Ernest Gaskin Jr., 59, was arrested Tuesday (July 29) after NOPD Sixth District narcotics officers watched him engage in several hand-to-hand drug transactions in the 700 block of Washington Avenue, then stopped a vehicle that had a bag of heroin inside allegedly sold by Gaskin, police said on Tuesday. When officers searched Gaskin’s car, they found 32 grams of heroin inside, packaged both for individual sale and in bulk — worth approximately $18,000 on the street, police said.
Gaskin was booked into jail on two charges — distribution of heroin for the drugs found in his customer’s vehicle, and possession of heroin with the intent to distribute for the heroin found in his own car, officers said. When Gaskin went to magistrate court that same day, the magistrate commissioner on duty set his bonds at $7,500 on the distribution charge and $12,000 on the possession with intent to distribute charge.
On Wednesday morning, Sixth District police began receiving frustrated queries from nearby residents asking why Gaskin was back out on the street. One Irish Channel resident — whose name is being withheld out of safety concerns — wrote to Uptown Messenger that Gaskin was back on the street corner at Washington and Annunciation “the very next morning” after his arrest.
“So nothing has changed,” the resident wrote. “This is one of the biggest drug markets in the region and there has been no systematic action to stop it.”
The police were as frustrated as the residents, said NOPD Commander Bob Bardy at the Sixth District’s weekly meeting of ranking officers.
“That bond has absolutely nothing to do with us,” Bardy said.
Seeing suspected criminals arrested one day and literally back out on the same streets the next day discourages residents from cooperating with police, Bardy said — or may even make them fear for their safety. The intersection of Washington and Annunciation was specifically chosen for the drug sting because of the years-long history of deadly violence there.
“When you look at the totality of the situation, every magistrate should know that is a hotspot,” said NOPD Detective Jeff Giroir. “A wide variety of crimes take place at that intersection.”
When asked about the case on Thursday afternoon, Assistant District Attorney Chris Bowman noted that Gaskin’s lengthy criminal record includes previous convictions as a multiple offender. After reviewing the circumstances, Bowman said the district attorney’s office will file a motion bringing Gaskin back to court to ask Magistrate Judge Harry Cantrell to review the commissioner’s decision and set a bond several times higher.
If Cantrell agrees, Gaskin will remain in jail until he can make the higher bond, Bowman said.
“The district attorney definitely believes that, given this guy’s record and his present charges, that it should have been higher,” Bowman said. “We hope that when we bring this to Judge Cantrell, we can persuade him to raise the bond.”
Because much of the street violence in New Orleans is fueled by the drug trade, Bowman said, it is critically important for judges to pay attention to narcotics cases that involve high volumes of drugs.
“The district attorney has said this time in and time out: The criminal-justice system is a three-legged stool,” Bowman said. “You’ve got the police, the prosecutors and the judiciary. For the justice system to stand tall, all three have to stand tall.”
Gaskin was arrested on drug charges at the same intersection in November 2012, and later convicted on a marijuana charge following that incident. Because of his history there, Bardy said a condition of Gaskin’s bond should be that he stay away from that intersection.