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The grave injustices heaped upon New Orleans attorney ASHTON O’DWYER by Louisiana State Police in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the legal obstacles thrown in his path since then have been documented by LouisianaVoice and columnist JAMES GILL.

So, it’s understandable that O’Dwyer took issue with my claim that LSP legal counsel Fay Morrison was being served up as a sacrificial lamb by LSP in an effort at damage control in the Ronald Greene matter.

O’Dwyer’s protestations notwithstanding, LouisianaVoice said then that Morrison was being made a SCAPEGOAT in an effort to protect higher-ups in the LSP food chain who were responsible for the actual decision to conceal details of the beating death of Greene at the hands of LSP troopers from Troop F out of Monroe.

Coincidentally, it was Troop F personnel who physically abused O’Dwyer while he was being held prisoner for the horrendous act of refusing to leave his home during Hurricane Katrina despite the indisputable fact that his home was safe and that he provided accommodations for news reporters covering the hurricane.

Now, thanks to the diligence of Baton Rouge television reporter CHRIS NAKAMOTO who just won’t let the story of Greene’s death go away, and to the dogged investigation of LSP detective Albert Paxton, we learn that the second-in-command at LSP indeed played a major role in the cover-up and even received a promotion just as details of Greene’s death were becoming public – a year-and-a-half after the fact.

Doug Cain was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel upon the sudden retirement of LSP Superintendent Kevin Reeves who, ironically, previously served in Troop F.

But there is a twist in the plot previously not known: Cain harbored ambitions to move into Reeves’s slot and was even jockeying for the position only to be denied when Lamar Davis was appointed to the position.

Cain confided during a conversation with LouisianaVoice that he had aspirations to be named superintendent. During speculation about who would succeed Reeves, Cain, in an unguarded moment, said, “I would hope to be considered. I’d like to be superintendent one day.”

At the time of that exchange, we were speculating on who would succeed Reeves, who had just stepped down as the Greene investigation was just picking up steam.

Greene, a black man, was involved in a two-parish chase with State Police. The chase ended when Greene hit a tree, causing minor damage to his vehicle. Police indicated to Greene’s family that Greene had died in the collision, which was a lie. Greene was very much alive and pleading with officers as eventually proven by police body cam evidence that remained hidden for 16 months even as State Police denied the existence of any video of the incident.

LSP investigator Paxton, who is assigned to Troop F, has testified that he was blocked in his investigation by LSP administrators who wanted the matter to go away. Apparently, Cain was in the mix. Paxton’s notes say that Cain “blew off” his efforts and indicated to others at LSP that he didn’t trust Paxton.

Paxton’s notes further say that both he and Scott Brown wanted Trooper Chris Hollingsworth arrested a week after Greene died, but that that didn’t happen. It was more than a year before the case came to the public’s attention and Hollingsworth subsequently died in a single-vehicle accident only hours after he was finally terminated by State Police.

Paxton also communicated with Cain on Dec. 23, 2020, about his concerns over Trooper Kory York’s committing battery on Greene but his notes say that Cain told him, “York has already been punished and we are not going back.”

Paxton recently testified that he was issued a letter of reprimand for unauthorized dissemination of information for sending emails of his reports to his wife to proofread. Paxton said that had been a practice of his for 14 years with approval from his supervisor.

So, in effect, LSP gives tacit approval of actions so long as they do not cast the agency in a bad light but when the light is shone on misdeeds and malfeasance, it becomes grounds for disciplinary action. In terms easier to comprehend, the official policy is “kill the messenger.”

In seven-plus years of Louisianavoice’s coverage of Louisiana State Police, it has become obvious that it has become a runaway agency populated with rogue officers supported by administrators who were, at best, indifferent and/or incompetent or, at worst, corrupt.

And for now, at least, it would appear that, thanks to Paxton’s report and Nakamoto’s tenacity, at least one career track, Doug Cain’s ambition to lead LSP, has been derailed.

Theoretically, at least, if 500 prisoners can be moved from the overcrowded Harris County jail to private correctional facilities, they become someone’s problem other than Sheriff Ed Gonzalez’s.

Theoretically.

Harris County commissioners last month unanimously approved the REQUEST by Gonzalez to reduce jail crowding by outsourcing 500 pretrial defendants from Harris County to as then-unspecified locations – locations that ultimately ended up as LaSalle Corrections facilities in Louisiana hundreds of miles from prisoners’ families and legal representatives.

Gonzalez told commissioners that arrests were being made at a faster rate than prisoners were being processed out of the county jail which on a given day has 9000 prisoners. “There is no other facility in the entire state of Texas, no state prison and no county jail, that comes close to those kinds of numbers,” the sheriff said.

