CRRJ students travel to New Orleans to investigate 1953 killing

At the end of April, four students from CRRJ’s 2024 Spring Clinic traveled to New Orleans, Louisiana, a trip that signified the culmination of their clinical investigations.

Isabella Ulm (NUSL ‘24), Morgan Heithcock (NUSL ‘25), Brianne Ortiz (NUSL ‘25), and Heather Atherton (NUSL ‘25) were accompanied by CRRJ’S Elizabeth Zitrin Fellow and clinical instructor, Attorney Olivia Strange. These students had spent 15 weeks meticulously pouring over documents related to their case investigations, including the 1953 killing of Sydney Batiste, murdered when he was 17 years old by Sergeant Edward Touzet.

Over the course of two days, the students met with Batiste’s surviving relatives and descendants, and with members of the Civil Rights Division of the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s office. The group’s aim was two-fold: for the students to share their findings with Sidney Batiste’s family and to hear from them first-hand what was known about his killing; and to discuss this case, and Officer Touzet’s violent record, with the DA’s office in pursuit of any opportunity to achieve restorative justice for those impacted by the brutality of this killer cop.

After several phone calls with Batiste’s relatives and descendants, the students met with them in person, April 29, at St. Mary of the Angels, a local church where the family has worshipped for years.

The group heard primarily from Ms. Enola Helmstter, Sidney’s eldest sister, about her recollections of his life and death and the siblings’ childhoods. Aside from Helmsetter, Strange, Ulm and Heithcock, present at this meeting was also Ada Goodly Lampkin, CRRJ affiliate and director of the Louis A. Berry Institute for Civil Rights and Justice at Southern University Law Center; Marva Smith and Jackie Segue, two of Sidney Batiste’s younger sisters; Nieka Brown, Helmstter’s granddaughter; and Chris Adams, Brown’s brother and his small baby.

“It was wonderful to hear from Ms. Helmstter,” said Strange in a recent interview with CRRJ. “She spoke about her family before her brother was killed and how their house was the one where everyone would come to hang out, have a meal … she spoke very fondly of her parents, who managed a 10-child household.”

This was the first face-to-face meeting between the students and Batiste’s family. “The students were humbled that Ms. Helmstter wanted to speak with them. They really connected with the family,” said Strange. It was also a first for the family, many of whom knew about Batiste’s killing but had never heard it recounted from start-to-finish as Ms. Helmstter did during this meeting. “It was important to the family too as a way of remembering and memorializing Sidney,” said Strange.

On the day following this meeting, the group headed to the DA’s office. The student team presented their findings on the record of Edward Touzet, a serial killing police officer who worked in Orleans Parish beginning in 1944. During his career, Touzet shot six Black men during a five-year period, killing four.

The group met with Attorney Emily Maw and her Civil Rights Division team members, Anwen Tormey and Hannah Walker. Present from CRRJ were students Ulm, Heithcock, Ortiz, and Atherton, their teacher Strange, and affiliate Goodly Lampkin.

Since Congress passed the Emmett Till Cold Case Act in 2007, state and local law enforcement agencies have been perusing their old files with a view to correcting the historical record – prosecuting cold cases where appropriate, and devising other means of addressing histories of racist police and prosecutorial practices, particularly from the Jim Crow era.

Find more cases in the Burnham-Nobles Digital Archive

About the Archive

The Burnham-Nobles Digital Archive houses case files and documents for more than 1,000 cases of racial homicides in the Jim Crow South. Co-founded by Melissa Nobles, professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Margaret Burnham, CRRJ director and professor of law at Northeastern, these uncovered stories highlight how violence affected lives, defined legal rights and shaped politics between 1930 and 1954.

“The Civil Rights & Restorative Justice Project is unearthing research that can assist current law enforcement agencies in this work,” said Burnham in a recent interview.

Isabella Ulm and Morgan Heithcock led the discussion, with support from their group mates and professors. The students laid out the essential timeline of Touzet’s career and his killings and then opened the floor for questions and discussion.

“They led the discussion, and they did a phenomenal job,” said Strange. “It was so clear how deep into the files they had gotten. They received some really well-informed, specific questions, and they were ready for them.”

The CRRJ team explicitly requested assistance in locating more families impacted by Touzet’s conduct, and support in potential restorative justice efforts in which the DA’s office may choose to be included. They also requested access to any repositories available to the DA’s office, that might help them pinpoint more cases of misconduct by Touzet, as well as any homicide cases in which Touzet was instrumentally involved.

“We think that uncovering the facts of what happened could be key to helping these families achieve some kind of justice, and this office is well-suited to help,” said Strange.

On the larger significance of this work, Burnham said “The family members of his victims still mourn their loss, and CRRJ seeks to render public this history.”

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