Teen suspect in brutal Costco carjacking recently booked with armed robbery count that DA’s office refused to prosecute

Published: Feb. 6, 2022 at 2:27 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - An 18-year-old man was arrested Sunday (Feb. 6) in connection with the brutal carjacking of a woman pumping gas last week at Costco. The suspect’s arrest comes less than three months after Orleans Parish District Attorney Jason Williams refused to prosecute him following an armed robbery arrest late last year.

New Orleans police announced the arrest of Tyrese Harris just before 2:30 p.m. Law enforcement sources told Fox 8 that Harris was apprehended in the 1500 block of Milton Street in the St. Bernard neighborhood by police, Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office deputies and U.S. Marshals Service agents executing an arrest warrant in connection with the Feb. 1 carjacking at the Costco at 3900 Dublin St.

New Orleans realtor Kelleye Rhein suffered fractures to her skull, face, and neck, and bleeding in her brain after Harris reportedly jumped into her driver’s seat while she was pumping gas and took off.

Witnesses recall Rhein being left to die after she was bloodied and dragged up to 50 feet through the parking lot.

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Harris initially was booked Sunday with principal to simple carjacking, but in the overnight hours police booked him with additional counts of attempted armed robbery, attempted armed robbery with a firearm, illegal use of a weapon, illegal carrying of weapons and aggravated criminal damage to property.

The additional counts are related to a separate carjacking of which Harris is accused of attempting Jan. 18 at 8:12 p.m. in the 700 block of Howard Avenue. In that instance, police said Harris entered a 44-year-old man’s vehicle but the would-be victim “armed himself.” Police said Harris got out of the vehicle and shot at the man as he fled. The victim was not injured.

This is not the first time Harris crossed paths with law enforcement as an adult.

Harris was arrested last Aug. 21, two days after he and two accomplices allegedly robbed a man at gunpoint of his Toyota Camry and cellphone in the 600 block of Washington Avenue in the Irish Channel neighborhood.

According to court records, an NOPD detective spotted the Camry 48 hours after it was stolen, being driven by Harris in New Orleans East. Police said Harris refused to pull over as directed and initiated a chase that ended when he crashed the Camry into a canal near Hayne Boulevard and France Street. Harris and three other suspects fled the crash on foot but eventually were apprehended.

The NOPD initially booked Harris last Aug. 22 with aggravated flight from an officer, resisting an officer and illegal possession of stolen things. After further investigation, they rebooked Harris with an additional count of armed robbery with a firearm on Sept. 15.

Armed robbery is punishable in Louisiana by 10 to 99 years in state prison upon conviction, with an additional five years added consecutively to the sentence if a firearm enhancement is imposed. But court records show Williams’ office refused the armed robbery charge recommended by police on Nov. 10 and instead only charged Harris with aggravated flight. He is due back in court Feb. 22 for that case.

The other allegations Harris faced -- resisting an officer and illegal possession of stolen things (the Camry) -- were not overtly refused by the DA’s office. But those counts and Harris’ bond obligation for them were allowed to expire when at the 150-day deadline to institute charges, prosecutors took no action.

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Williams’ office sent a statement Monday afternoon:

“As a prosecutor’s office, we have a responsibility to only move forward with cases that have enough facts and evidence available to secure a conviction in court. Between April 2021 and Jan 2022, the DA’s office has accepted over 900 cases for felony offenses, including 71% of robbery cases, and are moving these cases to trial posture to secure convictions. So, there is no hesitation by the DA’s office to accept cases and vigorously prosecute when we have the required evidence to do so. In the previous matter involving Harris, we were unable to accept charges on all counts due to an initial decision by the victim of the robbery not to participate in the post-arrest investigation. We support our victims and their wishes. We understand that victims have been traumatized in these cases; our goal is never to retraumatize them. Nonetheless, victim and witness testimony is often the lifeline of a case and, without it, we are often unable to move forward with charges. However, if a victim or witness chooses not to testify, we certainly respect their decision, and we work hard with the police, our investigators and lawyers to try and secure other evidence needed. As is clear by court records, our office did move forward with charging Harris with crimes that did not require this victim’s testimony. Our office will not stop until Harris is held accountable.”

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