In Josef Richardson killing, WBR deputy won’t be charged

In Josef Richardson killing, WBR deputy won’t be charged
West Baton Rouge Parish Deputy Vance Matranga fired the shot that killed Josef Richardson. Louisiana State Police investigators and Louisiana Department of Justice analyst found the shooting did not warrant criminal charges. (Source: Records)

PORT ALLEN, La. (WAFB) - Deputy Vance Matranga won’t be charged in the deadly shooting of Josef Richardson.

Matranga fired a single bullet into the back of Richardson’s neck that severed part of his spine and caused damage to the base of his skull, autopsy results show.

Louisiana State Police (LSP) investigators and legal analysts with the Louisiana Department of Justice found Richardson did not comply with verbal commands or attempts to use non-lethal force.

They pointed to Richardson’s “history of non-compliance,” alleged reputation for carrying a handgun in his pants, and his alleged involvement in a criminal act as factors in their determination.

They claimed toxicology tests revealed Richardson could have been under “heavy” influence of illegal drugs.

BEFORE THE SHOOTING

Documents included in a report from the attorney general’s office noted the details that follow.

A group of agents made up of West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office deputies set up a sting at Budget 7 Motel in Port Allen on July 25, 2019.

At some point prior to that, agents sent an informant into a room at the motel where they suspected drug deals were taking place.

The informant bought drugs and told the agents the dealer had what was believed to be a gun.

Specifically, the attorney general’s office report noted that the agents determined Richardson had a “habit” of keeping a firearm in his waistband after Richardson allegedly “forced” the informant to use drugs in front of him while “holding and showing that a firearm was in his waistband.”

A later interview with a Louisiana State Police investigator showed the informant never actually saw the gun, but only suspected there was one.

Agents identified Richardson as the dealer.

THE “NO KNOCK” WARRANT

Agents used the informant’s information to secure a specialized warrant that allows “no knock” entry, or entry without announcement for the sting.

Law enforcement officials have argued this type of warrant is necessary to prevent evidence from being destroyed or disposed of during arrests.

The warrant was filed based on the agents’ suspicion that Richardson would dispose of a stash of drugs before they could enter the room.

Eighteenth Judicial District Court Judge Tonya Lurry granted the warrant.

A copy of the warrant can be viewed here.

THE SHOOTING

The group of agents involved in the sting were WBRSO deputies Matranga, Brett Cavaliere, Thomas Carpenter, and James Woody.

Their names were revealed publicly for the first time in the attorney general office’s report.

The report says the agents first saw into Richardson’s room through an open door sometime before the shooting.

Richardson was inside with his hand in his right-hand pocket, the report says.

The agents entered the room, yelling “Sheriff’s Office,” to identify themselves, according to the report.

The report says Richardson responded by placing his left hand into his waistband and turned his back toward the agents.

The report says Deputy Cavaliere grabbed Richardson while Deputy Mantranga kept his gun pointed at Richardson.

Cavaliere and Richardson’s contact at that point is described as a “struggle” at various times in the report.

Richardson at some point jerked his hand from his waistband and turned toward Deputy Cavaliere, the report states.

The report says Matranga claimed he saw something in Richardson’s hand which he believed was a gun.

Matranga eventually lost sight of Richarson’s hand as Richardson continued to turn towards Cavaliere, the report states.

According to the report, Matranga claimed he feared for Cavaliere’s safety so he fired a single shot.

THE AUTOPSY

Results from the West Baton Rouge Parish Coroner’s Office show Richardson died from a single gunshot to the back of his head that severed part of his spine.

The coroner found the wound came from a gun fired from a distance away from Richardson.

The report says Richardson was found in possession of drugs and digital scales.

TOXICOLOGY REPORT

A coroner’s report included in the attorney general office’s report says investigators found multiple drugs in Richardson’s body.

Highlighted in the attorney general office’s report is the presence of 1000 ng/mL (nanogram per milliliter) of methamphetamine in Richardson’s blood.

“Blood levels of 200 to 600 of ng/mL have been reported in methamphetamine abusers who exhibited violent and irrational behavior,” states the report. “High doses of methamphetamine can elicit restlessness, confusion, hallucinations, circulatory collapse and convulsions.”

