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It’s now been 20 months since that 17-year-old girl was RAPED twice in a jail cell in the Union Parish Detention Center in April 2016 and there still has been no resolution to the ongoing investigation by Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry.

Because the detention center is administered by a committee that includes the local district attorney, he properly recused himself and the case was turned over to the attorney general for investigation.

To refresh, the girl was brought to the detention center after being found high on meth. Demarcus Shavez Peyton, 28, of Homer, was being held in the center awaiting a scheduled sentencing for his conviction of aggravated rape.

Sometime on the night of April 19, he was released from his cell and he entered the girl’s cell and raped her twice.

So, what’s to investigate? The victim is known. The perpetrator is known. The date is known. The location, a tiny, restricted jail cell, is known. It just doesn’t make sense that the “investigation” is taking so long when Landry is so quick to jump on every decision or action of Gov. John Bel Edwards.

It seems from my perspective that Landry is spending more time and energy on watching every move of Edwards and preparing his own run for governor rather than concentrating on his own job duties.

For that reason, I started making monthly checks into the progress of the investigation. Here’s one response to my first inquiry from his press secretary:

From: Wisher, Ruth [mailto:WisherR@ag.louisiana.gov]
Sent: Wednesday, August 30, 2017 11:25 AM
To: ‘Tom Aswell’ <azspeak@cox.net>
Subject: RE: PUBLIC RECORDS REQUEST

Mr. Tom,

 This matter is under investigation, therefore I cannot comment on the specifics or answer questions at this time.  

That has been the consistent response to my monthly update request, including the latest:

From: AG Landry News
Sent: Wednesday, December 06, 2017 10:02 AM
To: Tom Aswell
Subject: RE: FOLLOW UP: STATUS

Good morning,

This is an ongoing investigation therefore I cannot comment on any specifics.

And that’s not the only case of Landry’s foot-dragging on cases other than the low-hanging fruit he seizes upon for his regular press releases to display his tough on crime stance.

When an employee of the DeSoto Parish district attorney’s office cashed more 580 money orders at the DeSoto Parish Sheriff’s Office—money orders that amounted to something on the order of $130,000—the district attorney recused himself from the investigation on the basis of his being the victim of the theft. Accordingly, he called upon the attorney general’s office to conduct the investigation.

That was in February 2014, during the administration of Landry’s predecessor, Buddy Caldwell, the singing attorney general. Caldwell’s record was no better than Landry’s but when Landry came into office, the case continued to languish with neither attorney general ever filing any documents with the court.

The employee worked in the district attorney’s worthless checks and diversion programs, responsible for overseeing the case files, accepting payments from defendants, and recording receipts of payments.

A federal grand jury finally indicted her, charging than when she would direct defendants to pay with money orders with the recipient’s and remitter’s names left blank. She would then accept money orders for payments. Instead of recording the payment, she would notate the cases nolle pros, or charges rejected and then enter her name as the payee and cash the money orders at the sheriff’s office.

But Caldwell apparently was too busy with his Elvis impersonations and Landry was too involved in grinding out his daily press releases to burnish his reputation as a modern-day Marshall Dillon to waste time on remote parishes like DeSoto and Union.

Let’s face it: A felon in DeSoto Parish and a teenage meth addict rape victim in Union Parish aren’t likely to generate much sympathy or many votes in his run for governor.

A man trying to establish a reputation as a straight-shootin’, straight-talkin’ tough-on-crime politician still has to be pragmatic, after all.

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It’s a common practice in investigative reporting to have confidential sources. I do myself because in many of those cases, the information comes from a person who cannot afford to have his identity revealed for fear of reprisals. Often a person must conceal his identity because to do otherwise could mean the loss of his job at worst, impossible working conditions at best.

Perhaps that is why New Orleans TV station WWL scrambled for damage control when LouisianaVoice revealed the source of the leaked Louisiana State Police (LSP) audit that was so critical of the management missteps of former LSP Superintendent Mike Edmonson.

Obviously, WWL and its news partner, the Baton Rouge Advocate, were trying to protect the identity of the one who leaked the audit (or indeed, may not of even known the source—I’ve received anonymous tips before; the story of the attempt to bump up Edmonson’s retirement by about $100,000 is an example) but WWL got a little sloppy when, in the course of airing its story, showed a copy of the audit’s cover letter to Edmonson.

