St. Charles Parish deputy left blinded after multiple gunshots
Just days before John Paul DeVillier shot St. Charles Parish Deputy Burt Hazeltine in a Paradis parking lot on April 16, 2015, his family discussed having him committed because of his erratic behavior. “He was so paranoid and so delusional,” said Stephen DeVillier, his brother. “He was not himself at all. I didn’t recognize this man.”
At a wedding in Starkville, Miss., held the Sunday before the shooting and attended by the DeVillier family, John Paul was withdrawn yet controlling if engaged in discussion, Stephen said. He was excitable and often irrational to the point where Stephen recounted how his brother put his forehead to his forehead and made them pray the Lord’s Prayer numerous times.
There were also altercations with family and friends that had them discussing an intervention, but they didn’t act because they were concerned they couldn’t get help for him.In the days that followed, Stephen said he grew more concerned when John Paul sent him photos of his guns and TSA badge, and a video of himself walking around in his room making irrational statements.
“He didn’t even sound normal,” he said. “It just freaked me out.”
John Paul later told him that he didn’t remember doing any of this.
It was a disheartening turnaround for a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Navy who often advised people about being careful with weapons, Stephen said. He described his brother as an “electronic genius” who handled fire control radar that tracked missiles in the military.
On April 16, 2015, John Paul was returning to St. Charles Parish for a funeral when he approached Cpl. Burt Hazeltine on U.S. Highway 90 at a school crossing in Paradis.
According to the Sheriff’s Office, in an apparent case of road rage, John Paul became upset when the deputy didn’t stop traffic to allow him to turn.
The two argued then John Paul left the parking lot and went to his father’s house, where he called the Sheriff’s Office and told the chief deputy that he was an NCIS agent. He demanded the sheriff come to the parking lot and the deputy hung up.
Stephen recalled the day.
“My dad called me and asked ‘Did you talk to your brother?’” he said. “He just left here in a rant. He’s going to talk to the deputy. He was pissed off.”
Stephen tried to reach John Paul by phone but didn’t get an answer.
Instead, he got a call from his brother-in-law saying John Paul had shot a deputy. He was stunned when he was told his brother, whom he believed was incapable of shooting anyone, had shot Hazeltine.
Later, their mother told Stephen about that day, “It was the only time in my life I have ever been afraid of John so I made him get out of my house.”
Minutes later, DeVillier returned to the traffic stop, parked in a convenience store parking lot and summoned Hazeltine to his vehicle. As the deputy approached, he observed a weapon on John Paul’s dashboard in his truck.
According to the Sheriff’s Office, “Hazeltine immediately drew his service weapon and demanded he show his hands, at which time, the subject held the gun upside down out of the window while at the same time fired several shots at the deputy with a second gun in his right hand through the windshield.”
John Paul fired 20 rounds at Hazeltine, according to court documents. Three bullets hit the deputy – in the eye, elbow and chest. His injuries left him blind in his left eye.
When he was arrested, Sheriff Greg Champagne said John Paul had a violent history that included being terminated from his position with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) for “conduct unbecoming” in 2013. That same year, he was also divorced and had arrests for aggravated assault and domestic battery.
In February of this year, John Paul was found guilty of attempted first-degree murder of the deputy following a six-day trial.
By April, he was sentenced to 40 years in prison without possibility of parole, probation or suspension of his sentence.
In court, Mandy Hazeltine delivered a victim impact statement on behalf of her husband, Hazeltine, and the rest of their family. “My husband is alive today, not for lack of John Devillier trying … but by the grace of God. He is forgiven, not for his sake, but for our own.”
Soon after the shooting, John Paul told Stephen that he went to the gas station intending to talk to Hazeltine.
“He put himself in a bad situation, and he should have never gone there,” he said. “He should have left the guns at father and mother’s house. He wasn’t in his right mind. He put himself in a bad situation and it got worse.”
But Stephen maintains his brother’s increasingly deteriorating mental state came with being prescribed the antidepressant, Effexor, about six months earlier. He had been taking other drugs for PTSD and then painkillers for a lingering back injury and surgical complications, but Stephen maintained he’d functioned for years without incident.
The man who he described as being the one “who would give you the shirt off his back” became more aggressive, controlling, demanding and increasingly irrational.
“It totally messed him up,” Stephen said. “Everyone saw this about him.”
John Paul was ruled able to stand trial and, until it was held, he was put on house arrest and stayed with their parents. At this time, Stephen said his normally talkative brother was subdued and approachable, which he maintained was because he was off Effexor.
“He was the brother I knew years ago,” he said. “He’s a good man. I just hate to see him suffer like this. I really hate to see what it’s done to our parents. When they saw him put in handcuffs, our mother nearly had a mental breakdown.”
During the house arrest, the judge allowed John Paul to go to the doctor and dentists, and his attorney for nearly six months without incident, Stephen said.
“I was so glad they got to spend that six months together,” he added. “They really made amends. It did my heart good.”
When John Paul got his prison sentence, Stephen said it was basically a death sentence for a man who is 60 years old. It was incredibly heartbreaking, he said, when their father – a man he’d never seen cry before – called him weeping about the sentencing.
When he asked John Paul about his prison term, John Paul simply replied, “It is what it is.’”