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Archive for the ‘Public Records’ Category

Lest you think of your local sheriff’s office’s protective actions as a form of insurance, it might do well to remember that unlike State Farm, they’re not always a good neighbor and as opposed to what the Allstate folks might say, you’re not always in good hands.

Louisiana sheriffs have paid out a combined minimum of $6.1 million in settlements and judgments since 2015, according to records provided LouisianaVoice by The Louisiana Sheriffs’ Law Enforcement Program (LSLEP), the risk management arm of the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association.

Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal has paid out at least $2.35 million of that, or 38.5 percent of the total for all sheriffs. That’s just from 2015. Ackal has been in office for 10 years and his office has paid out more than $2.8 million in judgments and settlements, or an average of $23,000 for every month he has been in office.

Two other parish sheriffs’ departments, Jackson ($650,000) and Morehouse ($503,000) were a distant second and third, respectively, behind Iberia. Together, the three parishes were responsible for $3.5 million in payouts for damages and wrongful deaths, or 57.4 percent of the total for all 64 parishes.

Besides the $6.1 million in judgments that were paid out, seven law firms also ran up another $1.2 million in legal fees defending the various lawsuits against sheriffs. That amount represent 83.2 percent of the total legal fees paid to all firms.

Pursuant to a public records request by LouisianaVoice, LSLEP, through its legal counsel, Usry & Weeks of New Orleans, provided reports that showed file names, claimant names, attorneys who handled the files, the amounts paid in attorney fees, and settlement/judgment amounts. The amounts paid out were divided BY PARISH into “corridor” (deductible), indemnity, and excess carrier payments. Excess payments are generally paid out by a second insurance company that covers claims in excess of a certain amount covered by LSLEP’s primary insurer.

There were seven payments made by the LSLEP excess carrier, records show. They range from a low of $15,000 in a case involving two payouts to a plaintiff by the West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office (the other payment was for $100,000 and was listed as an “indemnity” payment) to what is believed to be a payment of at least $600,000 in Iberia Parish in the case of the shooting death of a handcuffed prisoner.

The actual amount of that payment is unclear because in the case of Shandell Bradley v. the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office, the amounts of the settlement payments were ordered sealed by the presiding judge—the only payments among the records provided that were redacted.

That was the case in which 22-year-old VICTOR WHITE, III was shot in the chest while in custody of sheriff’s deputies. The coroner somehow managed to rule that White had gotten hold of a weapon and somehow managed to shoot himself in the chest—while his hands were cuffed behind his back.

In an interview with LouisianaVoice, White’s father, Victor White, Jr., said he was unhappy with the judge’s order that terms of the settlement not be disclosed. “The judge says we can’t talk about the settlement amount, but I believe the people of Iberia Parish have a right to know how much the sheriff department’s actions cost them,” he said.

The Victor White case was not the only case in which Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal had to make substantial payouts.

CHRISTOPHER BUTLER sued after he was beaten while handcuffed by a deputy Cody Laperouse in 2013. Ackal fired Laperouse who promptly went to work as an officer for the St. Martinville Police Department. Ackal’s office paid out $350,000 in that case.

Ackal also paid out $175,000 to the family of 16-year-old DAQUENTIN THOMPSON who hanged himself while being held in Iberia Parish’s adult jail in 2014.

In a case that displayed the ugly side of Ackal’s idea of justice, the sheriff instructed two of his deputies to “take care of” HOWARD TROSCLAIR after Ackal had been told assaulted one of his (Ackal’s) relatives, according to appeal documents filed by deputy David Hines with the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. When Trosclair was arrested, the court records say he was “compliant and followed the officers’ commands.” Hines nevertheless used his knee to strike Trosclair “several times in the side” and struck him “two to three times” with his baton in the back of his legs. Hines continued to knee Trosclair in the abdomen or groin even after he was restrained. Hines then filed a false police report to cover up the wrongful assault, the appeal record says.

That episode cost LSLEP $275,000.

LSLEP paid out $500,000 on behalf of the Morehouse Parish Sheriff’s Office in connection with the death of 18-year-old EDWIN BATTAGLIA while he was in a holding cell.

Perhaps the strangest judgment was the $600,000 payout to VACUUM CLEANER sales representatives in Jackson Parish in 2013.

