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(Editor’s note: One of my classmates at Louisiana Tech back in the late ’60s was Nico Van Thyn who would go on to an outstanding career as a sportswriter for several papers, including the Shreveport Times, Shreveport Journal and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. He is now retired and living in Fort Worth. While at Tech, he was a student writer under the direction of the university’s Sports Information Directors Pete Dosher, Jack Fiser and Paul Manasseh and he was an eyewitness to the career of Tech all-time great quarterback Terry Bradshaw. In addition to writing Survivors: 62511, 70726, a poignant book about his parents’ experiences as victims of Hitler’s Holocaust, he wrote the following to set the record straight about the myth surrounding Bradshaw’s predecessor, Duck Commander Phil Robertson. It is reprinted below with his permission:

By Nico Van Thyn, Guest Columnist

When it comes to his athletic career, reality star Phil Robertson—the famed “Duck Commander”—is not very real.

But he and his family are really good at spreading myths. Such as (1) he was All-State in football, baseball and track; (2) he was a major-college recruit; and (3) he had NFL potential as a quarterback.

The first part: no, no, no.

Major prospect: doubtful.

The NFL? Oh, please. No way.

Quickly: I pay very little attention to anything ol’ Phil or his relatives have to say.

He is as far-right conservative as one can get, and I don’t travel in that direction. His brand of religion isn’t mine; his social and political views … not interested.

The TV shows, videos and books about him and his Duck Dynasty family … no thanks.

But I checked for one aspect: athletics. That’s because I was around for Phil’s time at North Caddo High—30 miles north of Shreveport—and Louisiana Tech University.

We saw Phil from the opposing side in high school; we compiled the game and season stats in football as student assistant in sports information for most of the three seasons he played at Tech.

But what I’ve seen and heard from Phil & Sons is about as far from true as the length of Terry Bradshaw’s longest pass (that might’ve carried 80-85 yards) or his national-record javelin throw in high school (244 feet, 11 inches).

I wrote about Phil and Terry 4 1/2 years ago, so I will try not to repeat much of that.

So why write this piece now? It is admittedly a nitpicking, innocuous exercise … except it is like finding a resume’ that is greatly exaggerated.

It irks me to read and hear what I know is not so.

Phil’s athletics bio and story-telling are—I saw this term in a book I am reading—“stretchers.”

I wrote some of this two years ago, but held off because I could not verify what I recalled. Now having checked microfilm of the 1960s’ Shreveport Times, I can tell you this:

Phil Robertson not only was not All-State in football, he wasn’t 1-AA all-district. He was honorable mention.

(Fred Haynes of Minden was all-district, having led his team to an undefeated state championship. Then he was a starter at LSU).

Phil might have pitched for North Caddo — as his sons will tell you — and he did make all-district in ’64 … as an outfielder. But the special baseball players in Class AA in our area, the All-State guys—five of them—were at Jesuit (state champs) and Ruston (two, one a future major leaguer).

He did throw the javelin, and he did make it to the state meet. But he was second in the district meet two years in a row (a Minden athlete beat him both years), third in the ’64 regional, fourth in the state meet … and not All-State. He was not Terry Bradshaw in the javelin, not close.

Myth No. 2:Sports Illustrated “Campus Union” story dated March 22, 2012, says: “… Robertson said he fielded offers to join the football programs at LSU, Ole Miss, Baylor and Rice.”

Can’t disprove it, but it is highly doubtful. He wasn’t that good as a high school QB, and I suspect Louisiana Tech was his best offer.

I can tell you that we had five talented QBs in the 1960s at our school that Phil could envy: three signed major-college scholarships (LSU and Arkansas); the other two signed with Tech. Three were drafted by pro football teams.

One started ahead of Phil at Tech; the other backed up Phil, but went on and won four Super Bowls.

Phil ducked his football career.

A lot of us sensed, early in 1968, that when Bradshaw’s potential blossomed—it soon did—he would replace Phil as Tech’s starting QB. My opinion: Phil sensed that, too. Losing was not fun, and he loved duck hunting.

Myth No. 3: A tryout with the Redskins.

It is so ludicrous, it is laughable. It is a joke. Nothing about it adds up. It is Phil as his BS-ing best.

