A large pool of blood stained the grass in front of a back-yard woodpile where Jenard "Nordy" Thomas was fatally shot by two New Orleans police officers Thursday night. The officers, Scott Rodrigue and Joseph Waguespack Jr., fired seven or eight shots after Thomas, according to police, stuck a 9 mm semiautomatic pistol in Rodrigue's ribs.
Thomas' father, however, is adamant that the plain clothes officers shot an unarmed man. Jerry Thomas said the gun his son had been carrying in his waistband fell to the ground before he bolted into the yard of a home on Piety Street.
"I saw the whole thing and my reaction is this: murder," said Thomas, who had followed his son and the officers into the yard. "They knew he didn't have a gun because he dropped it in front of the house. Some other cops brought it to the back and said, "Here's the gun."
Another witness also said he saw the gun on the ground near the front of the house. "He did not have a gun when they shot him," Omar Taylor said.
Earlier that night, Jenard Thomas, 25, and Taylor, who lives on the same block, went to a nearby salon to have their hair braided. About 11 p.m., Thomas' father came to pick him up and drive him home. But first, they decided to pay a quick visit to a friend in the 1500 block of Piety Street, just across the street.
They were a few steps from the house when the officers rushed Thomas, said Capt. Marlon Defillo, New Orleans Police Department spokesman. The officers approached because Thomas acted suspiciously, Defillo said.
"When the officers made eye contact, he clutched his waist with both hands," Defillo said. "At the same time, he took off running, which was probable cause under the law to go after him."
At the shooting scene, a small bit of evidence -- apparently overlooked during the initial investigation -- seemed to raise additional questions. Several streaks of blood are visible on the side of a rickety wooden doghouse in the front half the yard, about 30 feet from the woodpile.
If the blood was from Jenard Thomas, it would cast doubt on the police account that the entire confrontation unfolded in a back corner of the yard where Thomas allegedly pulled the gun. Defillo said Thomas drew his weapon when Rodrigue grabbed him as Thomas was trying to scale the back fence.
That contradicts accounts by Jerry Thomas and Taylor, who said the first shot was fired in the alley and hit Thomas as he was fleeing. Jerry Thomas said he thinks his wounded son leaned against the doghouse for support before dashing toward the woodpile.
When the blood on the doghouse was brought to the attention of police Friday, Defillo said detectives would be sent back to re-examine the scene. Still, he stuck to the police version that the officers had fired in self-defense.
"At this point in the investigation, we believe it's unrelated," Defillo said, referring to the blood. "But we're going to go out there and process it to determine if it is significant."
The killing is now a matter for the Public Integrity Bureau, which routinely investigates all police shootings. Rodrigue and Waguespack, as is standard procedure, have been reassigned until an investigation into the shooting is complete.
Many of Jenard Thomas' friends and relatives said he did not fit the profile of a man who would engage in a violent confrontation with police.
A high school graduate who attended Southern University at New Orleans, Thomas was a devoted father who supported his three children by working at a T-shirt shop when he wasn't in classes, family members said. He and his common-law wife, Kishandra, lived in an apartment in eastern New Orleans. The only criminal record he had was a 2004 conviction for possession of marijuana. Court records show Thomas was paying his fines regularly and seeking to eventually get the conviction expunged.
Defillo said a substance believed to be crack cocaine was found on Thomas' body after the shooting, but family members said Thomas never used cocaine.
"They put it on him, just like the gun," his father said. "They had to dirty him up some kind of way. But the problem is, all he ever did was weed. They can give him a blood test."
One block from where Thomas died in handcuffs, friends and family gathered at his grandmother's house. The adults veered from sadness to anger to disbelief. The youngsters, including Thomas' children, Jakeria, 8, Jenard Jr., 5, and Dajenele, 1, cried when they saw the adults cry. Many didn't seem to understand the tragedy.
But Jakeria was aware of her loss. "He used to buy me stuff," she said. "He used to buy me Easter baskets. Now I don't have a daddy."