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Troy Hebert just won’t go away.

But in this case, he’s probably like to.

The former commissioner of the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC) is scheduled in U.S. District Court Monday as a federal racial discrimination LAWSUIT  against him and ATC cranks up.

The lawsuit, to be tried before U.S. District Court Judge John W. DeGravelles, was filed by former ATC agent Charles M. Gilmore of Baton Rouge, Daimin T. McDowell of Bossier Parish, and Larry J. Hingle of Jefferson Parish.

The three claim that Hebert made working conditions so bad that employees had to take medical leave or were forced to resign. Each of the three filed separate complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and received “right to sue” notices.

LouisianaVoice first reported the filing of the lawsuit three years ago, in July 2014. https://louisianavoice.com/2014/07/14/forcing-grown-men-to-write-lines-overnight-transfers-other-bizarre-actions-by-troy-hebert-culminate-in-federal-lawsuit

The lawsuit says five African-American supervisors worked in the ATC Enforcement Division when Hebert, a former state senator from Jeanerette, was appointed by then-Gov. Bobby Jindal in November 2010. “By means of the manipulative actions by Troy Hebert…there are now no African-American supervisors within the ATC Enforcement Division,” the petition says.

Prior to Hebert’s appointment, the three “had unblemished records with no prior disciplinary actions,” the suit says. “Each…had been promoted to supervisory positions at ATC before Troy Hebert’s arrival.”

The suit says Hebert “deliberately acted in disregard of the plaintiffs’ clearly established rights to be free from racial discrimination, race-based harassment and retaliation.

Gilmore worked for 10 years as a corrections sergeant and Louisiana State Police trooper before joining ATC in 1998 where he worked his way up to Special Agent in Charge until he was “constructively discharged” by Hebert on Sept. 27, 2013, the lawsuit says.

“Constructive discharge” is when working conditions become so intolerable that an employee cannot stay in the position or accepts forced resignation.

McDowell was hired by ATC in 2005 and in his seven years was promoted three times. Hingle was hired in 1991. During his 21 years of employment, he was also promoted three times.

The lawsuit also alleges that on Aug. 22, 2012, two days after taking leave, Gilmore and McDowell were told by fellow agent Brette Tingle that Hebert intended to break up the “black trio” a reference to Gilmore, McDowell and Supervising Agent Bennie Walters. Walters was subsequently fired on Sept. 7.

“If you find that we’re doing something wrong, I hope you’ll let us know.”

—Louisiana State Office of Fire Marshal Chief Brant Thompson, to LouisianaVoice publisher Tom Aswell several weeks ago after learning we were examining expenditures of the fire marshal’s office.

“Oh, we will, Brant. You can count on it.”

—Our response.

 

Bureaucrats always blame the messenger.

Rather than devote productive efforts to cleaning up their act when they are exposed, management of public agencies would always rather go on a hunt to exact reprisals on those who may have blown the whistle.

That’s what took place today as several field personnel were called in and grilled about whether they were the sources for two recent LouisianaVoice stories. You can see those stories HERE and HERE.

And as an update to those stories, WWL-TV has CONFIRMED earlier reports by LouisianaVoice that Nanette Krentel, 49, wife of St. Tammany Parish Fire District No. 12 Chief Stephen Krentel, did not die from last Friday’s fire that destroyed the family home, but instead, died of a gunshot wound.

Even when a Louisiana Office of State Fire Marshal (LOSFM) inspector attempts to correct problems internally without alerting the media, those inspectors suddenly find themselves “reassigned” and forced to travel 200 miles or more to report to work in, say, Shreveport if the poor guy resides in the Baton Rouge area, or to Houma if he lives in Monroe.

And while these might not be actual cases, LouisianaVoice has learned that such reassignments do occur at LOSFM.

On Friday, field personnel were interrogated and told they would be required to submit to polygraph tests at unspecified times (“whenever we call you in to do so”) and that they would be interrogated further.

Reports out of LOSFM headquarters were that LOSFM Fire Chief Brant Thompson was “livid” over reports that staff are inadequately trained and certified before they are fully prepared to conduct arson investigations. One inspector, Henry Rayborn, highly regarded for his professionalism by nearly a dozen of his co-workers interviewed by LouisianaVoice, resigned following a confrontation with Thompson over the St. Tammany fire investigation.

That’s a strange reaction from Thompson, coming as it does only weeks after he contacted LouisianaVoice after we spent the better part of a week poring over office expenditures.

“We’re really glad you’re taking a look at our operations,” he said. “It’s always good to have someone checking us out and I want you to know I’m here to cooperate with you in every way I can. If you find that we’re doing something wrong, I hope you’ll let us know.”

Actually, Brant, we thought that was your job.

And, Brant, just so you know: When you try strong-arm tactics to keep people from talking, it almost always blows up in your face.

 

A second individual has come forward with more information which illustrates the manner in which the Louisiana Office of State Fire Marshal (LOSFM) mishandled a suspected arson investigation in St. Tammany Parish late last week.

The bodies of Nanette Krentel, 49, and two of her pets were recovered from a residential FIRE last Friday. She was the wife of St. Tammany Fire District No. 12 Chief Stephen Krentel. Early but unconfirmed reports indicate she had a bullet wound to the head.

State law requires that any agency investigating a homicide assign as its lead investigator a certified arson investigator but LOSFM instead assigned an inspector, Henry B. Rayborn, to the investigation.

