Two brothers with a history of drug arrests and ties to a neighbourhood gang each face 20 counts of attempted second-degree murder in a shooting spree that brought a sudden bloody end to a New Orleans Mother's Day parade.
The arrests by city police and U.S. marshals came less than four days after gunfire scattered the crowd and wounded 20 people — 19 hit by bullets and one while trying to flee.
Akein Scott, 19, was arrested without incident late Wednesday at an eastern New Orleans residence. His brother Shawn Scott, 24, was arrested Thursday morning as he tried to flee another residence in the city, police said.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu and police Chief Ronal Serpas hailed the police work as proof of officials' determination to end sporadic violence that mars the image of the tourism-dependent city.
"We will not let up," Landrieu said. "We are demanding that the shooting stop. And we will make sure that we do everything in our power, which I hope people now see is substantial, to make sure that we protect the citizens of New Orleans."
A magistrate judge set bond for Akein Scott at $10 million Thursday morning in the attempted murder case. Another judge later ordered him held without bond pending a later hearing on an unrelated gun and weapon charge.
Shawn Scott's court appearances were pending. His Thursday morning arrest was announced by Serpas, Landrieu and District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro at a news conference in the middle of the intersection where the shooting took place, off the beaten path for most tourists but about three kilometres from the popular French Quarter. Surrounding the officials were dozens of uniformed officers and onlookers from the neighborhood.
Identified by witness
Police said Akein Scott has been identified by an unnamed witness as the person seen on a surveillance video, appearing to fire into a crowd that immediately scatters as some fall. Shawn Scott's role in the shootings was unclear Thursday afternoon. Court proceedings were not yet scheduled for the older brother.
Police have yet to outline a specific motive for the shooting, other than to say it appears related to gang activity, which Landrieu called a major factor in New Orleans street violence.
"This small number of people in gangs and groups are responsible for the overwhelming number of murders and shootings in this city. They are in fact terrorizing our streets," Landrieu said.
Rafael Goyeneche, president of an independent watchdog group called the Metropolitan Crime Commission, said the numerous loosely knit gangs in New Orleans should not be confused with the large groups that battle for criminal control of large sections of other big cities.
Police said the Scotts are members of a gang called the Frenchmen and Derbigny Boys. Frenchmen and North Derbigny streets intersect a few blocks from the shooting site. Court records show Shawn Scott has a history of at least three drug arrests on one block of Frenchmen Street.
In addition to the brothers, police said they arrested four people who are accused of helping Akein Scott elude capture. Justin Alexander, 19; Brandy George, 28; Bionca Hickerson, 22; and Nekia Youngblood, 32, are charged with being accessories after the fact to attempted second-degree murder and obstruction of justice, according to a police news release.
At Thursday's court appearance, Akein Scott, shackled and in an orange prison jumpsuit, stood calmly and silently as his court-appointed attorney handled the proceedings in the shooting case.
Prosecutors said a witness picked out a photo of Akein Scott from a lineup. An arrest affidavit said the unidentified witness told investigators that Akein Scott was the person seen in a surveillance video that police released to the public as they searched for him. The witness also said Akein Scott was carrying a silver and black semi-automatic handgun at the shooting scene, according to the affidavit.
Magistrate Judge Gerard Hansen set Akein Scott's bond at $10 million — $500,000 on each of the 20 counts in the Mother's Day shooting case.
Police had been searching for Akein Scott since identifying him as a suspect Monday from the surveillance video.
Courtney Moles, whose apartment overlooks the shooting site, said she didn't feel her safety was in jeopardy while police searched the city.
"I didn't really think he would come back. It's more personal than that," she said. "He wasn't going to that second line to make national news. He was probably settling some kind of score."
Edward Buckner, president of the Original Big 7 Social Aid and Pleasure Club, which sponsored Sunday's parade, said he was overjoyed at the news of the arrests.
"I'm just ecstatic," he said. "That's the best thing that could ever have happened."
Police publicized a $10,000 reward in the case, and investigators received several tips after images from the surveillance camera were released.
Gun violence has flared at two other city celebrations this year. Five people were wounded in a drive-by shooting in January after a Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade, and four were wounded in a shooting after an argument in the French Quarter in the days leading up to Mardi Gras. Two teens were arrested in connection with the MLK Day shootings; three men were arrested and charged in the Mardi Gras shootings.