EBR DA: 'We're in a bind' with limited resources to help protect witnesses

Source: WAFB
Source: WAFB

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - After a rash of shootings in Baton Rouge, local leaders are encouraging people to speak up. However, in Baton Rouge and across the state, resources to help protect witnesses are somewhat limited.

In a span of just two hours Monday night into early Tuesday morning, six people were shot in the Capital City. Two of them died.

In a statement Tuesday morning, East Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome called for an end to the violence, asking people to come forward if they know anything about what happened. "Do not be afraid to protect your own neighborhoods and families," said Broome in the statement.

However, parish leaders say getting witnesses to speak out is difficult. At the Copper Ridge Apartments on Lobdell Blvd., where a man was shot with non-life-threatening injuries overnight, Rep. C. Denise Marcelle says community members are not talking. "It's very tough to get information. People are afraid to get involved for retaliation reasons," said the Baton Rouge Democrat.

EBR District Attorney Hillar Moore says there are many reasons people decline to speak with law enforcement. Some do not trust police, he says, while others fear getting killed for "snitching."

"Surely we've had witnesses' homes that have been shot. This is nothing new," Moore said. "We're in a bind."

Moore says his office has tried to help make witnesses feel safe by getting them hotel rooms and providing them with other resources and advice. But Moore says what little money they can devote to witness protection is stretched thin, and not just because of homicides. Those impacted by domestic violence are also in need of assistance.

Back in 2009, state legislators launched a new initiative to help cover the costs associated with protecting those who come forward. Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, was one of those behind the program. He says funding last only for about a year or two before it dried up, essentially ending the program.

"Unfortunately, it was a time where we were starting to have budget difficulties and the idea of a new state program and a new state service was not one that had a lot of legs," said Leger.

Leger served as a member of the board that approved the requests for financial assistance. Moore was also on the board.

With the state's budget still in a bind, Leger says it's unlikely there will be any extra cash to help any time soon.

"This is a serious problem that the state really needs to address as to how to fund and protect people who come forward to help us do our job," Moore said. "We cannot do our job without witnesses."

Moore says his office has received a grant in which an outside group will review how his office handles witness assistance and give advice on how to manage the program without funding. The grant comes with no money.

That all being said, Moore also notes that throwing money at the problem is not enough. He says there needs to be a change of culture in Baton Rouge, where people embrace, rather than shy away, from those who speak up.

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