‘Nobody is hiding nothing here’: Sheriff addresses handling of rape during RADE operation

AP investigation details missteps in 2021 drug sting, where informant was raped
Rapides Parish Sheriff Mark Wood is defending how RPSO handled a rape case.
Published: Sep. 13, 2022 at 2:46 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 13, 2022 at 10:52 PM CDT
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ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - On Tuesday, the Associated Press published an article that detailed a RADE operation in Rapides Parish on Jan. 13, 2021, in which a female informant for RPSO was raped during an unmonitored sting operation at a home on Texas Avenue involving a known drug dealer.

According to the AP, Antonio Jones, 48, raped the woman who was wearing a microphone and hidden camera when she was forced to perform oral sex on him twice. She was looking to buy meth from Jones as a part of RADE’s operation.

Antonio Jones
Antonio Jones(Rapides Parish Sheriff's Office)

As detailed in the AP article, “Under threat of violence, the dealer forced the woman to perform oral sex on him — twice — in an attack so brazen he paused at one point to conduct a separate drug deal.” That information was provided to the AP per interviews and confidential law enforcement records.

An anonymous local official in discussing footage from the operation called the attack “one of the worst depictions of sexual abuse I have ever seen.”

According to the AP, and information that News Channel 5 was able to verify with Rapides Parish Sheriff Mark Wood, deputies were not able to monitor the operation in real-time, so they were unaware of what was going on.

“It was recording inside the residence. The guys outside monitoring the deal could not hear anything going on. They couldn’t hear it live. When she exited the residence, and comes out to my guys and tells them what happened, they verified that with the tapes, and that’s when we called the CID division, and they were called in. A search warrant and arrest warrant were issued at that point.”

Sheriff Mark Wood to News Channel 5

Jones was arrested on three counts, including one count each of second-degree rape, false imprisonment and distribution of meth after recovering five grams of the substance following the operation.

He faces an Oct. 17 trial, where Rapides Parish District Attorney Phillip Terrell is pursuing two counts of third-degree rape. As he explained to News Channel 5, the prosecuting attorney, Brian Cespiva, disagreed with law enforcement’s assessment upon arrest for second-degree rape, which is forcible rape, emphasizing that police arrest, they don’t charge.

“The fact that the charges were reduced has nothing to do with the notoriety of the case.”

DA Phillip Terrell to News Channel 5

The charge of third-degree rape carries a maximum sentence of 25 years with hard labor without the benefit of parole, probation or suspension of sentence.

In speaking with Wood regarding the AP article, News Channel 5 addressed that we had never received a police report nor a news release about the attack or the RADE operation, which are typically announced during press conferences. Wood responded, saying, “When you have victims involved, horrific crimes like this, that’s very serious stuff. Nobody is hiding nothing here. The gentleman was arrested for what he did. Crimes like this, we don’t want to make a big deal out of it for the victims. We really don’t.”

News Channel 5 pressed further on why this particular RADE operation and rape were handled differently than other cases, and Wood responded that “we don’t want to hinder any kind of prosecution.”

We asked why the Rapides Parish Sheriff’s Office did not “get ahead” of the AP article coming out. Wood said that he did not know where the reporter, Jim Mustian, got his information.

“Was it a disgruntled employee? I don’t know that. There again, like I stressed to you before, I’m not going to say anything to impede an investigation or destroy a case for an individual that I feel needs to be prosecuted. I’m not going to do that. Wherever he got it, it did not come from us.”

Sheriff Mark Wood

RPSO often uses informants, some “looking for help, looking to get paid to do what they want to do. We look at them and recruit and use them to do this.”

News Channel 5 asked how long the informant was inside the house with Jones and if officers were concerned something of this nature could have happened. Wood could not say how long she was inside the house, and that “you want to think that things like this don’t happen.” Wood said he personally has never seen anything like this happen before.

News Channel 5 spoke with Rapides Parish Sheriff Mark Wood about an Associated Press article...
News Channel 5 spoke with Rapides Parish Sheriff Mark Wood about an Associated Press article that detailed a RADE operation in Rapides Parish, in which a female informant for RPSO was raped during an unmonitored sting operation.(KALB)

While the AP article insinuates that the victim’s “cooperation as an informant didn’t seem to make much difference in clearing her own criminal record,” citing drug charges the victim faced after the sting operation, when News Channel 5 asked Wood about why she faced those drug charges, Wood said:

“I don’t want to seem harsh. This is horrific to anybody. Nobody deserves what happened to this young lady. But some folks live in that world constantly. They have an addiction. Sometimes it takes them over and makes them do things that they know bad things might happen to them. But they still do it because it’s not really that person, it’s that drug that is driving them. It’s a sad way of life, is what it is. As far as the other charges, we can’t get into that.”

According to Harold Murry, the victim’s attorney, she struggled with addiction and had prior run-ins with law enforcement due to those struggles. While he was quoted in the AP article, when News Channel 5 reached out to him, he chose not to comment.

Since this incident, the sheriff’s office said it has changed protocol and updated monitoring equipment.

In the AP article, Mustian said Wood “[blamed] the January 2021 incident on his inexperience from only being in the top job six months at the time.” News Channel 5 addressed that part of the article with Wood, to which he responded, “I never told the gentleman this at the AP that it was an inexperienced deal. What I was referring to was we had been in office for six months. I said that in passing and so when this occurred like this, we changed the way we did business. It changed the way we did buys.”

Wood said the sheriff’s office found the money necessary to update the monitoring equipment, including the use of COVID-19 relief funds.

The sheriff also addressed experts cited in the AP article, who said things like “they are cowards” and “we need to learn from what happened here.”

“We don’t have the luxury or the money or the funds like the DEA or FBI or things of that nature to have equipment like this,” said Wood. “We are blessed and lucky that at the point this happened, we found it and changed the way we do things. It’s different now.”

We reached out to Phillip Robinson, Jones’ attorney, for comment. He had not yet seen the article, but told us that because it was so close to trial time, he preferred not to comment.

The case is assigned to Judge Chris Hazel.

**All persons are innocent until proven guilty.

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