He talks about this on a Sports Spectrum TV segment posted (March 25, 2013) on YouTube.

A transcript (found through a Google search) of the video follows:

So, Robertson left football and, the following season, he hunted ducks while completing his degree.

A year or so later, though, a former Louisiana Tech teammate, running back Bob Brunet, was with the Redskins and thought Robertson could still make the team. Brunet told Robertson to come up and he would likely be the backup and earn about $60,000.

“At the time, $60,000 didn’t seem like a whole lot even in the ’60s,” says Phil, who worked as a teacher for a few years after earning his degree from Louisiana Tech and then earned his master’s degree in education, with a concentration in English. 

“I said, ‘I don’t know about that. I would miss duck season, you know? I’d have to be up there in some northern city.’ I said, ‘Brunet, you think I’d stay?’ He said, ‘I doubt it. You’d probably leave with the ducks, Robertson.’ I said, ‘Probably so.’” 

“That’s when (future Hall of Fame coach Vince) Lombardi went to Washington for a few years right before he quit coaching. …What (Brunet) said was, ‘We got this hot dog, Robertson, but you can beat him out easy.’ I said, ‘Who’s the hot dog?’ He said, ‘You’re not going to beat out (future Hall of Famer Sonny) Jurgensen. You’re not going to beat him out, but this hot dog, his backup, no problem.’ I said, ‘Who is he?’ He said, ‘Joe Theismann.’”

Phil paused, smiled, then chuckled, recalling the conversation and how good Theismann became—a Super Bowl XVII champion, NFL MVP, and a two-time All-Pro and Pro Bowl selection.

“(Brunet) said, ‘No problem, we’ve got him, hands down.’

‘I may do it,’” Phil recalls says. “But I didn’t do it. I stayed with the ducks. But looking back on it, who knows if I’d gone up there, you know, I might not have ever run up on Jesus at 28.”

Now, the truth, the facts:

Lombardi coached one season (1969) in Washington. Brunet never played a regular-season game with Lombardi as coach. In fact, he quit the team.

Robert was the best back (when not hurt) we had at Tech in my time there (1965-68 seasons), a two-time all-conference player. The Redskins drafted him, and as a rookie in 1968, he had the second-most carries on the team. The coach that season was Otto Graham.

After Lombardi came in — having sat out one season following his Green Bay retirement — Brunet did not take to his fierce coaching style.

(The Great Coach was the opposite of the dignified soft-spoken legendary Tech coach Joe Aillet, and the head coach in Robert’s senior season, Maxie Lambright, was a quiet man, too, more intense than Aillet but nothing like Vince.)

So Brunet left and sat out the 1969 season, the time of Phil’s story.

Robert did return to the Redskins in the spring of 1970, with Lombardi still there. But in June, Lombardi’s fast-spreading cancer was found, and he never returned to coaching. He died before the season kicked off.

So, Bill Austin was Brunet’s head coach in ’70, and George Allen came in ’71 (and Brunet was a standout special-teams player for him into the 1977 season).

Jurgensen did not start much in 1971 through 1973. He was injured a lot and then the backup to Billy Kilmer (including a hapless Super Bowl against the “perfect” Miami Dolphins, 1972 season).

Jurgensen and Theismann were on the same Redskins team only in 1974. The “hot dog”—after three years in Canadian football—barely played that year. Kilmer started 10 games (and got hurt); Jurgensen started four (and a playoff game).

By then, Phil had been out of football seven years.

And if I have the timing correctly, Phil’s downward spiral hit in the early 1970s, and he soon was drinking and rowdy and split from his family for a time—not exactly headed for the NFL. Then he found religion.

I Don’t remember religion being a factor for Phil at Tech. His religion was hunting and fishing. In fact, Bradshaw had more of a religious leaning (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) then than Phil.

So maybe Phil and Brunet had a conversation about him playing for the Redskins. But, good gosh, what Phil tells makes no sense.

He’s told it so often, though—and written it—and his sons talk about him being All-State and “turning down a chance to play professional football,” and they all believe it now … and want the world to believe it.

Our lack of success in 1966 and 1967 wasn’t all Phil’s doing; the teams weren’t sound. But the QBs were not difference makers.