It seems that a group of door-to-door salespeople had close encounters with Jackson Parish sheriff’s deputies despite their having a permit to solicit door-to-door. Deputy GERALD PALMER told the sales reps, “We’re not too keen on door-to-door salesmen in this parish, so you probably gonna run into a lot of problems. You’re probably better off to go to another parish, according to my sheriff (Andy Brown),” according to court documents.

Court documents quoted other examples of intimidation by deputies in efforts to discourage the sales reps.

The Alexandria law firm of Provosty, Sadler & Delaunay billed $247,000 for defending 33 lawsuits against sheriffs’ offices in Allen, Grant, Iberia and Rapides parishes, records of payments BY LAW FIRM show.

The Chalmette law firm of Gutierrez & Hand was a close second with $237,500 in billings for defending 20 lawsuits against the St. Bernard Parish Sheriff’s Office.

Other top-billing firms included:

  • Cook, Yancey, King & Galloway of Shreveport—$191,390 for defending 26 cases in the parishes of Claiborne, Desoto, and Webster;
  • Hall, Lestage & Landreneau of Deridder—$149,745 for representing Allen, Beauregard, Rapides, and Vernon parishes in 36 litigation cases;
  • Homer Ed Barousse of Crowley—$135,400 for representation in the defense of litigation in 11 cases in Acadia Parish;
  • The Dodd Law Firm of Houma—$132,000 for the defense of 10 cases in East Feliciana and Iberia parishes;
  • Borne, Wilkes & Rabalais—$112,800 for defending 10 cases in Acadia and Iberia parishes.

Not all lawsuits were filed against Ackal by prisoners. LAURIE SEGURA was an administrative assistant for the sheriff’s office who obtained a settlement of $409,000 for sexual harassment by Bert Berry, chief of the Criminal Department whose action included rubbing his hands and crotch against her body, sneaking up behind her and kissing her, making inappropriate inquiries about her sex life, discussed fantasies of having sex with her, simulating sex in her presence and trying to get her to engage in phone sex. She said in her lawsuit that he ignored her repeated requests to leave her alone and when she complain, she experience retaliation.

Besides having to settle her claim, Ackal got an added bonus when Segura TESTIFIED against him in federal criminal charges brought against him for a multitude of offenses.

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What in the world’s going on in the sleepy town of Mansfield up in DeSoto Parish?

Usually, the political shenanigans are kept pretty much in-house, meaning what happens here generally stays here. We’re family here, after all, and the family doesn’t air its dirty laundry.

The normal procedure is for everyone to just shake their heads and to go on about their business, secure in the knowledge that this is Louisiana and that’s just the way it is. Always has been, always will be.

But occasionally, these dirty little secrets burst open like a festering sore and they become a little more difficult to ignore.

Thanks to the diligence of the Legislative Auditor’s office in Baton Rouge, that’s what has happened in the DeSoto Parish Sheriff’s Office over the past four years.

What began as an investigative audit in April 2014 that revealed a former deputy’s private business ran more than 41,500 BACKGROUND CHECKS through the sheriff’s office during an 11-month period between April 1, 2012, and February 28, 2013, eventually led to the RESIGNATION of long-time sheriff Rodney Arbuckle in March of this year. Arbuckle attributed his resignation to health problems encountered by one of his grandchildren.

And the saga continues.

State auditors are back for yet another investigative audit. Arbuckle’s successor, Jayson Richardson is resisting a subpoena by the auditor’s office and he is taking his fight into the courtroom.

State Auditor Daryl Purpera on June 13 had the subpoena served on Richardson. It sought to compel Richardson to produce “copies of the unredacted personnel files” of the sheriff and 12 of his deputies.

“The designated personnel files contain privileged and Constitutionally-protected private information,” says a PETITION FOR DECLARATORY AND INJUNCTIVE RELIEF filed by attorney James Sterritt of the prominent Shreveport law firm of Cook, Yancey, King & Galloway. “Under the circumstances, forcing the sheriff to comply with the subpoena would cause the sheriff, who is charged with enforcing the law, to instead break the law by disregarding legally-protected privacy rights.”

