Fighting back tears, state Sen. Paulette Irons last week ended years of public parsing and misleading statements in her own political biography. She admitted her deceased brother was a violent criminal who died after a shootout with police -- and not the innocent murder victim suggested in campaign material dating to her first race for the Louisiana Senate in 1994.
"I clearly apologize for the confusion," Irons said. "In all honesty, prior to this election, no one really knew. This happened 22 years ago."
Although never mentioned by name, Glynn Bullen's violent death has been repeatedly characterized as a "murder" in Irons' brief but compelling account of her personal ascent from poverty to the Senate.
In her campaign for mayor, Irons appears in a TV ad and states, "I lost my brother to the violence of our streets, so crime is more than just numbers to me."
To the unknowing, the ad leaves an impression that Irons' brother was an innocent victim of someone else's criminal behavior. In fact, Bullen was a violent criminal who committed residential burglaries and petty crimes. He died in a shootout with police in 1980, following a crime spree in which he stole an unmarked police car and used the officer's gun to round up employees of a Winn-Dixie grocery store during a late-night armed robbery at the Carrollton Shopping Center. Bullen then ordered the employees to lay on the floor.
One worker tripped the holdup alarm, and when Bullen exited the front of the store holding a .38 caliber revolver, he encountered police who ordered him to halt. Bullen reportedly fired three shots at police, who returned fire. He managed to get back inside the stolen police car and he sped off, but then he crashed into a fence and died on the scene.
A former New Orleans police supervisor recalled: "It was a policeman's car. It was a policeman's gun. It was a policeman's radio. We thought we had shot another policeman."
Irons, then 26, was a political unknown who had not yet entered law school when she learned of her brother's violent death through television news reports. She identified her brother's body in the morgue, and she says her brother died of 14 gunshot wounds from the shoot-out. A police source denies there were 14 gunshot wounds, but says the shots were pellets that scatter across the body.
"She still has a hard time talking about it," campaign press secretary Cheron Brylski said of Irons last Wednesday. "I didn't know about this until questions came up this week."
When Irons was asked if she had any message for her brother's victims, her voice broke and she said: "I am sorry. What he did was wrong, absolutely wrong. Innocent policemen. Innocent people that were in the Winn-Dixie. ... That was wrong. And I am sorry for them."
She added: "My brother was lost to the violence of the streets long before he picked up a gun ... long before. Poverty, ignorance -- all of those things caused that. There are weak and strong people. And if you are weak, the streets are going to swallow you up."
- 'I clearly apologize for the confusion. In all honesty, prior to this election, no one really knew.' -- State Sen. Paulette Irons