The lawyer for Cardell Hayes, the 28-year-old suspect in the April 9 shooting of former NFL star Will Smith, sent a letter last week asking the New Orleans police to withdraw from investigating Smith’s death and accusing the agency of misconduct.
The letter, by attorney John Fuller, declared the defense had “a grave lack of faith in the honesty and competency of the investigation,” according to multiple media outlets. It asked for either the state police or the FBI to take over the investigation.
“This lack of faith in part stems from factual misstatements from high-ranking members of the Police Department,” Fuller’s letter stated, though it did not provide specifics about any factual misstatements.
Early on in the investigation, police initially said that only one gun was visible to responding officers. But when executing a search warrant later, police found a handgun inside Smith’s Mercedes Benz SUV, though they said the gun had not been fired.
Prior to the discovery of the second gun, Fuller, who said his client was “not the aggressor,” told reporters Hayes felt threatened and that “the unearthing of a second gun will lend itself to the defense of Mr. Hayes.”
In smartphone footage shot moments after the shooting, an eyewitness is heard claiming someone had warned the shooter he was armed, which allegedly prompted the shooter to withdraw his gun and start firing.
The New Orleans police rejected Fuller’s request to withdraw from the case. Department spokesman Tyler Gamble issued a statement, obtained by PEOPLE, saying: “Every homicide in New Orleans deserves a fair, thorough and complete investigation, and that is what we are doing in this case. We will continue to follow the facts wherever they take us.”
Colonel Mike Edonson of the Louisiana State Police responded to Fuller in a letter, obtained by PEOPLE, saying, “We have every confidence that the [New Orleans] Police Department has the investigative expertise and capacity to fulfill its obligation and conducting an objective and professional investigation. Moreover, there is no legal basis for our agency to expropriate the authority of the NOPD in this or any other criminal investigation within the city.”
Smith, 34, was killed and his wife, Racquel, 33, was shot in the leg during the incident, which police say unfolded after during a dispute set in motion by a minor traffic crash between vehicles driven by Smith and Hayes.
New Orleans police confirmed they were analyzing surveillance footage showing an apparent traffic collision between Smith’s Mercedes SUV and a hummer moments before the collision that sparked the shooting. The footage appeared to show a Mercedes Benz SUV rear-ending a Hummer. It shows the Hummer pulling over to the side of the road and stopping as the Mercedes Benz SUV pulls around it and drives away from the scene. The Hummer can be seen following the Mercedes Benz SUV out of the frame.
Peter Thomson, an attorney for the Smith family, said during a press conference last week, “This was no hit and run,” claiming that Smith was unaware his car had struck the Hummer.
Thomson acknowledged that Smith’s car contained a loaded gun, but nonetheless said that at no time during the event did Smith “ever brandish or carry on his person a firearm.”
He said that after Hayes rear-ended Smith, Smith got out of the car “to find out who this guy is.” But as the two men approached each other, he said Hayes “was enraged,” adding, “He had his hands up, and was making signals.”
Thomson said Hayes showed no signs of remorse after the fatal shooting and even allegedly “stood over Will Smith’s dead boy as his wife crawled away” to find a hiding place,” yelling over the body of Will Smith after he killed him.”
Hayes is charged with second degree murder and is being held on $1 million bond, with a preliminary hearing scheduled for April 28.