Sterritt also challenged the legality of the subpoena which he says “was not issued under authority of any court.” Instead, he said, it is a “Legislative Subpoena Duces Tecum” and which was not reviewed or evaluated by a judge. “Instead, it was signed by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor (Purpera) and the Chairwoman of (the) Louisiana Legislative Audit Advisory Council (State Rep. Julie Stokes)

Not so, says Purpera. “We will be glad to argue this in court,” he said. “We have the power to subpoena records (and) we’ve been issuing subpoenas for the last 34 years that I know of.”

Purpera said he would seek to move the matter to the 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge.

Sterritt, in typical legal fashion, included case citations in his motion in the hopes that something might stick.

“As an accommodation, the sheriff offered to remove or redact the protected information,” Sterritt said. “But the auditor, through its representatives and employees, refused. The only accommodation that the auditor would agree to was that medical records could be removed while the auditor supervised the removal of those records.”

But Richardson, aka James Samuel Baldwin (I’ll explain that momentarily), countered through Sterritt that “no law enforcement officer, no district attorney, no attorney general, no inspector general, and no other governmental official has the authority to obtain subpoenas without just, reasonable, or probable cause. There is no law that authorizes the auditor to do what others cannot.

“The affidavit used to obtain the subpoena is defective,” Richardson/Baldwin argues. “It contains conclusory, unsupportable legal arguments and opinions—not facts. It contains mischaracterization and/or misrepresentation of the auditor’s authority. It omits relative matters. It would not be sufficient to establish the foundation necessary for a subpoena issued by a judicial officer.”

Besides Richardson, personnel records sought include those for the following employees:

  • Monica Cason;
  • Black Woodward;
  • Karen Miller;
  • Robert Davidson;
  • Chato Atkins;
  • Kenneth Gingles;
  • Gregory Perry;
  • Stephanie White;
  • Patrick Jones;
  • Donnie Barber;
  • Carolyn Davis, and
  • Luther Butler.

And just for good measure, Sterritt said the subpoena is “overly broad and creates an unreasonable burden and unnecessary expense. The proposed production will be unduly time-consuming and expensive. It will not result in a legally-justifiable use of public resources.”

It took Sterritt six pages to say all that. If he gets paid by the word, he did quite well for himself and his firm.

State Judge Charles B. Adams of the 42nd Judicial District signed a protective order and a rule to show cause and scheduled a hearing for today (Thursday, June 21) at 9:30 a.m.

Jennifer Shaye, an attorney for the auditor’s office, was dispatched to Mansfield to argue on behalf of the state. LouisianaVoice will update this story as soon as it is learned whether or not Judge Adams rules or takes the matter under advisement.

Meanwhile, about the apparent confusion over the sheriff’s real name:

When Richardson divorced his first wife several years ago, it was revealed by his now ex-wife that when they were married, his legal name was James Samuel Baldwin but on May 9, 2005, he had his name legally changed to Jayson Ray Richardson but neglected to take steps to change his wife’s name.

No reason was given for the name change.

Nor has there been any explanation for an apparent discrepancy in Baldwin/Richardson’s announced promotion to Chief Deputy only months before Arbuckle’s resignation as opposed to his official appointment a year earlier.

By letter of Dec. 20, 2016, Arbuckle informed the Secretary of State’s office, “This letter is to inform you that I am appointing Jayson Richardson as Chief Criminal Deputy of my office.” Accompanying that letter was Richardson’s OATH OF OFFICE, signed and notarized that same date.

But Arbuckle did not get around to announcing the promotion until his former chief deputy Horace Womack retired in December 2017, a full year later.

Somehow, it always seems appropriate to quote the late C.B. Forgotston:

“You can’t make this stuff up.”

 

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In 2013, the Louisiana Legislature passed and Gov. Bobby Jindal signed into law House Bill 703 which mandated that any state unclassified (appointive) employee earning $100,000 or more must be a bona-fide resident of the gret stet of Looziana.

The bill, which would become Act 264 of 2013 and which now goes by Louisiana Revised Statute 42:31, passed the HOUSE easily enough by a 70-20 margin with 15 members ducking out on the vote.

In the SENATE, however, it was quite another story with the bill squeaking through by a razor-thin 20-17 vote with two senators joining their 15 counterparts in the House in not voting.

The author of HB 703? That would be then-State Rep. John Bel Edwards.

