After the third in a series of robberies at Uptown restaurants Monday night, New Orleans officials are now pledging a $30,000 reward and federal investigators and charges as part of a “laser focus” on bringing the gunmen to justice, they said Tuesday morning.
Around 10:20 p.m. Monday, three men wearing masks, hooded sweatshirts and gloves barged into Monkey Hill bar at 6100 Magazine, said NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison. There were six people inside, and the gunmen took money from the register and from upstairs offices, as well as the bar patrons’ wallets, Harrison said.
Officers were on the scene within five minutes, Harrison said, and the investigation continued throughout the night. Despite the overt similarities between the Monkey Hill case and the previous robberies at Cafe Atchafalaya and Patois, Harrison said detectives do not yet have evidence to declare the three cases the work of the same people.
“Of course we see the similarities,” Harrison said.
As detectives continue to review the evidence so far, including surveillance video, Harrison emphasized that a tip from the public could speed up the process leading to an arrest.
“We know someone knows who these individuals are, and how we can find them,” Harrison said in a news conference late Tuesday morning at City Hall. “We are more determined than ever to track down these individuals who terrorize our residents.”
To that end, the reward for information in this case could be as high as $30,000, said Darlene Cusanza of CrimeStoppers. CrimeStoppers has pledged a $5,000 reward for information in each of the three cases, Uptown businessman Jim MacPhaille has pledged $10,000, and the Louisiana Restaurant Association is pledging an additional $5,000, she said.
“Someone out there can make that call to end this, and we are calling on you to do this,” said City Councilman James Gray.
Further, U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite said that the cases now warrant federal investigation. Once they are solved, if they are appropriate for federal charges, he will pursue those as well, he said.
City Councilwoman Susan Guidry, who represents the area of Uptown that includes Patois and Monkey Hill, said that the NOPD Second District armed-robbery detectives have a solve rate of more than twice the national average, and that they are “up to the task” of identifying the gunmen in these cases as well. She also stressed that there is no shortage of funding for hiring new police officers — that the Council has allocated ample money for recruiting, hiring and training them — but that the process itself takes time to get the new officers on the streets.
In the meantime, Guidry urged residents to follow the police recommendations for vigilance — watching their surroundings when they are outside instead of looking at phones, for example.
“Please do everything you can to protect yourself,” Guidry said. “There are some of these people still loose right now.”
Mayor Mitch Landrieu said that he, too, has been the victim of an armed robbery, and remembers it “like it was yesterday” and knows the sense of fear it can create. But, Landrieu said, residents should be “appropriately scared,” but not panic.
“When you have rashes of violence like this, number one, it is real, and number two, it is scary,” Landrieu said. “But it is not something we cannot handle.”
As he did in Monday’s news conference about the arrest of a teen wanted in five robberies near Napoleon Avenue involving a long-barreled gun, Landrieu touted the 14 people arrested over the past month in 19 armed robberies. He said he expects arrests in the restaurant cases as well, though he acknowledged of the masked gunmen, “These particular guys seem to be really good at what they’re doing.” Crime has nearly been cut in half over the past 20 years, he said — despite the high-profile crime sprees that make it sometimes seem out of control.
“Our number one priority is public safety, and we’re going to stay focused on it like a laser until the entire city is safe,” Landrieu said. “We think we’re going to find these guys and we’re going to put them away for a very, very long time.”