As a passer, Phil did have a quick release—Bradshaw has mentioned that often in interviews—and he had a decent arm. But not a great arm, like Terry.

Pro potential? Hardly. Alan, Jase and Willie—the sons—can twist it the way they want and repeat the un-truth.

NFL teams were not going to be interested in a guy who quit before his senior season—“to chase the ducks, not the bucks,” as he likes to say—and who in two years as a starter threw 32 interceptions (nine TD passes) and led his teams to three wins (Bradshaw, as a freshman sub, was the star of the only 1966 victory).

It was nice of Tech to invite Phil back for a September 2013 game, reunited with Terry, and to honor him. But it was for his notoriety (and Ducks success), not for his football past.

Give Phil and the Robertsons’ credit for inventiveness, ingenuity, creativity, self-promotion … and a duck dynasty.

They have millions of reasons—and dollars—to be happy, happy, happy. And I’m happy to provide the truth on Phil as an athlete.

He is out “in the woods” on so much (that’s the name of his new show on CRTV, a subscription-only channel. No subscription here, thank you).

The promotion, which I am not looking for but which is popping up regularly on my computer, says, “… just truth, from Phil’s mouth to your screen.”

Phil’s truth, not ours. If he tells you he was All-State in three sports or an NFL quarterback prospect, don’t believe him.

God-appointed messenger? You decide.

Reminds me of a friend who used to joke, “Any man who says he runs his household will lie about a lot of other things, too.”

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We have apparently entered into an era in which a public servant who does his job as he should now runs the risk of being named a defendant in one of those strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP) discussed in recent LouisianaVoice posts.

The very prospect of Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera being sued for issuing a press release about an audit report his office performed should send a chill throughout the Fourth Estate—mainstream media as well as bloggers. Who’s to say you can’t be sued for discussing an audit report over a Frappuccino at Starbucks?

Welsh Alderman Jacob Colby Perry recently won a court victory when the judge threw out not one, but four SLAPP LAWSUITS against him but now the attorney for the four who sued him—the Welsh mayor, her children, and the police chief—is attempting to get the presiding judge recused from the case in a desperate attempt to keep the frivolous lawsuits alive.

Louviere v Perry

Johnson v Perry

Cormier v Perry

And now we have a STORY in the Baton Rouge Advocate telling us that Baton Rouge attorney Jill Craft is suing Purpera on behalf of her client, former Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs David LaCerte—not because an investigative audit by Purpera’s office found that LaCerte, a Bobby Jindal appointee, allowed fraudulent behavior in his department, but because Purpera had the audacity to issue a press release saying so.

The state asked that 19th Judicial District Court Judge William Morvant dismiss the lawsuit on the grounds that Purpera was protected by the same statute that protects the speech of legislators.

Incredulously, Morvant ruled that while the auditor’s investigative report was protected, the press release issued by Purpera’s office was not. “I don’t think the press release falls within that immunity,” Morvant said, apparently with a straight face.

That immediately raises the question of whether or not the media are free to write their own story from the report. In other words, yer honor, can I, as a news reporter, write a comprehensive story that accurately reflects the contents of the audit without fear of some attorney swooping down and SLAPPing me?

  • Can LouisianaVoice or The Advocate, or any other medium be SLAPPed for writing that a contract for the privatization of a state hospital contained 50 blank pages, even though it did?
  • Is it defamation that reporters wrote about the oil and gas industry pouring contributions into the campaigns of a governor who killed a lawsuit against 97 oil and gas companies?
  • Can Lamar White be SLAPPed because he wrote about U.S. Rep. Steven Scalise speaking at an event attended by David Duke? That certainly didn’t reflect well on Scalise’s image.
  • Can Bob Mann be SLAPPed for admonishing Republican politicians to quit calling themselves “pro-life” if they “can’t speak out on behalf of sick kids” after Louisiana’s congressional delegation remained silent after Congress allowed the CHIP program to expire? That was, after all, a pretty damning condemnation of those self-righteous Republicans who seem to believe life begins at conception and ends at birth.
  • Can Robert Burns be SLAPPed for documenting payroll fraud on the part of an employee of a state board?
  • Can The Lens, a New Orleans online news service, be SLAPPed for exposing the Orleans Parish District Attorney for issuing bogus subpoenas?
  • Can a Houma blogger be SLAPPed for criticizing Sheriff Jerry Larpenter? Apparently the sheriff thought he could be at least raided. Instead Larpenter wound up having to pay substantial damages in the ensuing lawsuit, so at least there’s that.