Here are the specific provisions of the ACT:

  • Notwithstanding any other law to the contrary, any person hired or employed in an unclassified position as defined by the State Civil Service Commission, and whose annual salary or rate of compensation is equal to, or exceeds one hundred thousand dollars, shall, within thirty days of being hired or employed at such salary, provide proof to his public employer that he has been issued a Louisiana driver’s license and that all vehicles registered in his name are registered in Louisiana.  This requirement shall be deemed a qualification for the position for which the person was employed or hired, and for the duration of the person’s employment in the event the person’s salary is increased and the requirements of this Section are triggered.
  • All government agencies which hire or employ any person in an unclassified position as defined by the State Civil Service Commission, whose annual salary or rate of compensation is equal to, or exceeds one hundred thousand dollars, shall verify that such person has been issued a Louisiana driver’s license and that all vehicles registered in his name are registered in Louisiana.  The public employer shall verify the employee meets this requirement for the duration of this person’s employment.
  • Any person hired or employed in an unclassified position who does not meet the requirements of this Section, or who no longer meets the requirements of this Section, shall be removed and terminated within thirty days of the public employer learning such person does not meet the requirements of this Section.

Credit for the introduction and subsequent passage of the law has to go to the late C.B. Forgotston who spearheaded a one-man campaign against state government parking garages crammed with vehicles bearing out-of-state license plates.

C.B. took it as a personal affront that Louisiana tax dollars were being used to hire employees from other states who wouldn’t even bother to register their vehicles in Louisiana. His reasoning was the workers were perfectly willing to take money from the state but weren’t willing to pay their fair share of taxes by simply registering their cars here.

One of the biggest offenders, he learned, was the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE).

Of course, not all the out-of-state employees were pulling down a hundred grand a year but there was this one guy that LouisianaVoice had occasion to write about.

His name was David Lefkowith, though his friends just call him Lefty.

When they see him, that is. Trouble is, he is considered a ghost by some of his co-workers who assumed he was long gone from LDOE. That’s because he doesn’t appear at the LDOE offices in the Claiborne Building across from the State Capitol.

You see, Lefty resides in Los Angeles and commutes to Louisiana if and when he has occasion to drop in to pick up an Enterprise rental at Louis Armstrong Airport in New Orleans and visit educational centers in Houma, Natchitoches, Lafayette, and Shreveport—but rarely Baton Rouge.

When LouisianaVoice first had occasion to write about Lefty back in 2012, he was knocking down $145,000 a year as something called the Director of the Office of Portfolio.

Act 264 of 2013 threw a monkey wrench in State Education Superintendent John White’s decision to pay Lefty $145,000 and when LouisianaVoice did a story recently about all the unclassified employees at LDOE pulling down $100,000 or more per year, a couple of LDOE employees expressed curiosity to LouisianaVoice as to why his salary was cut $45,000, to $100,000. LEFKOWITH IS NUMBER 197 on the list provided LouisianaVoice.

Well, truth be told, it was cut $45,000.10 to $99,999.90. That put him at a dime below the $100,000 threshold and allowed him to slither under the door.

That is a little trick White probably learned from Jindal who had a cute habit of issuing contracts of $49,999 in order to avert the requirement for proposals, or bids, for all contracts of $50,000 and above.

Still, commuting back and forth between California and Louisiana on a $100,000 salary doesn’t make much sense. It just doesn’t seem a sound fiscal decision unless LDOE pays for his flights back and forth.

Not so, says White.

I made a public records request for all expense payments made to Lefty and I also sent the following email to White:

From: Tom Aswell
Date: Friday, May 25, 2018 at 10:51 AM
To: John White <John.White@la.gov>
Subject: LEFKOWITH

John, for an employee no one in LDOE seems to remember seeing around the office, you certainly have paid him quite a tidy sum in travel and lodging expenses. I have a couple of questions in that regard:

  • How is he allowed to be a full-time employee of LDOE (at $100K per year) and reside in California?
  • What are his precise duties at LDOE. Please be specific?
  • What are his qualifications that you are apparently unable to find in a Louisiana resident?
  • Did you know him before he was brought into LDOE?
  • Does LDOE withhold state income taxes for Louisiana or California?

