Wednesday, November 21, 2012

NOPD books teenage suspect in carjacking where dog was taken ...

Police have arrested a teen they suspect stole a car from a woman at gunpoint in New Orleans on Oct. 30 and drove off with her 11-year-old dog, Skeeter, inside. Investigators booked Damont Burton, 17, with carjacking, jail records show.

Burton is accused of approaching Meg Hall in the 2300 block of Burdette Street on Oct. 30 while holding a gun as she was about to climb into her Lincoln Navigator and leave her boyfriend's mother's house. Hall said she was punched in the face and pushed away from the vehicle before her attacker drove off, with Skeeter sitting on the car's center console.

Hall, 27, pleaded for the gunman to give her the dog, but the robber ignored her.

Authorities recovered Hall's Navigator in Jefferson Parish on Nov. 2. Police said they identified Burton as a suspect through "detective work" and DNA evidence. Burton has one previous armed robbery arrest, NOPD remarked.

Officers say they apprehended Burton at a residence in the 3200 block of Fern Street on Tuesday about 9 a.m. He was questioned at NOPD's 2nd District station and allegedly confessed to the crime.

"At first, investigators had little to go on in this case," NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas said in a statement. "But once the stolen vehicle was located, everything changed."

Hall, when Burton was jailed, had already been reunited with Skeeter, a Jack Russell Terrier-Chihuahua mix she adopted following Hurricane Rita. "I'm ecstatic," Hall said Tuesday. "I feel like I won my carjacking. I got my car back. I got my dog back. And the person that attacked me has been arrested. It's unfortunate he's a 17-year-old kid. That's really sad. But I'm happy they caught him."

After the carjacking but before the recovery of the stolen SUV, Hall, her friends and her family gathered $500 and distributed posters online and on the streets offering the money to anyone finding Skeeter. The Humane Society of Louisiana contributed another $500 to the reward.

The story of Skeeter's plight and the reward being offered for his safe return garnered significant news and social media attention. The story moved Pam Fortner and Earl Bernhardt, co-owners of the Tropical Isle bar in the French Quarter, to donate $2,500 to the reward for Skeeter.

The reward then grew by another $500, to $4,000. Hall and her supporters ran down dozens of tips of Skeeter sightings and recoveries. But Skeeter didn't turn up, not even when officials found the Navigator.

That changed Nov. 11. According to Hall, members of a family, who do not want publicity, were walking their dog near Monroe Street -- not too far from where the carjacking occurred -- when Skeeter ran up to them. He still had his leash on. They called the number on his collar and reached Hall.

Hall drove over to the family's house with her boyfriend, Matt Dempsey, 38, and got Skeeter back. Skeeter was skinnier than usual but was declared healthy during a visit to a vet.

The family that returned Skeeter to Hall collected the $4,000 reward, Humane Society Director Jeff Dorson said. On Nov. 14, there was a welcome-home party for Skeeter at the Bridge Lounge, 1201 Magazine St. Hall said it was an opportunity for the pup to meet all the people who participated in the search for him.

Note: This story has been updated since it was originally published at 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2012. One modification corrects erroneous information from NOPD that said Burton was apprehended at a school in the 3200 block of Fern Street. In fact, NOPD has clarified, Burton was apprehended at a residence in the 3200 block of Fern Street.


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