst recently attended the birth of the child, at the woman’s request.

The report “clearly shows that she was the aggressor. Not only did she come to his house, she came armed,” Hessler said. “Any person, including a male person, has a right to use reasonable force to defend themselves. Everything in the report is indicative of self-defense. For the life of me, I can’t imagine why she wasn’t charged.”

The New Orleans Advocate does not name purported victims of domestic violence.

Meanwhile, another New Orleans police officer, 35-year-old Christopher Carter, appeared in Landrum-Johnson’s courtroom Tuesday, pleading not guilty to a pair of domestic-abuse battery allegations, one involving strangulation, in a separate case.

According to a bill of information filed by Cannizzaro’s office on Monday, the alleged incidents took place in September. The NOPD suspended Carter without pay, as it did Hurst, following Cannizzaro’s filing of criminal charges.

Patrick Giraud, an attorney for Carter, said the officer’s wife reported a history of abuse and accused Carter of choking her during an argument witnessed by one of their children. Carter claims she mishandled one of the children amid an argument the couple was having, so he “grabbed her firmly by her shoulders and firmly sat her down on the bed” but did not choke her, Giraud said.

Giraud described his client as a bodybuilder and “gentle giant.” He said the couple are going through a divorce.

Landrum-Johnson ordered Carter, a 10-year veteran assigned to the Special Operations Division, to stay away from the purported victim and to return to court Tuesday for a bond hearing.

Carter and Hurst are the latest police officers charged for alleged crimes where the NOPD eschewed arrests based on a determination of probable cause.

Among them, Joshua Colclough ultimately pleaded guilty to manslaughter and took a four-year prison sentence in the fatal shooting of 20-year-old Wendell Allen, after Cannizzaro’s office secured an indictment.

In other cases, internal department probes reportedly found officers justified in shooting cases that were sent on to the DA’s office anyway for a charging decision — including officers involved in the March 2012 killing of Justin Sipp after a shoot-out in Mid-City, and in the fatal shooting of a Hollygrove man this year by Officer Jonathan Hirdes, according to Hessler, who is also Hirdes’ attorney. Cannizzaro’s office has yet to weigh in on Hirdes, who fatally shot Keith “Magic” Atkinson while responding to a shoplifting call in February.

The federal consent decree that demands a broad slate of reforms to the NOPD sets strict guidelines for investigating use of force among officers on the job, including required consultations with the DA’s office. It is less specific about investigating off-duty crimes alleged against officers.

Serpas credited the nature of the investigations into Hurst and Carter — not any favoritism — with the fact that police never booked either cop before asking Cannizzaro’s office to decide whether to charge them.

“If PIB would have had enough probable cause at the moment of complaint, they would have made a physical arrest. They did not have enough,” Serpas said. “Ultimately, (through) a combination of the DA’s investigation and the Police Department’s investigation, it was determined a bill of information would be submitted for both officers.

“In this case, working collaboratively with the district attorney, the charges were filed that we think are the most appropriate and the DA thinks are the most appropriate.”

Hessler, however, said that “if the department believed (Hurst) did anything like this, they should have arrested him like any Tom, Dick or Harry. But by the same token, when it’s evident that the police officer was actually the victim, the (Public Integrity Bureau) should act accordingly.”

Bowman said Cannizzaro’s office would seek a standard bond for Hurst on the simple battery count.

Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.