I was ready for a good Friday story and thanks to a reader, I’ve got a good one featuring none other than Jefferson Parish’s very transparent John Young:
More than a month after prosecutors dropped charges that he stole copper from a Jefferson Parish construction site, Russell Hartline was finally being released from jail Thursday when he was startled to see his mugshot on TV news reports.
Parish President John Young had held a news conference touting the arrests of Hartline and four others accused of stealing from the parish as examples of his administration’s crackdown on illegal and unethical activity.
But the theft charges from Hartline’s Oct. 21 arrest were dropped Dec. 9, though he remained in jail until Thursday because of a paperwork error.
“It was like adding insult to injury,” Hartline said Friday. “Just as I was finally getting out of jail on charges that were dropped a month and a half ago, I saw my face plastered all over the TV news.”
Young’s office had not responded late Friday afternoon to an e-mailed question about why Hartline’s case was highlighted after the charges had been dropped.
Young’s “crackdown” cracked up! But that’s what happens when you try to steal thunder. Meanwhile Mr. Hartline is not amused:
Accused of stealing nearly $6,000 worth of copper pipe and wire from the Jefferson Performing Arts Center under construction in Metairie, Hartline had been booked with two counts of theft and possession of stolen property.
Hartline’s public defender had argued in court filings that evidence against him and a statement Hartline made to investigators were obtained illegally.
A spokesman for the Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s Office did not return a call seeking comment on why the charges were dropped.
Cases against the other four theft suspects spotlighted at Young’s joint news conference with Sheriff Newell Normand are pending, according to court records. The alleged thefts range from $100 worth of dog food taken from the West Bank animal shelter to $125,000 in fraudulent charges by a parish contractor.
Although Hartline’s theft charges were dropped Dec. 9, he remained jailed because records incorrectly indicated he faced charges in an unrelated theft case that had also been dropped. A commissioner’s court judge noticed the error Thursday morning and ordered Hartline released, according to court records.
Hartline said jailers were processing his release papers Thursday evening when his arrest was featured in news reports on jail TVs.
“Everybody in the jail was looking at me and saying, ‘I thought the charges were dropped.’ When they came to release me, I thought they were going to re-book me,” Hartline said. “It feels like my name has been rubbed in the dirt.”
But after 92 days in jail, Hartline, who lives in Slidell, said he’s trying to focus on the bright side.
“I’m going out to eat with my family,” he said. “I’m trying to put this all behind me.”
Don’t know where Mr. Hartline ate but it would take one mighty fine meal to soften John Young’s blow.