Police snag suspected alligator thief after nighttime street chase

Jul 12, 2012

One of the suspects in a burglary of alligators from the Audubon Zoo gift shop was arrested last night after a chase through the Central Business District, according to New Orleans police.

A police sergeant spotted 29-year-old Rodney Thornton pulling on the door handles of parked cars in the 900-block of Poeyfarre Street last night at about 9:45 p.m. When the officer approached Thornton, Thornton broke and ran, leading police on a chase that ended with his apprehension in an empty lot.

Officers witnessed Thornton pull a gun from his waistband and drop it on the ground during the chase.

Thornton was booked with a litany of charges related to his attempted car burglaries, as well as charges relating to the theft of ten baby alligators from the Audubon Zoo early July 5, once officers determined who he was. Thornton’s alleged accomplice in the alligator theft (a felony under Louisiana law), 20-year-old Kawayne Powell, turned himself in at the Second District police station yesterday at about 10:00 a.m.

“Our officers did some outstanding work to make this arrest last night,” said Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas, in a press release. “This suspect [Thornton], who was trying to break into any car with an unlocked door, was carrying a gun and was capable of committing a violent crime if our patrol officer hadn’t noticed his behavior.”

Kawayne Powell.
Credit Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office

Thornton was booked with Illegal Possession of Things (Alligators), Possession of a Firearm by a Felon, two counts of Armed Robbery, Attempted Armed Robbery, Tampering, and Resisting a Police Officer.

He had previously been arrested for Burglary, Attempted Burglary, Possession of Burglary Tools, Possession of Marijuana, Possession of Drug Paraphernalia, Theft, Possession of Stolen Property Under and Over $500, and Cruelty to Animals.

Powell has been booked with Possession of Stolen Property, and had previously been arrested for Simple Criminal Damage to Property, Unauthorized Use of a Moveable, Trespassing and Warrants.

“This is a clear-cut example of the fact that most criminals are not specialists, they’re generalists,” said Serpas. “This is why the system needs to recognize the beginnings of criminal patterns and make it clear: Commit a crime, and there will be consequences.”