Gabriela Barahona, a program associate with the Texas Jail Project, agreed that the jail is overcrowded but disagreed with the proposed solution. She argued that the solution was to detain and prosecute fewer people on low-level offenses.

She apparently bruised the feelings of the Haris County District Attorney when she said, “We’re horrified by the county’s instinct to even consider outsourcing defendants rather than take responsibility for the front-end problem in the DA’s office. I cannot believe this court that claims to care about the indigent defense and court backlog crises would pay a Louisiana premium to exacerbate them.”

Dane Schiller, a spokesperson for the DA’s office was quick to respond via email:

“Criminals, not prosecutors, determine how many crimes are committed and it is up to judges to decide who should be held in jail or released pending trial,” he said. “While the Texas Jail Project may be about getting as many defendants as possible back into the streets no matter what, the District Attorney’s Office is about keeping the public safe, the system’s fair, and basing decisions on evidence.”

Apparently, the welfare of the prisoners, who haven’t even gone to trial yet, is of secondary importance, given the choice of where they’re being sent.

It’s not like there hasn’t been sufficient information available in recent months regarding LaSalle’s track record.

Things were so bad at its facility in Texarkana that LaSalle eventually TERMINATED its contract to run the Bowie County Jail following claims of inmate neglect, death of prisoners, charges of falsification of records, failure to complete training courses, lying about those courses, beatings of prisoners, denying medications, avoiding reporting in-custody deaths by releasing prisoners to hospitals or families prior to their deaths, filthy conditions, and, in the case of its Georgia facility, the performance of unwanted HYSERECTOMIES on female detainees.

Another inmate in the Texarkana facility, initially arrested for the heinous crime of jaywalking, was subsequently beaten while “absent – not assigned,” meaning he was just flat-out LOST and unaccounted for. It’s still undetermined if he was beaten by guards or by fellow prisoners.

LaSalle also got into legal trouble in Louisiana, paying out a $405,000 settlement to a former inmate at its Jackson Parish Correctional Center. Links to several LouisianaVoice stories about LaSalle can be accessed by going HERE.

President Joe Biden, if you recall, promised during his campaign that he would abolish the private prison system. So far, there has been no obvious effort to deliver on that promise.

Dumping 500 of Houston’s pretrial detainees into LaSalle facilities in Louisiana doesn’t seem like much of a move in the direction of abolishment of a bad system – bad for everyone, that is, but the private prisons and sheriffs who receive campaign contributions from them.

Opponents say the transfer will exacerbate root causes of the population crisis, inadequate indigent defense, and court backlogs. They also claim that defendants are being charged too frequently, saying that 67 percent of misdemeanor arrests and 34 percent of all felony arrests in 2019 resulted in dismissals.

The problem isn’t totally with LaSalle, however. Budgeted upgrades to Houston’s adult detention facilities was $185.7 million for fiscal year 2021-2022 with the TOTAL BUDGET for the Harris County Public Safety and Justice capital improvement program topping out at $301.4 million. That’s more than Harris County’s combined expenditures for pollution control, public health and mental health.

Still, opponents of the move say, LaSalle is “a notoriously abusive and deadly private prison company.”

Just thinking out loud, but it seems like a pretty good idea for someone to check Gonzalez’s campaign report for contributions from LaSalle or a certain Ruston family named McConnell.

Just sayin’.

It’s really disturbing when a sitting judge relies on the word of the sheriff’s department in determining whether or not an arrest warrant is constitutional.

And when the judge’s obliviousness results in a federal investigation, things can really get nasty.

But that’s exactly what has happened to what began as a strictly local matter that now has literally turned into a federal case.

When St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Randy Smith had critic Jerry Rogers arrested in 2019, the sheriff’s office neglected to tell Judge Raymond Childress, who signed the arrest warrant, that the district attorney’s office had warned that the arrest might be unconstitutional.

Actually, there was no “might” to the whole episode. The state’s Criminal Defamation Statute was ruled UNCONSTITUTONAL more than half-a-century ago (1964, to be precise). And a prudent judge, if unaware of the law, could have done some cursory research to learn that a SIMILAR ACTION in Terrebonne Parish had resulted in a $250,000 settlement by then-Sheriff Jerry Larpenter.

You’d a-thunk a judge would be cognizant of that ruling. That might be something to consider at reelection time. You might also reasonably think the high sheriff would pull the reins in on seeking a warrant after being so-advised by the local DA.

So, after having been arrested, Rogers filed a lawsuit against the sheriff who sniffed that the suit was a “POLITICALLY-CHARGED STUNT” (as if the arrest itself was not).

So, what brought about all this legal bickering?

Well, for openers, it all goes back to the sheriff’s department’s rumbling, stumbling, bumbling investigation of the July 2017 murder of Nanette Krentel, wife of St. Tammany Fire Chief Steve Krentel.