We’ve already seen SLAPP suits where Superintendent of Education JOHN WHITE sued private citizen James Finney over Finney’s request for public records.

That followed a similar lawsuit filed by 4th Judicial District JUDGES against the Ouachita Citizen over the newspaper’s unmitigated gall in seeking public records from the court.

When the audit was issued, LaCerte’s attorney at the time called the audit’s findings “blatantly false. Both the interim secretary and the newly-appointed secretary of Veterans’ Affairs agreed with the findings and had taken corrective actions, Purpera’s news release said. The news release also noted that LaCerte’s attorney at the time called the audit’s findings “blatantly false.”

One thing Louisiana’s anti-SLAPP laws do is provide for the awarding of legal fees should a defendant prevail in one of these outrageous attempts to stifle public discourse.

Perry stands to collect something on the order of $16,000 in attorney fees. If plaintiff attorney Ronald Richard persists in pursuing this matter, he will be doing his clients a disservice because those attorney fees for Perry can only continue to climb.

LouisianaVoice also collected attorney fees in a recent SLAPP action when the presiding judge ruled in our favor. But there appears to be no shortage of plaintiffs willing to sue and unless judges start imposing sanctions, there will be no incentive for attorneys to refrain from collecting legal fees to represent them.

Morvant’s ruling, for lack of a better term, is an absurd interpretation of the First Amendment held in such high esteem by Thomas Jefferson who once said if forced to choose between a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, “I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

This is just the kind of ruling, if it is allowed to stand, that can send us barreling down the slippery slope to a government without newspapers—or any other independent media with courage enough to report the truth.

Somewhere in the great hereafter, Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew are applauding Morvant’s ruling and should he learn of it, Donald Trump will no doubt be tweeting the glad tidings of great joy about the “fake news” comeuppance.

 

The film An Inconvenient Truth, a documentary about former Vice President Al Gore’s lectures on the perils of global warming, won an Academy Award.

State Fire Marshal Butch Browning’s “convenient untruths” about the safety record of carnival rides in Louisiana and the so-called “intricate inspections” his office conducts of rides should win a few rotten tomatoes.

A recent STORY on a New Orleans television station about a so-called “near miss” when a ride called the Gravitron at a church fair in October malfunctioned and would not stop spinning.

No one was injured in the incident, though it did leave a few riders dizzy and more than a little concerned about the safety of the ride.

Browning said since he has been the fire marshal, “we’ve never had a ride fail—where you have a car come off a ride and that kind of thing.”

That remark has to be filed away behind the “C” tab, as in CYA.

Because state law mandates only that ride owners report when there is an injury, the so-called “near misses” get reported only when someone calls Browning’s office to file a complaint. In all, eight such incidents have been investigated by the fire marshal’s office in the past three years.

Browning said rides undergo “intricate” inspections. “They go through every piece,” he said. “They take things apart.” He said the rides are required to pass inspections by National Association of Amusement Ride Safety Officials each year in order to operate in Louisiana.

We will return to that requirement but first, let’s look at the record to see if Browning is being entirely truthful.

On May 14, 2011, two teenagers were injured when a ride MALFUNCTIONED at a school fair in Greensburg in St. Helena Parish.

Oh, sorry. That was more than three years ago and Browning did say only eight incidents had been reported in the past three years.

Still, it did happen on a ride called the Zipper. LouisianaVoice was informed earlier this year that a ride called the Zipper was shut down at another fair in Louisiana this year but the same ride was allowed to operate only a couple of weeks later at the recent Baton Rouge State Fair after apparently passing inspection.

In the St. Helena accident, a brother and sister were thrown from the ride when it re-started as they were exiting. They were ejected from the car and fell to the ground. Both were airlifted to a Baton Rouge hospital.

The mother of the teens filed a lawsuit against the fire marshal’s office, claiming the ride was improperly INSPECTED. The state SETTLED that lawsuit for $180,000.

