It’s been almost a year since Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office deputies shot and killed 18-year-old Calvin “Trey” Cains III in the parking lot of his mom’s Metairie apartment complex

Yet his mother, Mallory Woodfork, and his father, Calvin Cains Jr., are still searching for answers about their son’s final moments — and demanding accountability from what they see as a rogue agency.

On Monday, they decried JPSO’s failure to release body-cam footage during a press conference, as they stood next to the two lawyers who filed a federal lawsuit on their behalf on Monday: Bobby DiCello, a trial lawyer based out of Cleveland, and William Most, a New Orleans civil-rights lawyer.

William Most has filed previous lawsuits against JPSO and he knows his adversary well. The department is known for a lack of accountability, he said, and for destroying relevant documents. Typically, within law enforcement, Most said, when officers kill someone, internal investigations are considered a basic practice, part of good policing. “But over the past five years, 19 people have died in JPSO custody,” Most said. “Not one got an internal investigation.”

Lopinto, in a video from the scene, recounted that JPSO had gone to the apartment building to look for Cains, who was driving a stolen car and had allegedly been involved in a shooting, a battery, in New Orleans over the previous weekend. The task force was still setting up outside his mom’s Metairie apartment building when Cains himself walked out of the door and hopped into the stolen Toyota, he said. 

The day Calvin Cains was killed, Sheriff Joe Lopinto said that his deputies had felt that their lives were in danger. Cains was driving toward them, using his vehicle as a weapon, he said.

Those contentions could be easily confirmed by footage from the scene, DiCelllo said, noting that Lopinto had told reporters at the scene that two of his deputies were wearing body cams. 

“Show us the video. Show us the video. Show us the video. That’s it,” DiCello said.

Delays are a part of the JPSO playbook, well known to another local lawyer, Michelle Charles, who helped to found the Gretna/Algiers chapter of the NAACP. Charles counted 11 shootings by JPSO deputies so far this year, with no sign that Lopinto is trying to curtail those numbers. “We are being ruled by someone who believes that they are untouchable,” she told the group of reporters.

For those on the stage, Thursday will mark one long year without Calvin Cains III.

Cains’ father, Calvin Cains Jr., reflected on the past year without his son. “I miss him calling me Dad,” he said, quietly.

“I am here today as a grieving mother,” said Mallory Woodfork, who knows law-enforcement protocols because she spent 17 years working in local sheriff’s offices, including five for JPSO. 

That afternoon, she saw the undercover deputies gathered, then heard gunshots – without hearing deputies announce themselves or watching them try to peacefully apprehend her 100-pound son. 

“I am haunted by the memory of how the officers took my child’s life without identifying themselves or offering any explanation,” Woodfork said. 

Since June 6, 2023, the day her son was killed, Woodfork has not stopped. She has gone live on social media, held press conferences and submitted information requests for reports and for body-cam video. 

“Today, I stand before you, demanding transparency and justice for Calvin Cains III,” she said. “I want to understand why my child was deemed a threat. Why was he not given the chance to be apprehended safely. Why was lethal force used against him?”

Lawsuit asks for $5 million in damages and for JPSO to adopt key changes

If true, Sheriff Lopinto’s contentions about Calvin Cains III could be easily confirmed by footage from the scene, said lawyer Bobby DiCello (center at podium). “Show us the video. Show us the video. Show us the video. That’s it,” he said. Photo by La’Shance Perry for The Lens.

The federal civil-rights lawsuit, filed Monday in the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Louisiana, names four JPSO deputies — Clinston Gadea, Ricky Fuentes, Ryan Rivette, and Donald Clogher — in both their individual and official capacity, along with several unnamed officers. It leaves open the possibility that some of the unnamed officers could be employed by the New Orleans Police Department.

The suit demands damages of $5 million and changes at JPSO, including “policy to prevent future instances of this type of misconduct.”

While the suit does not attribute specific actions to individual officers, it alleges that all of them violated the Fourth Amendment rights of Calvin Cains III. 

Some officers may not have pulled the trigger, but failed to intervene – they “had a reasonable opportunity to prevent the shooting of [Cains] but chose not to act.”

Others used excessive force, by shooting, that caused his death – though he “made no threats nor violent gestures toward any person, and was just sitting in the driver’s side of a stationary Toyota automobile,” the lawsuit claims. 

The suit also names Jefferson Parish Sheriff Joe Lopinto as a defendant. Lopinto, it alleges, has “perpetuated a racist legacy” and is “fostering a culture of violence” at the department, citing data that shows Black people are 11.3 more times likely to be killed by the police in Jefferson Parish than white people, and that Black people make up 73% of the people killed by police in Jefferson, though they make up only 27% of the parish’s population.

Lopinto is aware of those issues, the lawsuit contends, but has failed to take any meaningful action to prevent his deputies from discriminating against Black people and subjecting them to excessive force.

The sheriff also has not implemented any policy changes within JPSO, attempted to reform the culture, or trained deputies on de-escalation, according to the suit. For example, though the NOPD and other departments have instituted early warning systems to identify officers who may have a pattern of misconduct or excessive force, JPSO has no such system. And even if the department wanted to implement one, they wouldn’t be able to, because the department destroys disciplinary records after three years — a practice that violates state law, the lawsuit alleges.

Instead, the lawsuit charges, Lopinto has “gone out of his way to endorse excessive force by his deputies” by failing to adequately investigate and discipline those who use excessive force, and by defending their actions in the media. 

“Sheriff Lopinto personally declines to exert even the barest form of supervision,” attorneys wrote. “He has admitted that he does not even consistently read the report when someone dies in JPSO custody.”

Reconstructing the scene

Calvin Cains’ family members, along with his crew of friends, who served as pallbearers, say that they want to see the official narrative reconciled. Here, girlfriend Asia White wears a jacket demanding that deputies be held accountable. Photo by Katy Reckdahl / The Lens.

Even without the JPSO footage, Woodfork believes that she has been able to reconstruct much of what happened that afternoon, on June 6, 2023.

Part of what she knows come from Haley Martin, Cains’ close high school friend, who was talking on FaceTime with Trey as he exited the apartment building and walked toward the car. The two were talking as he got into the car and propped up the phone on the car’s dashboard. 

Then Martin heard a crash and the call was disconnected.

But she never heard the ignition. “I would’ve heard the car start. And it never started,” Martin said.

In a video that Woodfork obtained from neighbors, witnesses the scene watching from the apartment complex narrated what they were seeing. 

To them, it was clear that Cains had just climbed into the truck when he was shot. Because, as deputies reached into the vehicle to get his body, they first had to remove his backpack from his back, they said. 

The story was updated on June 11 to correct the name of Cains’ attorney, Bobby DiCello.