A former LOSFM investigator voiced his concern to LouisianaVoice over the lack of professionalism and inadequate training in that fire and a string of fires set in an Avoyelles Parish nursing home. The fire marshal’s investigation of the nursing home fires has resulted in the arrest of an apparent innocent nurse employed at the facility and the suspension of her license. Her case is scheduled to go before an Avoyelles Parish Grand Jury next Thursday.

https://louisianavoice.com/2017/07/20/losfm-botches-two-fire-investigations-one-involving-a-suspicious-death-other-in-bogus-charges-against-nurse/

A second former employee of LOSFM has now come forward to provide more information to LouisianaVoice. Among the blunders committed by the fire marshal’s office in that investigation:

  • A perimeter was not set up to secure the crime scene;
  • Fire Marshal investigators lacked proper equipment and experience to handle such a complex scene;
  • The lead investigator had no experience and was not comfortable handling a death investigation;
  • Private industry fire investigators secured more evidence than the numerous SFM deputies on scene;
  • Private investigators contacted Brant Thompson, who immediately reassigned the case to Jason Johnston. This was after the investigation was already screwed up;
  • Rayborn, one of the State Fire Marshal investigators on the scene, resigned after confronting Thompson on the issues of lack of training, experience, etc.;
  • The still-active investigation is now being handled by Rick Jones.

“This investigation is very complex and believed to have foul play involved,” our latest source said. “The State Fire Marshal’s office is slacking big time. This will eventually come forward as we believe the victim’s husband, who knows State Fire Marshal Butch Browning well, is extremely disappointed with the investigation so far.”

LouisianaVoice has been receiving reports of questionable expenditures and inadequate training of inspectors and investigators at the Louisiana Office of State Fire Marshal (LOSFM) for several months, the most serious, of course, being the charges of inadequate and improper training.

Rebuilding from last August’s flood has delayed the story, which understandably involves considerable time with investigations and interviews.

But now, fires in two different areas of the state—one involving a suspicious death which resulted in the angry resignation of a top LOSFM inspector, and the other which resulted in the arrest of an innocent nurse on 77 counts in five separate fires at a nursing home—have clearly illustrated not only that the claims of inadequate training or accurate but that there may be a serious argument for malfeasance in office on the part of LOSFM upper command.

That’s a strong accusation for LouisianaVoice—or anyone—to make, but let’s examine the facts.

In both cases, a residential fire in which the wife of a local fire chief was found dead in the St. Tammany Parish town of Lacombe, reportedly with a bullet wound to her head, and the multiple fires at Bayou Chateau Nursing Home in Simmesport in Avoyelles Parish, LOSFM failed to send a certified arson investigator, assigning instead fire marshal inspectors who are not certified as arson investigators or qualified to perform those duties.

In the case of any homicide investigation such as the death of NANETTE KRENTEL, 49-year-old wife of St. Tammany Fire District No. 12 Chief Stephen Krentel, the fire marshal’s office is required by law to assign as its lead investigator a certified arson investigator. Instead, Henry B. Rayborn, a 10-year veteran LOSFM inspector was given the assignment.

“He (Rayborn) is one of the very best inspectors the fire marshal’s office has,” one former co-worker told Louisiana

Voice. “Everyone considers him as top-notch, but he is an inspector, not an arson investigator. There’s a huge difference. He was in over his head and he tried to convey that to Chief Brant Thompson.”

The former co-worker said that during a conference call between Rayborn, Thompson and other unidentified participants, Thompson became abrasive and Rayborn responded by telling Thompson he could consider the conversation as his resignation.

Reports from LOSFM indicate that State Fire Marshal Butch Browning, apparently fearing Rayborn will talk to the media, is pleading with him to reconsider his resignation.

When a series of fires broke out at Bayou Chateau Nursing Home late last year and earlier this year, LOSFM Inspector Kevin Billiot was dispatched to investigate. Like Rayborn, Billiot, a part-time minister, is not qualified as an arson investigator and sources say he never removed any articles from the fires for analysis.

LPN BRITTANY DUPAR, 27, of Simmesport, was subsequently arrested on two counts of attempted first-degree murder, five counts of aggravated arson and 70 counts of cruelty to the infirm.

The first fire was on Nov. 10, 2016. Two fires were set on March 25, at 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m., and two more on March 26, at 10 a.m. and 4:40 p.m. Two of the fires were to bedding. Others were under a bathroom sink, to a supply closet, and in an undisclosed location in a patient’s room.

“He was also in far over his head,” a former arson investigator said of Billiot, who has been with the fire marshal’s office only a short time.

When other personnel began their own investigation, the time sheets of Dupar were pulled and it was learned that on the days of four of the fires, including the one in December, she was not even at work.

Moreover, a lighter was found in a patient’s bed.

Meanwhile, the Louisiana State Board of Practical Nurse Examiners has SUSPENDED Dupar’s license pending the outcome of her criminal charges.

Evidence such as her time sheets and the lighter discovered in the possession of a patient, in legal parlance, is called exculpatory evidence, meaning it is evidence that would held an accused in proving his or her innocence and under law, those accused are entitled to all such evidence.

But with an Avoyelles Parish Grand Jury scheduled to consider the charges against Dupar next Thursday (July 27), that evidence has yet to be given the district attorney’s office.

A recent email thread between Thompson, son of State Sen. Francis Thompson, and other LOSFM personnel reveal a disturbing lack of concern for Dupar on the part of Thompson.

Asked if the DA’s office should be informed of LOSFM findings that would clear Dupar, Thompson declined, suggesting that the office should let events “play their course with the Grand Jury.”

Thompson, something of a political survivor and apparently one with all the right connections, would appear to be more concerned with protecting the image of his office than in protecting the rights and the career of a wrongly-accused woman.

Perhaps the East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney would find that email thread interesting reading.