On Oct. 21, 2015, a Shreveport television station did a puff piece about the thoroughness of fire marshal INSPECTIONS of rides at the Louisiana State Fair in Shreveport with one deputy fire marshal proclaiming the rides to be “absolutely safe.”

Yet, just four years earlier, four-year-old Sheldon Lewis was critically injured when a ride he was exiting suddenly re-activated and trapped him beneath it. The accident left him confined to a wheelchair. The accident occurred when a child pressed an “on” button on an easily accessible active ride control panel, a hazard risk that had been overlooked by fire marshal inspectors.

An online service on negligence called DENENA POINTS was critical of “an easily-activated piece of heavy ride equipment accessible” that showed “a lack of proper safety precautions.”

Like with the St. Helena accident, a lawsuit was filed on behalf of the injured child.

In September 2016, a woman sued the Baton Rouge State Fair and an amusement ride company over her fall on Oct. 29, 2015, from a ride called GEE WHIZ. She claimed in her lawsuit that the ride had been experiencing problems the week of the accident and should have been taken out of service.

Browning, typically, defended his office, saying preliminary and final investigations discovered “no defects or failures” in the ride’s mechanics.

“We were unable to determine how the rider (Andraea Gilmore) was able to free herself from the lap-bar restraint,” Browning said in a statement that left Gilmore’s attorney, Ralph Fletcher, less than impressed—or convinced.

On June 9, 2006, a two-year boy broke his arms and legs after falling from a ride called OVER THE RAINBOW at Baton Rouge’s Dixie Landin’ Amusement Park and four years later, in 2010, a 21-year-old woman who fell from a roller coaster ride known as the XTREME at the same park was killed.

And while Browning parses words in saying things like, “We’ve never had a ride fail—where you have a car come off a ride and that kind of thing,” it’s more than evident that there are failures and that people get hurt—and even die from amusement rides.

But who, exactly, conducts inspections of these rides? And how do inspectors become certified by the National Association of Amusement Ride Safety Officials (NAARSO)?

As to the answer of the second question, we’re not at all certain other than to say CERTIFICATION rules were changed in 2015. But the NAARSO CRITERIA for certification senior level might seem to eliminate Louisiana State Fire Marshal inspectors. Senior certification requires 10 years’ experience in the “design, repair, operation or inspection of amusement rides and devices” and that senior applicants “have worked in the amusement ride and device inspection field a minimum of three out of the past 10 years.”

Under the system of cross-training currently required by Browning’s office, the possibility of an inspector’s meeting those criteria would seem remote at best. Boiler inspectors, nursing home inspectors, jail inspectors, and arson investigators are simply not qualified as amusement ride inspectors—and vice-versa.

Yet, that is precisely what deputy Louisiana fire marshals are required to do, which is why one boiler inspector from Texas turned down a job with the Louisiana Fire Marshal’s office upon moving here. He found that he would expected to inspect carnival rides “and I knew I wasn’t qualified to do that.”

What that means, of course, is that by leaving itself exposed to legal risks by having unqualified amusement ride inspectors, the state runs the risk of being hit with a major lawsuit if someone’s child is permanently injured by a defective ride that somehow passed inspection by the fire marshal’s office.

When I posted the story on LouisianaVoice last Thursday about the Step-N-Strut trail ride on Tunica-Biloxi land in Marksville on Nov. 3-5, I did so in the full knowledge that it would be a controversial story because of the claims by organizers that Tunica-Biloxi Police Chief Harold Pierite, Sr. attempted a $10,000 shakedown under the threat of closing down the last day of the event.

That is why I called Pierite, his Chief Deputy Chico Mose, and attempted without success to speak with Tribal Council Vice Chairman Marshall Ray Sampson, Sr.

Pierite did at least speak with me long enough to deny any shakedown, and I quoted him as saying it “never happened.” I also quoted him as denying that he threatened to shut down the event’s last day of activities.

Mose did not deny or acknowledge anything. Instead, he said he would get back to me.

He never did.

I attempted to call Sampson and left word for him to call. He, like Mose, did not call back. Instead, I received a statement from Sampson but delivered through the Enrhardt Group, a New Orleans corporate communications and marketing firm.

That statement, which did little to shed any light on the events of Sunday, Nov. 5, was included in my story.

