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Cardell Hayes, suspect in Will Smith shooting, sued police for father’s death

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NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana — Cardell Hayes left the scene of a weekend shooting in a New Orleans police squad car, accused of gunning down a former NFL player and wounding his wife.

It wasn’t the first time the 30-year-old had crossed paths with the department.

Will Smith (Via CNN)

Will Smith (Via CNN)

Nearly a decade before Hayes landed behind bars, accused of killing former New Orleans Saints defensive end Will Smith, he faced police in federal court. That time, he was the plaintiff, suing police after officers shot and killed his father.

Now, authorities are investigating whether that 2006 lawsuit has anything to do with Saturday’s shooting.

One possible reason: a former police officer who dined with Smith shortly before the shooting was one of the officers Hayes sued in connection with his father’s death.

Lawsuit sought $4 million

28-year-old Cardell Hayes has been arrested and booked for 2nd degree murder in the shooting death of former Saints football player Will smith.

28-year-old Cardell Hayes has been arrested and booked for 2nd degree murder in the shooting death of former Saints football player Will smith.

In a federal lawsuit filed in 2006, Hayes sued the city and six police officers. One of them was Billy Ceravolo, who dined with Will and Racquel Smith before Saturday’s shooting.

Hayes alleged in the lawsuit that police used excessive force when they shot and killed his father, Anthony, in December 2005, saying they had no reason to open fire. He asked for $4 million in damages.

But it’s unclear whether he received that amount. In 2011, a federal judge issued an order of dismissal after being advised that all parties “have firmly agreed upon a compromise.”

New Orleans Police Superintendent Michael Harrison told reporters Sunday that he was aware that Ceravolo had been named in the suit and was at dinner with Smith on Saturday.

At this time, he said, there’s no indication any of that played a factor in the shooting. But he said it’s something police are investigating.

Ceravolo told CNN Sunday that Racquel Smith was on the mend, but he declined to answer further questions.

One shooting, two points of view

In court documents, Cardell Hayes and city officials painted different pictures of what happened on December 26, 2005, the day Anthony Hayes was shot dead.

According to his son’s lawsuit, Anthony Hayes had a dispute with an employee at a Walgreens store and was walking down a street carrying a small pocket knife that day. An off-duty sheriff’s deputy saw him and called police. Several officers arrived and exited their cars with guns trained on Anthony Hayes, the lawsuit says. Witnesses told the officer that Anthony Hayes had a history of mental illness, according to the lawsuit.

The officers pepper-sprayed Anthony Hayes several times before shooting him nine times “without just cause or provocation and clearly in excessive use of deadly force,” the lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit also claims the city failed to properly train its officers, failed to prevent abuse by officers, tolerated misconduct and excessive use of force and failed to adequately discipline officers who violated civil rights.

The deputy city attorney at the time offered a different version of events.

In a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, he argued that Ceravolo had his gun holstered and had been trying to convince Hayes to put the knife down.

“Hayes reversed his knife blade and lunged at Lt. Ceravolo in an attempt to stab him in the chest,” the motion says.

That’s when other officers at the scene opened fire, “believing Lt. Ceravolo’s life to be in danger,” the motion argues.

“The line between excessive and acceptable force was anything but hazy,” the motion says. “To the contrary, the force used by the officers was the only reasonable force option available and was necessary to preserve life.”