Additional blood and urine tests ordered by Louisiana State Police (LSP) investigators revealed THC and 1200 ng/ML of benzoylecgonine, the drug that shows up in urine tests that indicates cocaine use, the report says.

Investigators noted the reportable level of benzoylecgonine is 50 ng/mL, the report says.

WITNESS STATEMENTS

Louisiana State Police investigator William Cox led LSP’s probe into the shooting.

His investigative report identified two witnesses who claimed to have directly interacted with Richardson on the day of the shooting and explained the drugs found in his system.

The statements allegedly made by those witnesses are detailed below.

Witness 1 told Cox that Richardson, in the days leading up to the shooting, was stopped by members of law enforcement at least three times, the report says.

Richardson consumed his stash of drugs during those stops to prevent members of law enforcement from finding them, Cox claimed he was told.

Richardson was brought to the hospital after these incidents because he was “wigging out,” but refused medical care, Cox claimed he was told.

The latest stop happened the day before the shooting. Cox claims the witness said Richardson was still delusional and hallucinating the day after, not long before the shooting occurred.

Cox said witness 2, Richardson’s girlfriend, was the only other person inside of the room at the time of the shooting. Cox claims in the report that the witness said she didn’t observe much because everything happened so quickly.

She was taken into custody and booked on drug charges, records show.

Cox later listened to calls the witness made from the jail in which Cox claims he heard her say she knew Richardson was selling drugs.

CRIMINAL HISTORY

The attorney general’s office cited Richardson’s criminal record in its report.

The report says Richardson was arrested at least 31 times between 1997 and his death.

A review of those charges by the attorney general’s office showed Richardson, in the past, faced several drug charges and other charges related to evading members of law enforcement.

In our own review, the 9News Investigators learned Richardson was sentenced on April 17, 2017 for obstruction of justice and possession with intent to distribute heroin.

He was sentenced to five years for the obstruction charge and 30 years for the heroin charge. The sentences were to run concurrently, with 25 years of the sentence suspended, meaning he had to serve five years behind bars.

However, Department of Corrections (DOC) spokesman, Ken Pastorick, said because both charges were non-violent offenses, Richardson had to serve 35% of his sentence behind bars.

He was also given credit for specific programs and classes he took while in jail.

Richardson was released April 27, 2018. In total, he served one year, one month, and 23 days of the original five-year sentence.

COMMUNITY RESPONSE

Still, Richardson’s family, the NAACP, and members of the legal community have said Richardson’s past, and even his activities at the time of the sting should not have resulted in his death.

They’ve collectively led several peaceful demonstrations to demand answers.

Other organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union also demanded transparency from LSP about details from the investigation. The organization said the fallout from the shooting highlighted “the need for systemic reform” among the law enforcement community in West Baton Rouge.

West Baton Rouge Sheriff Mike Cazes specifically drew sharp criticism about the way he and the department initially withheld details about the shooting.

Those details were only exposed when Richardson’s family approached the media with pleas for information.

Rather than double down, Cazes, already in a tough fight to secure another term as sheriff, stepped out of the public eye to avoid further scrutiny.

During one subsequent rally in front of the West Baton Rouge Courthouse, the crowd yelled out, asking where Cazes was and demanded answers.

LITIGATION

Cazes, the West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office, West Baton Rouge Parish government, and deputies Matranga and Cavaliere are defendants in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Richardson’s family.

"There was no legal cause to justify the use of force against Mr. Richardson, and the force used against Mr. Richardson was unreasonable and excessive," the filing states.

The lawsuit goes on to say the deputies’ actions showed “reckless and callous” disregard to Richardson’s life.

Attorneys representing Richardson’s family have also made claims that Matranga’s gun was modified in such a way that it was easier to fire accidentally.

The report from the attorney general’s office confirmed Matranga’s gun had been fitted with a lighter trigger.

NEXT STEPS

Since the criminal investigation is now complete, the West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office will continue its review of the shooting to determine if Matranga broke any policies.

Matranga is still employed with the agency, but is currently limited to administrative duties as he awaits the completion of the review.

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