They either didn’t know or forgot that cover letter went out to only one person—Edmonson. Only two copies of the audit were printed and the other, sans cover letter, went to LSP.

So, by showing that letter in its video coverage of the audit report, WWL blew Edmonson’s cover even as Edmonson was, in my late grandfather’s vernacular, squealing like a stuck pig over the “premature release” which he said adversely affected his response to the audit—just the way he planned it.

By crying foul, he could claim his defense, in case of subsequent criminal charges, has been tainted. After all, a Baton Rouge judge recently ruled that while Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera is protected as a public official from legal liability for the contents of an audit of the Louisiana Department of Veterans’ Affairs, he is not necessarily protected by a news release issued by the auditor’s office concerning the contents of that audit. The judge, in his ruling, has allowed a lawsuit by the former secretary of Veterans’ Affairs to go forward on that basis.

Edmonson then, or most likely his legal counsel, saw an opening. A premature release of the audit before Edmonson had a chance to respond could conceivably prejudice the case against Edmonson. Accordingly, Edmonson (or more likely someone acting anonymously on his behalf) slipped a copy of the audit to The Advocate/WWL.

It might have worked had it not bee for the posting of that cover letter on WWL. That let the cat out of the bag and exposed Edmonson as the leak.

WWL, in an effort to save face, quickly removed the video from its web page after LouisianaVoice blew the whistle. Now there’s just a story but no video.

But as a LSP officials said on Monday, “There are a ton of screen shots of the letter floating around out there, so it’s not gone.”

Two quotes come immediately to mind.

From Andy Taylor, talking to Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show:

“There’s mischief afoot.”

From the late C.B. Forgotston:

“You can’t make this stuff up.”

 

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It was a possibility almost too bizarre an idea to entertain.

It was just too weird to even consider.

The evidence was right there, however, for all to see and the conclusion was inescapable.

Mike Edmonson, erstwhile Superintendent of the Louisiana State Police (LSP) and once the most powerful law enforcement official in the state, had outed himself.

It’s not as if he had not been disgraced enough already. From the ill-fated but almost successful attempt to pad his own retirement in defiance of existing state regulations to that astonishingly ill-fated San Diego misadventure—with at least a dozen ugly stories of mismanagement, questionable promotions, and assorted rumors squeezed in between—would bring an ordinary man to disgrace.

But to leak a state audit that turned a glaring light on his propensity to use his position for personal financial gain and which may have left him exposed to major IRS penalties and even prosecution is the latest in a long line of of incredibly poor decisions that leaves observers a little incredulous.

Yet, that’s exactly what happened. Mike Edmonson—or someone acting on his behalf—leaked a copy of that devastating audit to the Baton Rouge Advocate and/or New Orleans television station WWL, which identifies itself as a news partner of the Advocate.

Do the math. There were only two copies of the audit. One went to LSP. The other was sent to Edmonson. The one provided Edmonson included a cover letter addressed to him. The one received by LSP did not contain that cover letter. That pretty much narrows the origin of the leak to a single source—Edmonson himself.

And when you watch the WWL report, 40 seconds into the VIDEO there is a shot of that cover letter dated Nov. 28 and addressed to “Dear Colonel Edmonson.”

Oops.

Pause the video at that spot and you can see for yourself that the first two paragraphs of that letter read:

“Enclosed please find a draft of our investigative audit report regarding the Department of Public Safety and Corrections – Public Safety Services – Office of State Police. Draft reports are not public documents and should be maintained in a confidential manner until the final report is officially released by the Legislative Auditor (Emphasis ours).

“At this time, we are asking you to provide any information you may have which may affect the findings contained in the draft report. Any information deemed material will be included in the final report. If you choose to respond, please respond no later than noon on December 12, 2017. Your written response will be included as part of the final report.”

Edmonson, as has been typical of him all along, again reacted as the aggrieved victim. He texted Advocate reporter Jim Mustian in advance of Friday’s publication of the audit’s findings to complain that if he (Mustian) published the audit’s contents prior to the release of the final report “you will be negating my legal right to review. The process is for me to respond back to them first, not the media. Whoever furnished you with the report did so without the approval of the auditor’s office,” he said.

