An Iowa man arrested multiple times claims to have an addiction to peddling drugs, according to a document filed in state district court.
Norvell Keith Harris, 36, has been arrested 27 times over the past 16 years — his latest coming during Operation 27, an investigation into cocaine distribution in Southwest Louisiana. Authorities said Harris was the most prolific street-level cocaine dealer in the area, getting his drugs from Hayward Gerade Lecompte, 39, alleged to be the largest cocaine supplier in the area.
Harris “stated that he finds selling narcotics addicting,” Calcasieu Assistant District Attorney Brett Gaspard wrote in a court document filed in response to a request by Harris’ attorney to have him transferred to a work-release facility.
The American Press
compiled Harris’ criminal history, using information from the Calcasieu Correctional Center, the state Department of Corrections, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the Calcasieu District Attorney’s Office, the Calcasieu Clerk of Court’s Office and state police.
Harris has been convicted of felonies twice, spending time in federal prison in the early 2000s. He was convicted of a felony in Calcasieu in 2011, but avoided jail time through a plea deal.
While bonds set for Harris have varied — some high, some low — he’s been able to meet them, and has often been able to do so quickly. He bonded out the day of his arrest 12 times, according to CCC records.
Harris is now being held in the CCC on $13.15 million bond, $12.5 million of that set by Judge David Ritchie when Harris was arrested in April.
His previous longest stay in a Calcasieu jail after an arrest was 17 nights — on a $20,500 bond set by former Judge Wilford Carter, according to information provided by CCC.
In September 2010, he spent 13 nights in jail before meeting a $50,000 bond set by Carter. His highest bond was set by Judge Mike Canaday — $105,000 on drug possession charges. He was arrested March 29, 2010, and met bail the next day.
Carter, who set bond 11 times for Harris, said previous arrests are not a factor to be considered in setting bond. The former judge, who said he does not remember the specifics of Harris’ cases, set bonds ranging from $1,000 on drug charges in September 2012 to $50,000 on a drug charge in September 2010.
“I would not consider an arrest, because I would be violating the law and presumption of innocence,” said Carter, who said he would consider whether a defendant had charges pending.
Ted Hartman, Harris’ attorney, has asked Judge Sharon Wilson to reduce Harris’ $13.15 million bond. Hartman said he believes Harris’ bond to be unconstitutional because Harris does not have a history of violence.
Harris has been arrested for domestic abuse battery and aggravated battery, although he has not been convicted on those charges.
“I’ve always found him to be a very nice person, not somebody that the public should be fearful of,” Hartman said. “I think he’s a very nice guy. He’s certainly not some sort of violent drug dealer.”
Harris, along with 50 Operation 27 co-defendants, was indicted Thursday. He faces 188 charges, including 159 counts of conspiracy to distribute cocaine.
Harris and Lecompte, who also has a lengthy criminal history, were distributing both powder cocaine and crack, authorities said.
Although few specifics of the drug sting have been revealed, the investigation began June 29, 2013, according to the initial complaint, obtained from state police. Troopers began buying cocaine from Harris through a confidential informant.
More buys were made through another informant, then, on Feb. 27, 2014, another source identified 51 people “involved in the distribution, possession and manufacturing” of cocaine,” the complaint said. Marijuana and pills were also being distributed.
When Lecompte was arrested on south Nelson Road on April 29, he had no drugs on him, but did have $33,000, a detective with the Combined Anti-Drug Task Force, Rebecca Reed, testified during a bond reduction hearing. Lecompte told authorities he was going to use the money to buy cocaine from the Texas men whose car he was following, Reed said.
Harris was arrested the same day on Country Club Road. Fourteen one-ounce bags of cocaine were found in a room he booked at a hotel on Derek Drive, Reed said.
Lecompte has been booked into the CCC 15 times, dating to 1992, and has been convicted of four felonies — cocaine possession, aggravated criminal property damage and cocaine distribution in Calcasieu and robbery in Texas.
