Longtime St. Bernard Parish District Attorney Jack Rowley died on Wednesday evening, a day after the first new district attorney was elected in St. Bernard since Rowley first took office in 1979.
Assistant District Attorney Glenn Diaz, who has handled felony cases alongside Rowley since his election to the office, confirmed Rowley's death, saying he had been battling heart problems for the past several months.
Rowley, 83, was the longest serving district attorney in the state, E. Pete Adams, executive director of the Louisiana District Attorneys Association, said earlier this year. Rowley previously served as the parish's sheriff, and his combined 52 years in public office was the longest consecutive reign of any other elected official in the parish's history, St. Bernard historian Bill Hyland has said.
Rowley, who rarely spoke to the press, did not qualify in August to run again for his post, with people close to him confirming that he had been battling medical issues.
He was elected sheriff in 1962 and moved on to district attorney in 1979. He is the only district attorney St. Bernard's 34th Judicial District has had since it was separated from Plaquemines Parish's district.
Hyland recalled in August how Riley's ascension in 1979 marked a break from the more than 50 years in which the Perez family held that joint Plaquemines and St. Bernard judicial district.
Rowley's only election loss was a 1960 runoff -- his first try for sheriff -- which he lost to then-Sheriff Nicholas Trist.
On Wednesday evening, Diaz -- who lost the race for district attorney on Tuesday to Perry Nicosia -- said Rowley "was such a living legend and such a great person, kind, gentle, smart as can be, so dedicated to the parish."
"During Katrina, he never left the courthouse. He stood there throughout all flood waters. What a guy."
Diaz said Rowley had been admitted to the St. Bernard Parish Hospital last week but that he elected to leave the hospital in order to pass away at his home.
He said that Rowley likely knew of the district attorney election results, "but I can't say for sure, as I didn't get a chance to discuss it with him."
In terms of who would take over the office until Nicosia is sworn in, Diaz said that Rowley "has been out of the office now for a few months and we all worked together, as we have worked together for 35 years and we know what we have to do and how to do it."
He said funeral arrangements had not yet been set.
Published 11/5/14 - NOLADomestic Violence Awareness Month brought into focus
In the time it takes you to read this story, at least eight women will be battered in a domestic violence incident, according to the FBI. Changing that disturbing fact and honoring survivors of domestic violence was on the agenda at "Hope in the Light of Day," a celebration held Thursday on the RiverMarket by the Family Justice Center and The Wellspring to mark the beginning of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which lasts throughout October.
"It's important to have events that spotlight domestic violence so that we can see where our community has been and where it's going," said Valerie Bowman, director of the Family Justice Center. "It's important to also remember those who have broken the cycle of violence and moved forward."
The event, which was the first of many that will take place throughout the month, featured survivors of domestic violence sharing their stories, local lawmakers and area residents.
Amanda McKenzie, a survivor of domestic violence who shared her story, said her batterer held a knife to her and her children and threatened to kill them.
"I was going to lay down my life for my kids," she said. "It's important for me to speak out, because I didn't expect to live that day and when I did, I thought to myself that if I can save just one family from having to go through what me and my children went through, it would all be worth it."
Bowman said bringing awareness of this issue and reframing the questions surrounding domestic violence are important. "We still have problems in our community with people asking, 'Why doesn't she leave?'" she said. "The real question we need to ask is, 'Why does he batter?' We will continue to ask that question in our community and throughout the state."
She said that despite efforts to reduce it, Louisiana ranks fourth in the nation in homicides committed by a man on a woman. "We've always been in the top 10 in the nation for victims that are killed," she said. "So it's just very important that we continue to be out there in the community talking about domestic violence and educating people."
Paying the price
Even though domestic violence rates are high, Bowman said Louisiana does a good job of prosecuting batterers. "Our community does a great job of holding batterers accountable," she said. "It's always wonderful to spotlight that and let people know that we are doing it right here in Northeast Louisiana."
District Attorney Jerry Jones said stricter laws are the only way to reduce the instances of domestic violence. "We won't change it by being nice," he said. "We'll change it by locking them up until hell freezes over."
Katie Herring, a child welfare consultant with the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services, said children who are raised in a violent home and submitted to it daily tend to grow up to become batterers themselves. "No one should be forced to live in fear, not you, and especially not your children," she said. "We will no longer accept the victim's mentality, because as of right now — together — we are overcomers."
As for McKenzie and her children, she said they are getting better since the April night that changed their lives.
"We've had to rearrange our lives, because since they've been born, we've been through this, and now they don't have to go through it," she said. "It's a whole learning process. We've gotten a lot closer."
For more information on the events taking place throughout the month, visit wellspringalliance.org or call the crisis line at 322-1505.