But on Saturday, two days after the story was posted, Sampson and Pierite have issued a joint, two-page statement, again through Enrhardt, that purports to dispute the content of Thursday’s story, point-by-point.

“In the interests of accuracy and fairness, we hope you will give this statement of facts the same consideration as you did for the original posting of Nov. 16,” the latest statement says, apparently suggesting that I did not do so with the original story.

But hey, let’s not ever say I’m unfair in giving both sides a chance to have their say. Even though they chose not to elaborate on the charges by Dave and Torry Lemelle of Opelousas, I agree to print their statement—but do so with the caveat that Thursday’s story contained an accurate account of the facts insofar as I was able to obtain them from sincere efforts to contact both sides and to obtain their version of the events.

So, here is the TUNICA BILOXI RESPONSE:

  • Prior to the event, all communication took place between Chief Harold Pierite of the Tunica-Biloxi Police Dept. and Paul Scott of Step-N-Strut. You should note that Mr. Scott has praised the efforts of the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe and its relationship with Step-N-Strut.
  • Prior to the event, the Tunica-Biloxi Police Dept. conducted research on the Step-N-Strut event with Natchitoches and St. Landry police departments regarding the type of event and security that should be provided. It was decided that there should be at least one officer per 75 attendees at the event. Original estimates for security were based on these figures.
  • All estimates for security leading to the event were provided to Mr. Scott and Step-N-Strut. The original estimate for $112,000 was based on 50 officers, plus four state troopers covering the event in shifts for three days. When the Step-N-Strut leadership balked at the amount, a revised estimate was developed reflecting fewer officers and a reduction in their hourly rates. (That estimate is attached.) This estimate was initialed by all principals.
  • The Tunica-Biloxi Police Department made every effort to operate within the financial constraints of Step-N-Strut, which led to the revised estimate. In the final analysis, because fewer than 30 officers were available, the total charges were considerably less than the revised estimate. We believe the total charges for security were less than $30,000, even less than the amount the organization says it was charged by other entities. Since each officer was paid separately, Step-N-Strut should have accurate figures on the actual cost of security.
  • No cash was involved in any transaction between the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe or Police Department and Step-N-Strut. Security officers were paid by check and 1099s were issued. The Tunica-Biloxi Tribe’s Economic Development Council received a check for $4,500, which were the only funds that were transferred between Step-N-Strut and the Tribe.
  • The Tribal Council was aware of the event, but it left all security arrangements up to the Police Department and Step-N-Strut leadership. No tribal council member received any remuneration whatsoever from Step-N-Strut or its leadership/membership.
  • Attendance at the event was higher than the original projections and security planned for 2,500 to 3,000 attendees. This resulted in traffic and parking issues, as evidenced by the number of vehicles that were towed because of illegal parking on LA Hwy 1.
  • The gunshot on Saturday evening caused the closure of the event because of security concerns. Officers viewed the shot being fired from the crowd and took reasonable action for the safety of the entire crowd.
  • The confusion over the late start on Sunday was due to a representative of Step-N-Strut who told the officer-in-charge that they would not pay for security. The event was delayed until this matter was resolved. Chief Pierite engaged Mr. Lemelle and was assured that officers would be paid. In fact, the event was opened at 10:30 A.M. Mr. Pierite wanted assurance that they would be paid for the time they worked on Sunday.
  • All communication regarding security for the event occurred between Chief Pierite and Paul Scott. Based on Mr. Scott’s correspondence to you, there do not seem to be problems between those parties. Also, because all transactions were by check and can be documented easily, there should be no confusion about monies paid and parties who received funds. We suggest that anyone quoted other than these principals really didn’t know the facts.

So, there you have it. For the record, Paul Scott, with whom Pierite dealt in negotiations for the event, has also come to the support of the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe. His statement was posted by LouisianaVoice as one of the comments to the original story.

My final word on this is to express the desire that when contacted by LouisianaVoice on a story, don’t duck the issue. Don’t say you’ll call me back and then go silent. I am happy to publish both sides of a story but too often, one side clams up and won’t talk and then cries foul when the story hits.