To his credit, White responded rather promptly, the very next day (a Saturday), in fact:

From: John White <John.White@la.gov>
Sent: Saturday, May 26, 2018 11:02 AM
To: Tom Aswell
Subject: Re: LEFKOWITH

Here is the web site that lists what Dave has developed and leads at the Department: https://www.louisianabelieves.com/courses/all-things-jump-start.

Dave attended Yale University as an undergraduate and Stanford University for business school. He spent more than 30 years as a management consultant across a wide array of industries.  The work outlined above is unique among states and speaks to his capacity to lead the mission with which he has been charged. I was not familiar with him prior to becoming state superintendent.

Dave pays taxes in both states and is reimbursed for work-related travel within the state, as other state staff are. He pays his own commuting costs.

Thanks for the note.

John

As for Lefty’s management consultant duties, one of those was an ill-fated plan, uncovered by reporters Michael Pollock and Chris Davis of the Sarasota (Florida) Herald-Tribune (Davis would move on to become leader of a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative team at the Tampa Bay Times in St. Petersburg).

In 1998, when Jeb Bush was running for governor of Florida, Enron, then a fast-rising Houston energy broker, was in the process of diversifying into the potentially profitable new field of water supply privatization through a subsidiary called Azurix Corp.

Secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) David Struhs, a Bush appointee, was simultaneously promoting two concepts on behalf of Azurix: auctioning off blocks of water to the highest bidders and obtaining underground water and storing it for later withdrawal through a process called aquifer storage and recovery (ASR).

Enron sank $900 million in Azurix, hoping to duplicate the proposed action in two other states, California and Enron’s home state of Texas, as well as in South America. Ultimately, however, Enron lost $500 million when the project failed to materialize, eventually selling what was left of the company in 2001 to American Water Works as a precursor to the eventual collapse of Enron.

Struhs also pushed another project to deregulate energy in Florida and to open the state to competition by allowing companies to build power plants, using existing power lines for the purpose of selling electricity to the highest bidding utility or other customers.

Standing shoulder to shoulder with Struhs was his good friend, David “Lefty” Lefkowith, president of Canyon Group, Inc., of Los Angeles.

Back in 1991, President George H. Bush named 23 industrialists and environmentalists to the President’s Commission on Environmental Quality and named Struhs to run the commission. One of the 23 commission appointees was then-Enron CEO Kenneth Lay.

When Bush lost his re-election bid to Bill Clinton in 1992, Struhs went to work for Lefkowith as vice president of Canyon Group. Lefkowith has represented as many as 60 different electric power companies through his company.

By 1998, Struhs was working for Jeb Bush and Lefkowith was on board with the ill-conceived Florida water privatization project. “I don’t think water is so damn special,” he said at the time. “If you let markets take over, you’d find water was cheaper, there would be more of it, and customers would be better served.” He neglected to explain how water quantity would increase.

Fast forward to 2002 and Struhs and Lefkowith were back at the forefront of market manipulation in Florida at the behest of Jeb Bush, but by now, their dealings were with electric power companies. Struhs was DEP Secretary and Jeb Bush had set up Energy 2020 Commission, a group assembled to study deregulation.

This time when Struhs brought him in as a consultant, Lefkowith was given unlimited access to all the emails of Bush’s Energy 2020 Commission members and staffers even though most of the 2020 commissioners never heard of him, never saw him (sound familiar?) and never knew he access to their correspondence.

On Feb. 4, 2001, Struhs’ deputy chief of staff, Mollie Palmer, ordered a half-dozen top DEP employees to start sending Energy 2020 Commission documents to Lefkowith with emails from Energy 2020 Chairman Walter Revell or from commission executive director Billy Stiles to be “forwarded to Lefty upon receipt.”

After receiving a copy of that memo, Pollock and Davis requested copies of all documents sent to Lefkowith but DEP officials responded that no documents existed. (That sounds much like the responses received by Capitol News Service from the Division of Administration and from the Louisiana governor’s office.)

“Who is this guy to get this information?” asked Florida Democratic Party Chairman Bob Poe. “From the tone and tenor of these emails and communications, he is directing energy policy (for the state). What authority does he have to do that? And for what purpose?”

