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Did troopers arrest victim in racially-charged bar brawl? Video convinces prosecutors

A brawl inside a Frenchmen Street bar took a twist when the bouncer was arrested and booked on a felony, but the surveillance video would tell the whole story.

NEW ORLEANS — When rowdy behavior by a group of Mississippi tourists inside a Frenchmen Street club got out of hand, security guard Eddie Cannon decided he had seen enough. With the help of the club’s managers, he evicted them.

“That's all I wanted to do, get them out,” Cannon said. “I told them to take it outside.”

But when the Mississippi group refused to leave peacefully, a brawl spilled into the street in front of a crowd of witnesses. Bottles were thrown, the club’s door was smashed, and several people suffered minor injuries, including Cannon, who was still recovering from a recent knee surgery.

Security camera video shows Cannon being dragged to the sidewalk and pummeled before he was able to free himself from the scrum.

State Police Respond

State police responded and promptly arrested three of the Mississippi visitors: John Hoyt Williams Jr., his wife Angela, and their 21-year-old son John Williams III. Each was booked on three municipal misdemeanors: simple battery, public drunkenness and criminal damage to property. They were quickly released on their own recognizance.

But the case took an unexpected twist.

When troopers tried to get in contact with Cannon the next day, he assumed they wanted a more detailed witness statement. Instead, the 58-year-old was shocked to learn that Trooper George Baker had secured a warrant for his arrest for second-degree battery, a state felony.

“Eddie was the victim of a crime, not the perpetrator,” said Amy Yacorzynski, one of Cannon’s attorneys. “I was beside myself and incensed about the injustice that was happening. I felt bad about Eddie.”

Yacorzynski and co-counsel Jeffrey Smith surrendered their client to authorities. But what they thought was an easily correctable mistake turned into an ordeal when Cannon was locked up for more than a week on a parole hold from an earlier marijuana conviction.

Orleans DA review

The case has since reached the highest levels of the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s office, raising serious questions about the actions of the troopers.

Cannon’s attorneys showed the prosecutors footage from security cameras inside and outside the club, along with statements from several witnesses. Most importantly, they presented club manager Westley Smith.

“It was not Eddie. I struck the father in the nose,” Westley Smith said. “Eddie was just doing his job when he was attacked.”

The district attorneys came to the same conclusion.

After watching the video and hearing from the manager, the DA dropped the charge against Cannon. But the office went a step further: upgrading the charges against the tourists from municipal to state court and adding an illegal weapons charge.

“To me it was like I was guilty until proven innocent,” Cannon said.

“Mr. Cannon was felonized, essentially,” Yacorzynski said. “In fact, Eddie was a victim of the crime of battery, and didn't perpetrate a battery in any way.”

Missing gun

A State Police spokesman said the department can't comment because the case is ongoing.

But Cannon's attorneys are pressing with one key question, where is the gun taken from John Hoyt Williams Jr.?

“The gun, where is it now? You put it in your pocket. We saw a gun in your pocket,” Smith said.

The attorneys say the pistol is clearly visible in the video, but was not submitted as evidence. That could make the gun charge difficult to prove in court.

“It certainly, I think, should be located because John Hoyt Williams Jr. has now been charged with illegal possession of a weapon and that weapon is an integral piece of evidence,” Yacorzyinski said.

The witnesses say they saw troopers handling the gun at the scene.

“They found a pistol on the man. That's what's was so crazy,” Cole said.

Misha Williams said, “It was for sure stated that he did have a gun. That’s why everybody freaked out.”

Smith and Cannon said they tried to point out the gun and explain the circumstances to the troopers at the scene, but they didn’t seem interested.

“I tried to give the State Police my testimony several times,” he said. “They never took an account from me, even though I kept telling them, ‘Hey, I’m the one who punched the guy.’”

Video seems to clear bouncer

The video seems to support Smith and Cannon’s account. The footage shows the Mississippi group being the aggressors at various stages of the incident, throwing a beer bottle at Cannon, smashing and kicking the club’s door, then dragging Cannon to the ground and jumping on top of him.

What the audio-less video does not reveal is an even uglier side of the encounter.

“The whole time, racial slurs,” said witness Byron Cole. “You n-word. You n-word. We're going to get you.”

It was very profane,” said Misha Williams, manager of a tattoo parlor on the block. “It was a lot of racial slurs.”

Cannon was reluctant to talk about the racial dynamics, but he too thinks it played a role.

“I think that the people were racist in their heart, and the trooper was prejudiced in his duties,” Cannon said.

In the warrant, the troopers identified Cannon as the person who broke Williams' nose.

“Cannon grabbed Williams III by the arm and was escorting him out,” Baker wrote in the warrant affidavit. “The father of Williams III, John Hoyt Williams Jr., approached Cannon, grabbed his arm and words were exchanged. Cannon struck Williams Jr. with a closed fist.”

The warrant affidavit places everyone inside the bar when the punch is allegedly thrown, but the video doesn’t show any injuries on John Hoyt Williams Jr. until well after the altercation had moved outside.

The video also clearly shows Angela Williams throwing a bottle, as well as her son kicking and breaking the club’s front door.

“Before I could even close the door, she takes a beer bottle and hurls it at me,” Cannon said.

Angela Williams was booked and charged with aggravated assault and simple assault for throwing the bottle. John Williams III was charged with criminal damage to property for smashing the door. And John Williams Jr. was charged with illegal carrying of a weapon. They were released after posting bail.

“The only way they could have got the warrant for the arrest (of Cannon) is for someone from Jackson, Mississippi to simply say, ‘Oh, it was the black bouncer that struck me in the face,’” said the attorney, Jeffrey Smith.

It isn’t clear from the video who threw the punch that broke and bloodied Williams Jr.’s nose, but Westley Smith was adamant it was him.

“I threw the punch, yes,” he said. “And it was because I was defending Eddie and myself from these guys. And Eddie went to jail for it.”

Misha Williams said she was shocked when she heard the Cannon had been arrested.

“Somebody else admitted to the punch,” she said. “So I don't understand why they came back and arrested Eddie. I was very confused.”

Responding to a bench warrant, the Williams family appeared in court two weeks ago. We tried to talk to them.

The three family members had very little to say, but John Williams III did have a hostile and pointed response to a reporters’ question. Video shows him trying to strike the reporter and photographer with his umbrella.

“We'll settle it in court,” the younger Williams said.

Another court hearing was held Monday to set a schedule for the case. Two lawyers enrolled as defense attorneys: City Councilman Jason Williams and Nicole Burdette. Neither responded to calls for comment.

Trial has been set for April 23.