Family of Louisiana Town's Black Mayor-Elect Wants Probe of Death

Relatives of the town's first black mayor-elect, found shot to death three days before he was to take office, called for a state police investigation after the local coroner ruled his death a suicide.

Gerald Washington's body was found Saturday night in the parking lot of his former high school. He had been shot once in the chest, and a pistol was nearby, investigators said.

The Calcasieu Parish coroner and sheriff said Tuesday that their investigations had determined the 57-year-old former refinery worker and councilman had committed suicide.

There was no immediate indication of a motive, and no suicide note was found, but the handgun soot "on the wound and in the depths of the wound" indicates that the gun barrel was touching Washington's torso when it went off, said Dr. Terry Welke, the coroner. "That is what is usually seen in a self-inflicted gunshot wound," he said.

The mayor-elect's family did not accept the results, and asked for a state police investigation, Sheriff Tony Mancuso said.

"It is always hard for family members to believe a loved one caused their own death, and it was no different for the Washington family," Mancuso said. "When I met with them yesterday, I offered to turn this investigation over to the state police.

"At that time, they indicated it was not necessary. However, this morning, they called to request that state police handle the investigation."

Westlake, a southwest Louisiana town of 4,500 residents, is 80 percent white, but racial issues appeared to play little or no role in the mayor's race. Washington won with 696 votes — nearly 69 percent of the vote.

The city council has 10 days to appoint an interim mayor. If it fails to do so by that deadline the governor could appoint someone to lead the town, according to Mayor Dudley Dixon, who is retiring.

"Mr. Washington is going to be missed by all the people of Westlake," Dixon said.

Washington had retired from the Conoco refinery and was married with an adult son and daughter.