NEW ORLEANS (AP) - It was a year of protracted budget negotiations for a cash-strapped state, headline-grabbing shootings of two ex-NFL players, widespread protests on the streets of the capitol and flooding - lots of flooding. As 2016 comes to a close, The Associated Press looks back at the year’s biggest stories:
- A SAINTS’ SHOOTING: On April 9 an altercation in New Orleans between two drivers quickly spun out of control and former Saints star Will Smith was shot and killed. New Orleans resident Cardell Hayes, who once played semi-pro football himself, was charged with the crime as well as wounding Smith’s wife. Hayes’ described the shooting as self-defense but was convicted of manslaughter and attempted manslaughter.
- WATER, WATER, WATER: Massive floods swept through the northern part of the state in March, sending thousands of people fleeing their homes. But as bad as those floods were, they paled in comparison to the epic floods that hit southern Louisiana in August. Tens of thousands of people were forced to flee their homes in an armada of boats, helicopters and National Guard trucks after torrential rains fell in a matter of hours. Many residents are still not able to return to their homes.
- SENATE: U.S. Senator David Vitter’s decision to step down last year after losing the governor’s race set off a scramble to fill his Senate seat. The race featured an eclectic 24-candidate field, which was notable for the inclusion of white supremacist David Duke as well as prostitution allegations against a sitting congressman who then failed to make the runoff. Republican state Treasurer John Kennedy, always the front-runner in the race, ended up winning a runoff with Democrat Foster Campbell in December.
- ALTON STERLING: Two white officers approach a black man outside a Baton Rouge convenience store on a hot July night. When the encounter is over, the man, Alton Sterling is shot and killed. Sterling’s July 5 death was captured on cellphone video and circulated widely online. It sparked widespread demonstrations across Baton Rouge and added the capitol to cities across U.S. grappling with the issue of black people dying in police encounters. Neither officer has been charged in the case, which was turned over to federal investigators.
- OFFICERS KILLED: As Baton Rouge was still coming to grips with the Sterling’s death, a Missouri man armed with two rifles and a pistol and wearing a ski mask ambushed and killed three officers on July 17 near a gas station and convenience store in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The gunman, Gavin Long, was killed by police.
- ANOTHER EX-NFL PLAYER SHOT: In a case eerily similar to Smith’s, ex-NFL player Joe McKnight is killed in a road rage incident in December across the river from New Orleans. Authorities say McKnight was shot and killed by a Jefferson Parish man, Ronald Gasser, after a driving altercation between the two escalated. Gasser has been arrested on manslaughter charges.
- CASE CLOSED: In 2016, six former New Orleans police officers pleaded guilty in deadly shootings in the days following Hurricane Katrina. The pleas in the Danziger Bridge case ended a decade-old case that tainted an already scandal-plagued police force and reawakened memories of the chaos and devastation from the catastrophic 2005 storm.
- DISGRACED DA: Harry Morel was St. Charles Parish’s top prosecutor for more than three decades, long considered untouchable because of his family’s deep connections in politics and law enforcement. That all ended in April when Morel pleaded guilty to obstructing justice. But in a shocking news conference, prosecutors described him as a sexual predator who traded sexual favors for preferential treatment.
- BUDGET MESS: Newly-elected Gov. John Bel Edwards stepped into office Jan. 11 facing an epic budget crunch. It didn’t get much better from there. The Legislature spent a record 19 weeks in session, going from a special session on taxes to its regular session and then directly into another special session to deal with the state’s troubled finances. In the end they passed billions of dollars in taxes and balanced a budget riddled with holes. But even as the year closes the state’s finances are under pressure again with income falling short of expectations.
- SHERIFF ACKAL: A string of former deputies who pleaded guilty took the stand and testified about beating suspects and inmates, saying that Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal knew what they were doing and never disciplined them. But Ackal argued the abuses were the work of members of a rogue narcotics unit. In the end, the jury found the longtime sheriff not guilty on all charges, allowing him to go back to a job he was first elected to eight years ago.
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