Nanette Krentel was found in the burned wreckage of the couple’s Lacombe residence. It was later determined that she had died from a gunshot wound to the head.

Rogers had sent emails to her family critical of the failure of the sheriff’s department in general and Chief Deputy Danny Culpepper and Sgt. Keith Canizaro in particular to arrest a suspect in her murder. He said the lead detective in the case was “clueless” and a “stone-cold rookie.”

Smith took umbrage at any criticism of his department or his deputies and promptly had a warrant issued for Rogers’ arrest despite having been advised by the district attorney’s office that it would be unconstitutional to arrest anyone for the exercising of free speech, protected in the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

Now, recent court documents filed by Rogers (not to be confused with the Mr. Rogers of kids’ TV fame) argue that the sheriff’s actions are not protected by the qualified immunity used with increasing frequency by law enforcement, prosecutors and judges as protection against legal liability for their actions.

Moreover, the court documents indicate that Rogers’ arrest led to a call for an INVESTIGATION by an FBI agent who believes there may be a case for criminal conspiracy on the part of Sheriff Smith and some of his deputies. The agent made the call for the investigation after he interviewed Judge Childress.

Just another day in the life of residents of St. Tammany Parish, easily the most interesting parish in the gret stet of Looziana in terms of public scoundrels being given free housing by the courts.

New Orleans police may have a new lead in the decade-old unsolved murder of Covington businessman Bruce Cucchiara in the parking lot of a New Orleans East apartment complex while he was looking at potential real estate investment property.

Or do they?

A NOPD bulletin, issued in November but which surfaced only recently, has revealed that the department is seeking the whereabouts of a Baton Rouge couple described as “persons of interest” in the cold case of Cucchiara’s murder, which occurred in April 2012.

Police are seeking the whereabouts of Richard Chambers, 31, and Joyce Whitfield, 64, in the belief that they may have knowledge vital to the investigation. The COUPLE is believed to be in the Baton Rouge area.

The problem is that police are aware that Cucchiara’s cell phone was found in Whitfield’s possession just weeks after Cucchiara’s murder and Chambers fits the description police have of the man who shot Cucchiara so it’s not like the names of Chambers and Whitfield have only recently come to investigators’ attention.

A former law enforcement official familiar with the case noted that the terms “person of interest” and “suspect” are synonymous. “To me, a person of interest once meant a beautiful woman. Today, it’s just a nice synonym for suspect.

“If [Whitfield] was found with his cell phone shortly after his murder, that makes her a suspect,” he said. “If she bought the phone from someone, she’s subject to being charged with possession of stolen property and should be able to give a description, if not a name, of the person who sold the phone to her.”

In August 2015, a little more than three years after Cucchiara’s murder, Richard Chambers, Sr., 68, of LaPlace and a former deputy commissioner of the Louisiana Department of Insurance, was SENTENCED to 30 months in prison, fined $10,500, and ordered to forfeit $11,241 after he pleaded guilty to racketeering charges in connection with his position with the state.

It was not immediately clear if the two Richard Chambers are related.

A $27,500 reward for information leading to the capture of Cucchiara’s killer(s) was posted shortly after his April 24 murder in 2012.

One person whose name keeps SURFACING in the investigation is Cucchiara’s business associate Jared Caruso-Riecke, who was holding a $5 million life insurance policy on Cucchiara at the time of his death. Caruso-Riecke, who is a member of the State Police Commission – appointed by Gov. John Bel Edwards – sued New York Life Insurance Co. on Aug. 7, less than four months after Cucchiara’s death to obtain the benefits of the insurance policy even though investigators had not cleared him as being implicated in the killing. Caruso-Riecke filed his suit in Baton Rouge’s Middle District of U.S. Federal Court instead of New Orleans which normally would have been the proper venue for a St. Tammany Parish resident.

Jared-Riecke has been embroiled in a number of legal conflicts and has business ties to known ORGANIZED CRIME FIGURES, including Dudley Geigerman, III, grandson of Dudley Geigerman Sr., who was New York Mafia leader Frank Costello’s brother-in-law and who worked as collector for Costello’s slot machines throughout Louisiana. Geigerman, in turn, was partners with convicted organized crime figure Anthony Tusa in several St. Tammany and Jefferson Parish adult entertainment/video stores.

Louisiana’s streets, roads, and highways are a disgrace. And we’re slipping.

The Annual Highway Report, compiled by Reason Foundation and released last November, ranks Louisiana as having the 16th worst system of roads in the nation, down from 20th worst just two years ago.