It is important to parse his words here. When he said whoever furnished the report did so “without the approval of the auditor’s office,” notice he did not say it was without his approval. But the most important passage was “you will be negating my legal right to review.” (Emphasis ours)

That’s key. By first leaking the document and then, after Mustian contacted him for a comment before publication, following up with that email, Edmonson could have been setting the stage for his legal strategy. He will no doubt lawyer up if he has not done so already. And you can expect his legal counsel to claim that he was:

  • ratted out by disgruntled former subordinates;
  • treated unfairly by reporters and bloggers;
  • tried in the court of public opinion before he ever had a chance to defend himself from the ravenous wolves.

He will likely claim the premature release of the audit has placed him at an unfair disadvantage from which it will all but impossible for him recover.

And you can bet he did not leak the audit directly, but through a third party. Or if he did leak it directly, it was via a fictitious email account that could not be traced back to him. One person who knows Edmonson said he suspects it was by an email account set up under an alias. “Or it may have been done by an attorney,” though, he said he would first start “with Mike.”

The same person said he did not think Edmonson was smart enough to attempt a preemptive strike to gain a legal edge by claiming his defense was tainted by the premature release.

He said he audit report, while likely reflecting most adversely on Edmonson, probably includes other findings against the entire department which may have led Edmonson to believe the focus would be on the broader agency issues. “If that’s the reason, it was a huge miscalculation,” he said. “In fact, whatever his motive, it was a huge error. The audit is damning in its detail.

“And when I was watching WWL, I saw the closeup with his name on the cover letter. There was the smoking gun.”

 

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First of all, let’s give credit where it’s due: Baton Rouge Advocate reporter Jim Mustian pulled off a major coup in securing and publishing the FINDINGS of the Legislative Auditor’s preliminary report of its audit of Louisiana State Police (LSP). The fact that the document is a draft and not the final document in no way diminishes the importance of the findings nor does it really matter how Mustian obtained it—except perhaps to Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera.

Former State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson, who was subjected to withering criticism in the report, is livid that it was leaked before he had an opportunity to respond to its findings. He texted Mustian to say that by reporting the audit’s contents, “you will be negating my legal right to review. The process is for me to respond back to them first, not the media. Whoever furnished you with the report did so without the approval of the auditor’s office,” he said.

Purpera told LouisianaVoice that he is confident the leak did not come from his office because he tracks who has access to reports prior to their release. That would appear to narrow the premature release to someone within LSP. But appearances are misleading.

As the officials say during those college and NFL football games, upon further review, a WWL-TV newscast about the audit Friday may have inadvertently revealed the real source of the leak. If you go to the 40-second spot on this VIDEO, you will see a screenshot of the auditor’s Nov. 28 cover letter to….Edmonson. The only other audit copy went to LSP but that one did not contain the cover letter to the former superintendent.

That can mean only one thing: The audit report was leaked by none other than Edmonson himself—or by someone to whom he provided a copy of the report.

So, it would seem that his anger over the premature release of the audit is somewhat misplaced.

And the fact remains that had Edmonson not gamed the system to his and his family’s advantage, there would be no reason for him to find it necessary to exercise his “legal right to review.”

Edmonson, who many rank-and-file troopers refer to as “Precious,” said he was preparing a detailed response to the “lengthy” report and that he looked forward to “answering any questions after the release of the final report.” We can’t wait.

Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, a New Orleans watchdog group that monitors public wrongdoing, said the audit showed Edmonson to be “less the colonel of the State Police and more the Boss Hog of the State Police,” a reference to the popular TV series that ran from 1979 to 1985. He said the audit signaled “a day of celebration” for rank-and-file troopers who were aware of what Edmonson was doing to the organization and of his “self-serving decisions.”

Meanwhile, details that have come out of LSP headquarters about the manner in which Edmonson mixed personal and departmental business, accepted free hotel rooms and other services, and generally ran the department like his own fiefdom has gotten the attention of the feds.

