Thursday, January 04, 2007

Louisiana Probes Mayor-Elect's Shooting Death

Louisiana Probes Mayor-Elect's Shooting Death

WESTLAKE, La. (AP) -- State police on Wednesday began investigating the shooting death of the man who would have been this town's first black mayor, after his family questioned local officials' conclusion that he killed himself.

The Calcasieu Parish sheriff and coroner say Gerald "Wash" Washington shot himself in the chest Saturday, three days before he was to begin his term as mayor of Westlake, a majority-white town of 4,500. But some family members said the investigation was far from adequate.

"He was an elected official, but these people have done zero to find out what happened," Washington's son Geroski Washington told The American Press of Lake Charles on Tuesday.

Col. Henry Whitehorn, head of Louisiana State Police, and detectives met with the family Wednesday as they took over the investigation, a state police news release said.

The parish coroner, Dr. Terry Welke, said Washington was shot once and the gun barrel had been "pressed tight to his skin" - something often found in suicides.

Washington's daughter Germaine Washington-Broussard said Tuesday her father's pickup truck was given back to the family just hours after his body was found. She said deputies did not take fingerprints from the truck, check ballistics on the gun found near her father's body or complete an ownership check of the gun.

Sheriff Tony Mancuso said he was confident in the investigative work done by his staff. He also said the family turned down his initial offer, on Monday, to turn the case over to state police, but called back Tuesday to say that was what they wanted.

The Westlake City Council has asked retiring Mayor Dudley Dixon to stay on until a successor is named. The council set a special election for March 31 to fill Washington's term.