The REASON FOUNDATION, a libertarian-leaning organization, employs journalism and public policy research to “develop frameworks and actions of policymakers, journalists, and opinion leaders,” according to its web page.

While the foundation ranks Louisiana 35th overall, there are five individual categories in which the state ranks among the 10 worst in the nation:

  • Urban interstate pavement condition: 49th.
  • Rural interstate pavement condition: 43rd.
  • Rural arterial pavement condition: 44th.
  • Structurally deficient bridges: 45th.
  • Overall fatality rate: 43rd.

But hey, we don’t need a SURVEY  to know our roads are in pitiful condition. If you do any driving at all, you’ve played the pothole-dodge game. It doesn’t matter if you’re on a residential street or one of our six interstate highways (a small section of I-59 runs through the extreme eastern toe of the state), you’ve encountered potholes.

Another problem is when repair work is done on potholes, the work is generally sloppy and doesn’t really solve the problem. I watched a crew repairing a street in Denham Springs with hot mix, which is supposed to be rolled with a PAVEMENT ROLLING MACHINE to pack down the asphalt properly. This crew was tamping it down with the shovel part of a FRONT-END LOADER. Wrong tool for the wrong job.

The 10 worst contains some surprises:

  • New Jersey: the worst.
  • Rhode Island: 2nd worst.
  • Alaska: 3rd worst.
  • Hawaii: 4th worst.
  • New York: 5th worst.
  • California: 6th worst.
  • Delaware: 7th worst.
  • Massachusetts: 8th worst.
  • Washington: 9th worst.
  • Florida: 10th worst.

Then came Illinois (11th worst), Pennsylvania (12th worst), and Maryland (13th worst), Colorado 14th worst), Oklahoma (15th worst), and Louisiana.

So, where do Louisiana’s nearest neighbors rank? That, too, might surprise you unless you do a lot of driving in those states. Mississippi, Texas, and Arkansas have the 15th, 16th, and 17th best highway systems in the nation, respectively. Georgia is 14th best but sandwiched in between Georgia and Mississippi is Alabama, whose roadways are ranked 28th best (or 23rd worst, depending upon your perspective).

That begs the obvious question of which state has the best roads? That distinction belongs on none other than North Dakota, followed by Virginia (2nd), Missouri (3rd) Kentucky (one of our poorest states, ranked 4th best in roads), and North Carolina (5th).

The Reason Foundation’s survey raises a few other questions when taking a closer look at the Louisiana ranks.

We rank 15th in the nation in total disbursements per mile, 12th in capital and bridge disbursements per mile, and 7th in administrative disbursements per mile.

If we’re spending all that money on capital and bridge, administrative and overall disbursements, just where the hell is all that money going?

Could it possibly be that we’re not getting all we’re paying for?

A little history might suggest just that. Remember the case of JEFF MERCER, who claimed way back in 2014 that he was denied payment for work he performed because he resisted SHAKEDOWN attempts by a DOTD inspector?

A state just doesn’t rank that high in expenditures on road and highway construction and maintenance and rank as low as it does in road and highway conditions without an extraordinary amount of waste – or worse.

So, while we continue to complain about urbanized area congestion (which, incidentally, we are ranked 21st worst in the nation), the money is being doled out to someone for something but Louisiana motorists are seeing little evidence of those expenditures.

When that kind of money is spent and these kinds of roads are the result, IT JUST DON’T ADD UP.

Meanwhile, yet another study is taking place about the feasibility of constructing a new bridge over the Mississippi River to relieve congestion in Baton Rouge. In 2019, it was announced that the potential sites for the bridge had been narrowed down to FIVE . That certainly made the study less expensive.

But wait. This past November, it was announced that the number of POTENTIAL SITES had jumped to 17, which made the study both more complex and expensive.

Last January, it was announced that the decision on a location – not construction or even the awarding of a contract, but a LOCATION – could be four years away.

Despite its high ranking in expenditures, the foundation suggests that the state could “direct more resources toward its highway system,” adding that Louisiana “is one of the few that spends relatively little and has very poor system conditions.” It was unclear how Louisiana could rank so high in expenditures while the foundation was saying it spends “relatively little” on roads and highways.

“Louisiana could examine how Arkansas and Mississippi are able to get better quality highways and bridges at an equivalent cost,” the report said. “The state may also need to add resources to improve its system.”

The Reason Foundation’s report pretty much summed up the condition of Louisiana roads and highways in saying, “The state’s pavement quality and percentage of structurally deficient bridges are disproportionately bad and the biggest driver of its poor overall rankings. While not every highway can be free of potholes, Louisiana has twice as much urban interstate pavement in poor condition as Arkansas and four times as much as Mississippi.”

For a state whose unofficial motto is “At Least We’re Not Mississippi,” that’s pretty embarrassing.

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