“The Louisiana State Police has been and continues to coordinate efforts with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation regarding this matter,” said Maj. Doug Cain, a State Police spokesman, in a statement to The Advocate and to LouisianaVoice.

U.S. Attorney Corey Amundson, of the Middle District of Louisiana, confirmed that his office “has been and will continue coordinating with State Police,” Mustian reported.

LSP Public Affairs Officer Lt. J.B. Slaton also said, “We continue to cooperate with the Legislative Auditor’s office. The department is currently formulating our response to the findings and recommendations of the audit. That response will be included in the final report and disseminated by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor.” He said any further comment “would be premature and interfere with the Legislative Auditor’s standard procedures and directives to the department.”

So, what, exactly, does that audit report say?

Well, here are a few of the low points taken from Mustian’s story:

  • He used a state credit card to purchase more than $7,000 in special meals without approval from the Division of Administration and without sufficient documentation to show their business purpose.
  • He moved his family into the Department of Public Safety (DPS) compound “without legal authority” to do so, allowing taxpayers to pick up the cost of his utilities, including cable TV and electricity. Its formal name is the Residential Conference Center. It was constructed in 2002 and intended only to house the governor and State Police superintendent during emergencies such as hurricanes.
  • He did not include his use of the residence, valued at nearly $435,000, as a fringe benefit on his federal form W-2 during the time he and his family resided there, from February 2008 (right after his appointment by Bobby Jindal) to March 2017 when he retired under fire from the now notorious San Diego TRIP. Auditors feel he should have paid taxes on the benefit but are uncertain if he did. Perhaps that’s one of the questions he will answer.
  • He made a practice of requiring state troopers to transport his wife to various places: bar-hopping in New Orleans, gambling in Lake Charles, to the Baton Rouge airport, or to take his wife, mother-in-law and a friend to and from a Bob Seger concert in Lafayette. On one such occasion, troopers said they were ordered to escort Mrs. Edmonson and a friend to the French Quarter while they were wearing costumes that may have included parts of the LSP uniform.
  • He procured complimentary hotel rooms in New Orleans for friends and family and even received improper reimbursement for them. He allowed friends and family to stay in extra hotel rooms that were paid for by the city of New Orleans and which were intended for troopers working Mardi Gras detail. He would receive multiple rooms in his name or the names of other troopers, the report said. He also received reimbursement from State Police for a hotel room in 2014 even though the city of New Orleans had reserved a room for him in a different hotel. In February 2015, he allowed two friends to stay in a Windsor Court suite that was intended for troopers. He admitted inviting the friends but said he thought they paid for the room. A friend of Edmonson’s said Edmonson booked rooms for him and his wife at Windsor Court on numerous occasions but that they did not know they were paid for by the city of New Orleans. In 2016, Edmonson obtained another room and Loews New Orleans Hotel for his stepdaughter and her friend that was intended for a trooper. Edmonson claimed it was an “extra room” that had been taken out of service because the air conditioner was broken.
  • He annually received free tickets to the Endymion Mardi Gras Extravaganza. State law prohibits public servants from accepting anything of economic value as a gift or gratuity from any person or organization who has or is seeking contractual or other business or financial relationships with that public servant’s agency. Endymion paid LSP nearly $400,000 from 2013 to 2017 for security details.
  • He received more than $6,300 between January 2014 and March 2017 as a daily allowance from LSP to pay for cleaning his uniform. Yet he used the dry-cleaning service at the Governor’s Mansion to clean his uniform and other clothing for free.
  • He consistently failed to pay for his meals at the State Police cafeteria. While he told auditors it was possible during his tenure that he walked out of the cafeteria without paying for his coffee, the cafeteria manager said he failed to pay for his meals at least half the time.
  • He ordered inmates to deliver food to his residence, used state resources to service his son’s jeep and his wife’s vehicle, and had prisoners cook, clean, and walk the family dog.

Those were some of the specifics. In general terms, the audit painted a portrait of a freeloader who was not above taking every handout that came his way, Mustian said.

Basically, most of the points covered are things the media knew—or at least suspected— Edmonson was doing all along, so the audit’s criticisms are really nothing new at all.

One LouisianaVoice reader wrote on Facebook, “Karma is such a good thing.”

Some have a different word for it.

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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.

 

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