 

Yet another ugly controversy involving a member of the Louisiana State Police Commission (LSPC), has surfaced this one involving claims by an Opelousas organization that one of LSPC’s newest members, Harold Pierite, Sr., attempted to shake down the group for thousands of dollars during its annual event held on land owned by the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe in Marksville.

Organizers told LouisianaVoice that Pierite threatened to shut down the Step-N-Strut trail ride on its final day—the most important day of the event—unless they paid him $10,000 in cash. They said they ultimately paid him “about $4,000,” but many attendees pulled out early in the belief that the last day was being shut down.

The reports set off a belated denial by the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe and counter-denials by organizers of the event.

Pierite, the Tunica-Biloxi Police Chief, was appointed by Gov. John Bel Edwards last March to the Louisiana State Police COMMISSION, which was created in 1991 to provide an independent civil service system for Louisiana State Troopers, said the demand for more money or his threat to close the event down “never happened.”

Pierite has served as a member of the Tunica-Biloxi Tribal Council for more than 15 years and as Chief of the Tunica-Biloxi Police Department for more than 20 years. He is a 1992 graduate of the Acadiana Law Enforcement Training Academy.

The Step-N-Strut Trail Ride is held the first week of each November and horse owners from all over the U.S. participate, according to Dave and Torry Lemelle, organizers of the annual three-day event.

The Lemelles have sponsored the event for the past 19 years, moving it from location to location in the state over the years. “We hold our trail ride the first week in November and participants come in from North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Texas, and all over,” Torry Lemelle told LouisianaVoice.

She said trail rides are hosted by different clubs virtually every weekend. “They come to ours and we go to theirs,” she said. Participants pay a fee for attending the trail rides. (Click HERE to see a video of the grand entrance for this year’s event.)

Dave Lemelle said this year’s event was attended by about 3,000 persons and “between 400 and 500 horses.” Torry Lemelle said the trail ride is “like a music festival, only with horses.” She said bands play and participants hold cookouts and camp out on the grounds.

“This year, we held the trail ride on property the Tunica-Biloxi Trust in Marksville,” Dave Lemelle said.

The Lemelles provided copies of correspondence from Pierite in which he agreed to provide security at a flat fee of $30 per reservation officer and $40 per hour per State Trooper. He later tried to inflate the cost by claiming that more officers would be required, including State Police for traffic control on the highway leading to the reservation.

“They (Pierite and his chief deputy, Chico Mose) wanted us to pay for 24-hour security. This was not necessary,” Torry Lemelle said. “Chief Pierite was also going to give me one invoice to pay so that he could pay the officers. In informed him that each officer would be getting paid at the end of each night, according to the hours that we verified. Each officer also had to fill out a W-9 form.”

She said Pierite initially indicated on Oct. 6 that the cost to the organization would be $112,000. “We told Chief Pierite that the event could not afford the security that he wanted to provide (and) if we could not come to an agreement, we would have to cancel the event.

“He told us that he was sure that we would be able to come to an agreement and that he would revise the assignment. On Oct. 19, I received the revised detail assignment totaling $59,150. This revised assignment still had security for 24 hours.

“We spoke to the Louisiana State Police and they informed us that they do not require us to have State Troopers on the highway.”

She said on Oct. 20, the organization presented Pierite with a detailed assignment based on the past five years of security costs to Step-N-Strut’s annual trail ride at other location. She said security for past events totaled about $35,000.

“On Oct. 23, we received a denial letter for our detail assignments,” she said.

Pierite’s letter was addressed to Paul Scott. “Paul is a good friend of ours who has been organizing festivals for about 30 years,” Mrs. Lemelle said. “He also sits on the board of the Festival International De Louisiane. He has been helping us organize this event for the past six years. He is the one who actually met with Harold” on several occasions and was the one who paid Pierite for the security detail.

Dave Lemelle said that Keenan Malveaux, Pierite’s nephew, approached him prior to the event and demanded an additional payment of $35,000 in cash “to make it happen.” “He specifically said he wanted the payment in ‘untraceable’ cash,” Lemelle said.

“I asked what the additional money was for and he said, ‘To take care of some people.’ When I pressed him on who those ‘people’ were, he said it was for members of the Tribal Council.”