Democratic State Sen. Kip Campbell of Tarmarac was even less forgiving of the practice. “Suppose I was sending letters to Struhs, like ‘here is my thought process on what we are going to do legislatively.’ And Lefkowith knows this ahead of time. Lefkowith might be working for Calpine and all those other companies and selling that knowledge for profit. I’d be willing to wager he probably was.”

Lefkowith also attended strategy sessions with Gov. Jeb Bush to discuss findings of the Energy 2020 Commission.

In addition, he lobbied Florida utility representatives in private meetings on the issue of building power plants in order to broker power sales.

He would later use the information he had obtained as confidant to Struhs and Jeb Bush to wrangle a consulting job with the Florida PSC.

So, yes, Lefkowith has worked with a lot of different entities but appears to have trouble remaining at one job for very long.

Now about White’s claim that Lefty pays his own commuting costs.

A check of his travel, lodging and meal expense reports provided by LDOE pursuant to our public records request turned up a couple of interesting tidbits, not the least of which was that the records appear to be incomplete with Lefkowith claiming many days of travel in Enterprise vehicles but hotel expense records that can only be described as spotty and sporadic with a lot of gaps. Accommodations for days at a stretch are unaccounted for.

From 2013 through current available 2018 dates, travel records show that LDOE has shelled out more than $21,880 for auto rentals, meals, lodging, and airplane flights to Austin, Texas, Cincinnati, and New Jersey.

On one occasion, on September 3, 2013, he drove an Enterprise rental vehicle 833 miles from New Orleans to Houma and Shreveport and back and even though he was in a rental, he charged LDOE for 99 miles at 51 cents per mile, collecting $50.49 in mileage. (Note: at the time, state regulations allowed employees to be reimbursed for a maximum of 99 miles traveled in personal vehicles as a means to encourage them to drive state vehicles. Regulations do not permit mileage payments while driving rentals.)

In July 2017 Lefkowith rented an Enterprise vehicle for 21 days, paid for by LDOE, and drove the car, a Chrysler Pacifica, from his Los Angeles home to New Orleans, a distance of 1,169 miles on your dime—$609.94 in dimes, to be precise.

So much for White’s claim that Lefkowith pays his own commuting expenses.

For that matter, the idea of paying his own commuting expenses on a $100,000 (oops, sorry. $99,999.90) per year salary just doesn’t make sense.

It’s enough to make one wonder just how many expense reports requested by LouisianaVoice were not forthcoming.

Surely any omissions were simply oversights.

 

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In the 10 years that Louis Ackal has served as sheriff of Iberia Parish, his office has paid out more than $2.8 million in lawsuit settlements or judgments, a staggering average of more than $23,000 per month, according to an ASSOCIATED PRESS story.

Abuses and negligence attributed to Ackal, a retired Louisiana state trooper, and his office range from turning VICIOUS DOGS loose on prisoners for the apparent entertainment of deputies to forcing clubs down prisoners’ throats in a simulation of oral sex to the shooting death of a HANDCUFFED PRISONER in a sheriff’s department vehicle which was ruled a suicide despite the his being shot in the chest while his hands were cuffed behind him.

In the latest case, a woman and her two children were awarded in excess of $41,000. That decision stemmed from an incident in which a pregnant Lakitha Wright was thrown to the ground and pepper-sprayed in April 2012.

During the confrontation that ensued after deputies were summoned by neighbors who reported that two of Wright’s relatives were fighting, deputies allegedly shouted racial slurs and erased a cellphone video of the confrontation.

It is unclear whether or not the erasure of the cellphone would constitute evidence tampering but the Wright case was just the latest in a long string of legal setbacks that have plagued the sheriff’s office since Ackal took office in 2008 following his election in November 2007.

And the $2.8 million is only for cases in which the judgment or settlement amounts were revealed. In the case of Victor White, the 22-year-old who was said to have (a) gotten hold of a gun (b) and shot himself in the chest (c) while his hands were cuffed behind him, details of the settlement conference were sealed by the court.

The SETTLEMENT CONFERENCE ORDER, held March 15 in Lafayette federal court, gave both parties 60 days in which to come up with a settlement, which is believed to have been several hundred thousand dollars, although no official announcement has been made to that effect and the local news media have done little to ascertain the final settlement amount. There is, however, a DISMISSAL WITHOUT PREJUDICE, which meant if a reasonable settlement was not reached, the lawsuit could be re-instituted.