A history of arrests
Harris’ first arrest recorded in Calcasieu Parish was on March 1, 1998, when, at 20 years old, he was arrested for DWI, according to CCC records.
He was arrested again seven days later — for cocaine possession with intent to distribute, illegal use of currency and possession of drug paraphernalia — and more arrests followed. He was arrested six more times over the next four months.
In July 1998, Harris was picked up on drug charges in Beaumont, Texas, leading to a federal conviction. He was convicted on Dec. 12, 1998, of possession of crack with intent to distribute, according to Gaspard’s filing.
Harris was sentenced to 108 months in prison and five years’ supervised probation, according to another local court filing.
Beginning Dec. 3, 1998, Harris spent the next several years at Three Rivers Correctional Institute in Three Rivers, Texas.
Requests to the Federal Bureau of Prisons for exact dates have not yet been returned, but CCC records show Harris was arrested in February 2006 for domestic abuse, then again in August 2006 for carrying an illegal weapon. According to a news report at the time, authorities said two handguns and a bottle of PCP were found in a car Harris was sitting in, with two other men, in a motel parking lot.
After a March 2007 arrest, he was picked up on a federal detainer in June 2007 and again in June 2008. It appears he was returned to Three Rivers both times before completing his federal sentence.
Harris was arrested four times in 2009, all for drugs, although two of those appear to be combined. In 2010, Harris was arrested seven times, all on drug charges — cocaine, marijuana, alprazolam and hydrocodone.
On March 2, 2010, Harris was arrested for cocaine possession with intent to distribute and first-offense marijuana possession. He was arrested again later that month, then again in May, June, September and December 2010.
On Jan. 24, 2011, Harris pleaded guilty to an amended sentence of cocaine possession in Calcasieu’s 14th Judicial District Court. Following prosecutors’ recommendations, Carter sentenced Harris to a two-year suspended sentence and two years’ supervised probation. He was ordered to pay a monthly fee of $55, a $300 fine and court costs, and $200 to the Southwest Louisiana Crime Lab. He was also ordered to submit to drug screens. As part of the plea deal, all remaining charges were dropped.
“Ultimately he pled out to a felony,” Hartman, Harris’ attorney, said. “I think it’s fair because the charges against him were nonviolent matters. He did get a felony conviction, which impacts him down the line — it impacts plea negotiations in the future and impacts his exposure to a habitual offender bill.”
Gaspard, the assistant district attorney who has since taken over drug cases, said it is not an offer that would be extended now.
“The plea deal that he got was inexcusable, there’s no doubt about that,” Gaspard said. “Operation 27 would not have started off with him because he would still be doing jail time. That’s just the bottom line.”
While Harris was pleading guilty in court, he was still under investigation by authorities, Gaspard said. Two days after the plea deal, on Jan. 26, a search warrant for cocaine distribution was served at Harris’ house for an alleged offense that happened Jan. 20. Harris stayed in jail 17 days before bonding out on $20,500 bond set by Carter.
Harris was arrested for domestic abuse battery in September 2011 — although he wasn’t booked — and drug possession in September 2012.
Harris absconded from probation and parole, and a warrant for him was issued in January 2013, state Department of Corrections spokeswoman Pam Laborde said. Arrested in June 2013 for the probation violation and domestic abuse battery, Harris was released the same day on $2,500 bond set by Carter. Probation and parole alleged Harris violated the terms of his probation when he was arrested in September 2012 for marijuana possession, failed to make monthly payments and failed to report in October, November and December 2012.
Laborde said an unsuccessful attempt was made in August 2013 to have Harris’ probation and parole revoked.
Harris has a history of missing court dates, failing to show for arraignments in 2007 and 2009 and for trial dates on Nov. 15, 2010, and Jan. 6, 2011, according to court records.
He faces a probation violation from the 2011 plea deal, expected to be heard July 23.
When he was indicted Thursday, it became his sixth case open with the District Attorney’s Office.