BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Zachary Police Chief David McDavid says 19th Judicial District Court Judge Trudy White has "blood on her hands" after a man she granted a bond reduction is now accused of murdering a police officer.
"I want the judge to look at this man right here," McDavid said Tuesday while holding up two photographs of officer Chris Lawton. "This man gave his life, twenty years as a fireman, ten years as a policeman, and was taken away from his family by somebody that continued to walk out that jail door every time he was arrested."
McDavid's outrage surrounds the case of Albert Franklin, 33, who is now charged with Lawton's murder. Franklin allegedly ran over and killed Lawton during an attempted drug arrest in the parking lot of Walmart in Baker Monday night. Lawton, a father of two, was a deputy fire chief in Zachary and a volunteer, unpaid police officer.
The 9News Investigators team produced an in-depth report on Franklin last December, showing his numerous arrests on drugs and weapons charges and the seemingly revolving door he found at the jail during his numerous arrests.
In one of those arrests, Judge Trudy White drastically reduced Franklin's bond from $88,000 to just $9,000, our investigative report exposed. Franklin quickly posted bond and was back on the streets again.
"She needs to be held accountable for her judicial mistake. That's my opinion and somebody needs to look into it," McDavid said Tuesday. "It's just, we can't continue to do this and allow these people to walk through revolving doors. It's just no sense in it."
During an interview last December, Chief McDavid said Franklin has been a problem for the people of Zachary for quite some time now.
"We got numerous complaints on this individual selling drugs in the area, cars coming and going out of his place," said McDavid during the December interview.
On November 14, Franklin was pulled over in a traffic stop and officers say they found drugs and a gun.
The 9News Investigators dug into documents about Franklin's arrest. A judge set the bond for every charge.
- Possession & Distribution of Manufactured Control Schedule I --- $20,000
- Possession & Distribution of Manufactured Control Schedule II --- $20,000
- Possession of Firearm with drugs --- $10,000
- Felon in Possession of Firearm --- $25,000
- Resisting an Officer --- $10,000
- Possession of Drug Paraphernalia --- $2,000
- Improper Lane Usage --- $500
- Failure to Signal --- $500
The total bond was set at $88,000 with one of Judge Trudy White's commissioners signing off after setting the bond.
The next day, Judge White went behind the commissioner and amended the bond, reducing the amount on many of those charges.
- Possession & Distribution of Manufactured Control Schedule I --- $2,500
- Possession & Distribution of Manufactured Control Schedule II --- $2,500
- Possession of Firearm with drugs --- $1,000
- Felon in Possession of Firearm --- $1,000
- Resisting an Officer --- $500
- Possession of Drug Paraphernalia --- $500
- Improper Lane Usage --- $500
- Failure to Signal --- $500
The total dropped from $88,000 to $9,000.
"I don't understand that because we can't go judge shopping but a criminal can go judge shopping, but police can't do that when we try to get a warrant signed or a search warrant signed," McDavid said.
Franklin bonded out on a commercial surety bond, meaning someone put up property to secure his bond.
"Usually, you see judges tweaking the amount up or down a little bit, usually down, but this amount is dramatic," Dane Ciolino, a Loyola University Professor who teaches legal ethics, told the 9News Investigators. "It's not uncommon at all for judges to reduce bonds. That is a fairly typical event in the Louisiana criminal justice system. What's unusual and somewhat striking in this case is how much the bond was reduced."
It was reduced by $79,000.
Just two weeks later, on November 28, Zachary police arrested Franklin again, this time for illegal possession of a stolen firearm. His bond was set at $5,000 by a different judge, Judge Anderson, but there was a note reading "notify Judge White of new arrest."
"I would hope that she takes a look at that and maybe take his bond back and put him back in jail," Chief McDavid said.
But Franklin is already out on bond from that arrest as well.
When he was arrested in the traffic stop earlier in November, Franklin had someone else in the car with him, Lana Rainwater, who was also arrested on drug and gun charges. Her total bond was set at $46,000 for those four charges.
"If there's good reason to reduce his bond, then there's certainly good reason to reduce hers," Ciolino said.
"Well that certainly raises questions because unless there's some major disparity between these co-defendants, for example, unless one of them has a significant criminal record that the other one does not have, unless one of them presents a greater risk of flight than the other, the bonds should really roughly be the same if they're charged with the same offenses," Ciolino said.
The 9News Investigators did not find any previous arrests in Louisiana for Rainwater, but Franklin has been arrested five times just this year alone. Before the two November arrests, he was picked up in September for possession of drugs and traffic charges with his bond set at $3,500 by Judge Trudy White.
Franklin was arrested in June for theft of a trailer and illegal possession of stolen things. His bond was set at $7,500 by Judge Anthony Marabella. In April of this year, he was locked up for possession of cocaine. The bond was set at $5,000 by Judge Richard Anderson. Franklin bonded out in all cases.
"I'm tired of seeing the same individuals being re-arrested over and over by our officers here who put their lives in danger every day and these people just walk out of jail like it's let's make a deal," Chief McDavid said. "I just will ask Judge White, 'Why are you continuing to let this individual out? Why did you reduce his bond? Did you look at his criminal history and see all the charges he's had before? Did you read the probable cause and see the problems he's causing in the city limits of Zachary?'."
Chief McDavid said a judge's job is to uphold the law. "Uphold these laws. Quit reducing these bonds and letting these people out."
Ciolino said bond is meant to assure the defendant will show up to court.
"It's something the Supreme Court or Bar Association or whoever regulates them needs to look into it," Chief McDavid said.
A message was left for Judge Trudy White, but the call was not returned when this report was filed.