Also unknown is whether the sheriff’s office even continues to have liability insurance coverage either because of the cost of premiums associated with a high risk or because companies may simply refuse to underwrite such a loose cannon as the IPSO.

The Victor White death has had other ramifications for the department. U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond wrote a lengthy LETTER to then-U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch in which he requested an investigation into mistreatments and the deaths of eight people while in custody of the IPSO.

When DONALD BROUSSARD initiated a recall of Ackal, he found out just how serious opposition to a powerful man like the local sheriff can be. Broussard found himself on the short end of a NEGLIGENT HOMICIDE indictment in connection with a fatal auto accident in which he was not even involved.

The charges were in obvious reprisal against Broussard for his opposition to Ackal and even though the charges were subsequently dropped, it served as an object lesson as to just how all-powerful a sheriff can be and how willingly some are to abuse that power.

Yes, Ackal was tried and acquitted of all charges. That could be because he was successful in throwing a few deputies under the bus who weren’t so fortunate. Guilty pleas and convictions resulted in the cases of several deputies. It could be because the original judge scheduled to hear his case in Lafayette showed up in court impaired and the case was moved to a different judge—in Shreveport. It could be because he hired a high-dollar defense counsel. Or it could have been a combination of all those things.

And despite Ackal’s acquittal, more than 100 criminal cases involving IPSO deputies dating back to 2008, the year Ackal took office, had to be tossed.

Not all the stories about sheriffs are horror stories. There’s the legendary story of a DC-9 loaded with bales of marijuana being smuggled into the country from Colombia which, in 1977, crashed onto a rural chicken farm just south of Farmerville in Union Parish, Louisiana.

The pilot of the aircraft was killed in the crash but two other Colombian smugglers wedged themselves between the bales of weed and were cushioned as the aircraft sawed off the tops of pine trees and crashed into the farm. (The owner of the farm is said to have sued over the crash because, he claimed, his chickens were traumatized by the crash and stopped laying—although it is unclear whom he would have sued if, indeed, he did.)

As federal, state and local law enforcement officers swarmed the area to investigate the crash and to search for the two survivors, a Union Parish sheriff’s deputy, who apparently had not retained much from his high school geography class, spotted one of the smugglers. He stopped his patrol car and called the man over. “Where you from?” he asked.

“Señor,” answered the still dazed man, “I am from Colombia.”

“You know John McKeithen?” the deputy asked, confusing the South American country for the northeast Louisiana Delta town of Columbia, home of the former governor about 50 miles south-southeast of Farmerville.

“No…”

“Get in th’ car, boy, you’re under arrest. Everbody in Columbia knows John McKeithen.”

Whether that story is true or not, it should be.

But one fact remains: Ackal is still in office and he is still the political power in Iberia Parish—just like any other sheriff is—or was—the political power in his parish: Frank Clancy and Harry Lee in Jefferson, Jerry Larpenter in Terrebonne, Noah Cross in Concordia Parish, “Cat” Doucet in St. Landry Parish, John Grosch and Martin Gusman of Orleans Parish, Gilbert Ozenne of Iberia Parish, and “Dutch” Rowley of St. Bernard Parish, to name just a few past and present.

Or, if you care to venture outside Louisiana, Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona; Lee Baca of Los Angeles County; Pat Kelly of Athens County, Ohio; Lawrence Hodge of Whitley County, Kentucky; Chuck Arnold of Gibson County, Tennessee; Tyrone Clark of Sumpter County, Alabama, or Mike Byrd of Jackson County, Mississippi.

It’s enough to leave our ears ringing with that ole cliché: “You’re in a heap-a trouble, boy.”

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I’m no economist and I did not stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night, so I make no claims to be gifted in predicting the future. After all, I smugly opined on the day that Donald Trump announced his candidacy for the presidency that he would crash and burn within six weeks. He may yet crash and burn but it’s taken a tad longer.

But it doesn’t take a crystal ball to see a repeat of the 2008 financial collapse and when it happens, don’t forget to thank Louisiana’s two senators and four of our six representatives. I mean, Stevie Wonder can see the idiocy of the actions of Congress in rolling back the reforms put in place by the DODD-FRANK rules following the disastrous Great Recession brought on by the recklessness of the banking industry.