Following negotiations, Pierite’s denial, and the Tribal Council’s overturn of that denial, the trail ride finally got underway until the morning of Sunday, Nov. 5, when Pierite appeared to say he was shutting the event down, Lemelle said.

Pierite then left and was gone for five hours, he said. In the meantime, the Lemelles set about contacting Tribal Council members to have Pierite’s actions overturned again. “In the meantime,” Lemelle said, “news of the threatened cancellation spread like wildfire and people started packing up and leaving. There were some who heard about it on the way in and just turned around and left before they even got to the event.”

When Pierite returned five hours later, he demanded a payment of $10,000. “He said State Police and the FBI wanted the trail ride shut down.

Lemelle said Pierite was eventually paid “about $4,000.” But the damage was done.

Torry Lemelle said, “Chief Pierite extorted money from us throughout the whole process, using his authority, threatening to cancel this event if we did not pay him. When he realized that he was not getting any more money, he cancelled our event on Sunday morning, causing us to lose not only money but a large amount of our supporters. (He) used his authority to intimidate people and extort money.”

Pierite, contacted by LouisianaVoice on Monday, denied that he demanded money from the Lemelles, saying it “never happened.” He also denied that he threatened to shut down the event on its last day. Asked if he spoke to Dave Lemelle, he said, “Yes, I spoke with him, but not about that.”

Mose, also contacted by LouisianaVoice, appeared surprised by the claim that there was a threat to shut the event down, but he did not deny the allegation. He said he would check out the story and get back. He never did, however, although we did receive an official statement from a Tribal Council member through the offices of the Enrhardt Group, a New Orleans corporate communications and marketing firm.

Marshall Ray Sampson, Sr., vice chairman of the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana, issued a statement through Enrhardt several hours after LouisianaVoice‘s inquiries about the dispute over the money:

“The Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana was thrilled to be a part of the Step-N-Strut event this year and hope that all who attended had a wonderful experience. The annual event, which draws thousands of participants and their horses to the area, was unfortunately disrupted and subsequently delayed due to the actions of one participant.

“Late Saturday evening the Tribal Police department received reports that an event participant had shot a gun into the air. Thankfully, despite the crowds in the area, no one was hurt. Due to the quick response of the Tunica-Biloxi Police and security teams the area was quickly locked down. After assessing the situation for safety concerns it was determined that the event could not proceed without further security in place. Following the incident Tunica-Biloxi Police were forced to shut down the event late Saturday evening. Tribal leaders participated in consultations between the mayor and event organizers. After considering several options, it was determined the event could continue on Sunday morning, though slightly delayed.

Sampson’s claims that additional security was justified (thereby accounting for more costs) and that the event “was forced to shut down” were at odds with Pierite’s denial that more money was sought from the trail ride or that he had moved to have it shut down, leading to the conclusion that Sampson and Pierite failed to get together after our initial call to coordinate their stories.

“Events like the Step-N-Strut are widely loved and it is unfortunate that the actions of one participant resulted in a disruption. The Tunica-Biloxi Tribe is working with the mayor’s office and event organizers to ensure that measures are in place moving forward to provide the full scope of security needed so the Step-N-Strut can continue on for years to come. We thank the security teams and Tribal Police for their quick response and are grateful no one was hurt and that the event, though slightly delayed on Sunday, was able to continue on to completion.”

Mrs. Lemelle was incensed at what she termed a self-serving statement from Sampson, calling it “a complete lie,” saying Sampson didn’t even know the Sunday schedule was shut down “until we contacted him.”

She said, “First of all, we were told it was a member of the Tunica-Biloxi police department who fired the gun, not one of our participants. Second, if it was shut down, why did the Tunica-Biloxi deputies arrive for security on Sunday morning? They all came on duty as if nothing was wrong because there was no shutdown until Pierite came on the scene and told us he was closing it down unless he got another $10,000. The mayor never even knew about the shutdown,” she said.

There were also unconfirmed reports that the Tribal Council is conducting an investigation of Pierite.

Because whatever did happen occurred on tribal property, state authorities would have no power to investigate or arrest anyone. Any criminal investigation and/or prosecution would have to be conducted by the Tribal Council, the FBI, or the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The only remedy within the state’s purview would be for Gov. Edwards to remove Pierite from the State Police Commission.