Marksville is a little town in central Louisiana with 5,500 residents, a casino owned by Native Americans, and a spot in African-American history: Solomon Northup was enslaved in Avoyelles Parish and later recounted his story in “12 Years a Slave.”
Now, Marksville is known as the place where police say 6-year-old Jeremy Mardis was shot to death by two marshals.
The killing is tragic and inexplicable, partly because authorities are not releasing details about what happened. A judge has issued a gag order.
Despite the gag order, the killing has revealed a town with feuding politicians and confusing power alignments that may cloud the case. Even the mayor suggested to CNN that Marksville struggles with corruption “to an extent.”
“It’s sad for the city (that) it took a 6-year-old boy for them to come and see what is really going on down here,” Marksville resident Ricky Jenkins said. “It’s just not right.”
A deadly end to a chase
Jeremy Mardis’ young life ended November 3 after a police chase involving his father.
Marshals were pursuing the father, Chris Few, after alleged domestic abuse with his girlfriend, according to a source close to the case information.
Few fled in his SUV, with his first-grader in the passenger seat.
Few was not armed. But somehow, the chase ended with a hail of gunfire.
Jeremy was shot five times in the head and chest and died. The boy was still dressed in his school uniform. His father was shot and hospitalized.
Three days later, Marshals Norris Greenhouse Jr., 23, and Derrick Stafford, 32, were charged with second-degree murder and second-degree attempted murder. They’re in jail with bond set at $1 million each.
Marshals have special rights in Marksville
Many are wondering why the marshals even got involved in the chase and shooting.
In Louisiana, marshals typically don’t perform that kind of police work. They work through the city court system, serving arrest warrants and court documents.
In Marksville, though, the situation changed when the mayor and a city judge started feuding.
After the City Council slashed funding for the City Court a few months ago, city Judge Angelo Piazza III sued Marksville government to have the funding restored.
Then marshals were given expanded duties. Mayor John Lemoine complained to the state attorney general that marshals were writing traffic tickets without the approval of the City Council, according to CNN affiliate KREM.
Deputy ward marshals were also allowed to make arrests and preserve the peace, Marksville Marshal Floyd Voinche Sr. said.
The city’s 24-member police force answers to a chief and the mayor. The deputy marshals answer to Voinche, who carries out the orders of the city court and it’s judge.
Marksville is in Ward 2 of Avoyelles Parish.
Piazza referred reporters to his lawyer, Brad Calvit. Calvit did not respond to a voice mail left at his office.
“It’s wrong what they are doing out here. They all about protecting and serve; they’re not protecting and serving nothing,” said Jenkins, the resident.
Police: Marshal knew boy’s father
Greenhouse knew Few before the deadly encounter, a source familiar with the investigation told CNN.
Investigators are looking into the extent of their relationship.
“We believe that they had some type of relationship where they met each other, knew each other,” Louisiana State Police Superintendent Col. Michael Edmonson told CNN’s “New Day,” pointing out that Marksville is a small town.
“As this progresses, we’ll certainly find out more and more information. But I think in a town like this, everyone knows each other,” Edmonson said.
It’s also a town that struggles with poverty.
About 29% of Marksville’s population lives below the poverty level, according to census figures. The median household income is $26,717, while the state average is $45,874.
Making the case more confusing, Stafford and Greenhouse were actually moonlighting as Marksville marshals.
Greenhouse worked as a marshal for the nearby city of Alexandria. Stafford was actually a full-time officer for Marksville police.
“There’s a split in the police department,” Lemoine said. “We have officers that are loyal to the chief and some that aren’t. And I think we all need to get on the same page to prevent things” such as the shooting that killed Jeremy.
Avoyelles Parish District Attorney Charles Riddle has recused himself from the case because Greenhouse is the son of an assistant district attorney.
The state attorney general’s office will now prosecute the case.
As for the other marshal, Stafford, “he has friends in high places,” the mayor said. He did not elaborate.
Past legal issues
Stafford has been named as a defendant in five civil lawsuits, including at least one related to the use of excessive force.
Patrick Jeansonne recalled an encounter with the officer as Jeansonne was rushing to get his sick dog to a vet. Word got around when Jeansonne launched a complaint.
“I made a complaint to the Avoyelles Parish Sheriff’s Office and later on, I guess, they heard it over the radio and they sent a police officer to arrest me for disturbing the peace,” he said.
Jeansonne won a $50,000 judgment, which is being appealed.
In another case, a woman alleged that Stafford used a stun gun on her even though she was already handcuffed and in the back seat of a police car. Separately, a mother claimed the officer restrained her teenage daughter so forcefully on a school bus that the girl had to be treated at a hospital. Those suits are pending.
Derrick Washington, Stafford’s civil attorney, declined to comment on pending litigation involving either the city of Marksville or its employees.
Greenhouse has also been named in a civil lawsuit related to the use of excessive force. That case is also pending.
According to a CNN review of both officers’ records, neither has ever been convicted of a crime.
When asked by CNN if Marksville is corrupt, the mayor answered plainly:
“I think to an extent, it is,” Lemoine said. “There’s some things that need to be taken care of. And there’s some things that need to be looked at very seriously.”