The HOUSE voted 258-159 on Tuesday to allow banks with up to $250 billion in assets (that’s roughly eight times the size of Louisiana’s $30 billion budget and our legislators can’t even get a grasp on that) to avoid supervision from the Fed and STRESS TESTS. Under Dodd-Frank, the tougher rules applied to banks with at least $50 billion in assets.

Louisiana House members who voted in favor were Garrett Graves, Mike Johnson, Ralph Abraham, and Steve Scalise. Only Rep. Cedric Richmond voted against the measure while Paramilitary Macho-Man, the Cajun John Wayne, Clay Higgins took a powder and did not vote.

The measure, S-2155, had eased through the SENATE by a 67-31 vote back on March 14 and both Louisiana Sens. Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy voted in favor. Kennedy, who loves to preach about revenue and spending, should know better: he was Louisiana State Treasurer for eight years, from 2000 to 2008. You’d think he might have learned something during that time. Guess not. But what could you expect from someone who thought he had “reduced paperwork for small businesses by 150 percent” during his tenure as Secretary of Revenue?

You can be sure that the banking industry lobbied Congress hard for this. Their lobbyists may well have outnumbered—and outspent—the NRA and perhaps even big oil and big pharma in its efforts to show members the right thing for baseball, apple pie and the American Way. Here is a blurb from the Arkansas Banking Association to its members on Monday, the day before the House vote, for example:

ABA (the American Banking Association) is asking all bankers to make a final grassroots push by calling their representatives and urging them to vote “yes” on S. 2155. ABA and all 52 state bankers’ associations sent letters to the House on Friday urging passage of S. 2155. Take action now.

Here is a copy of the ABA LETTER to House Speaker Paul Ryan and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and the letter sent by the state ASSOCIATIONS, including the Louisiana Bankers’ Association.

It’s almost as if the bankers, their lobbyists and their pawns in Congress have had their collective memories erased.

Remember “TOO-BIG-TO-FAIL” or costs of somewhere in the neighborhood of $14 TRILLION (with a “T”) to the U.S. economy the last time banks got a little carried away with their subprime mortgages and insane investments of OPM (other people’s money)? Remember how the runaway train wreck of 2008 darned-near destroyed the economy not just of this country, but the entire GLOBAL ECONOMY?

Remember how Congress had to bail out the incredibly reckless banks and how not a single person ever did jail time for the manner in which greed and more greed took over for sound fiscal judgment?

Remember the run-up to the 2008 collapse? Deregulation? Warren Buffet’s referring to derivatives as “financial weapons of mass destruction” (was anyone listening)? Enron? Worldcom? Countrywide? Merrill Lynch? Wells Fargo’s manipulation of customers’ accounts? Lincoln Savings & Loan? Pacific Gas and Electric? Arthur Anderson? Lehman Brothers? Bear Stearns? AIG? Washington Mutual?

Did anyone learn a damned thing? Judging from the rollback of Dodd-Frank, the answer to that critical question must be a resounding “NO.”

And lest you feel a pang of sympathy for those poor, over-regulated banks, consider this: PROFITS for AMERICAN BANKS during the first quarter of 2018 increased by 28 percent, shattering the prior record set just three quarters earlier.

The “blockbuster earnings report” was attributed to tax cuts implemented by the Trump administration, which should give you a pretty good idea about just who the tax bill was designed to help in the first place.

And here’s something that will give you a warm fuzzy: American banks are sitting on almost $2 trillion of capital that will help them survive the next recession—whether you get through the next downturn or not. That theory that excess capital would be plowed back into the economy just didn’t seem to pan out. Wall Street is counting on the Dodd-Frank deregulation allowing banks to return as much of that surplus cash as $53 billion back to SHAREHOLDERS.

Reinvestment? More jobs? Stimulating the economy? Fuggedaboutit.

It’s all about the shareholders.

Always has been, always will be.

And you can bet the shareholders won’t fuggedaboutit when it comes to chipping into the campaign coffers of those members of Congress who had the good sense to vote to lift the unreasonable burden of overregulation off the poor, struggling banking industry.

But what the hell? I’m not an economist. I’m just one of those purveyors of all that fake news.

 

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