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THE LAW IS FOR PROTECTION OF THE PEOPLE.

Perhaps so, but Hammond Police Chief Edwin Bergeron has to go.

A disturbing video that the Hammond Police Department has insisted for nearly three years didn’t exist has now surfaced that puts Bergeron at the center of a no-holds-barred assault on a handcuffed prisoner back in 2017.

Kentdrick Ratliff may not be Billy Dalton or Homer Lee Honeycutt immortalized in Kris Kristofferson’s song, but he didn’t deserve the all-out attack from half-a-dozen of Hammond’s doughnut-fed finest. One officer, Sgt. Thomas Mushinsky couldn’t resist the temptation to aim a swift kick to the most vulnerable area of Ratliff’s (or any man’s) body as he lay legs apart, motionless and face down on the floor after being punched repeatedly by then-Sgt. Bergeron and then tased.

Out of the gaggle of officers who participated in or watched the one-sided melee, only Mushinsky has faced any disciplinary action even though other officers can be seen kicking Ratliff in the head and yet another officer kept his heavy tactical boot on Ratliff’s neck as still another kneeled on his body.

If you have the stomach for it, you can watch the video HERE.

Ratliff’s sin? He tried to reach for a bottle of pills sitting on the desk next to where he was sitting while his hands were cuffed behind him. He was initially arrested for the violent crime of blocking a sidewalk with his car. A search of his vehicle turned up the bottle of pills and a small amount of pot.

He didn’t put up much of a fight when Bergeron pounced on him like a monkey on a cupcake and delivered five quick blows with his fist as Ratliff descended into an opening on top of the desk.

Attorney Ravi Shah, who represents Ratliff who said he and the Tangipahoa Parish district attorney have been told for years that no video of the incident existed.

That remained the official version of the truth until someone leaked the full video to Baton Rouge TV station WBRZ and its investigative reporter Chris Nakamoto.

“What shocked me is that they would so blatantly lie and tell another officer of the court that the video did not exist, and it did at one point and clearly still exists now showing what happened to my client,” Shah said.

There was little reason to conceal the existence of the video, after all, because of the restrictive doctrine of QUALIFIED IMMUNITY, the antiquated law which shields police officers – and prosecutors – from liability in all but the most heinous violations of “clearly established” rights.

Nakamoto provided LouisianaVoice with a copy of a REPORT done by Use of Force Consultants of McKinney, Texas, when a link to the report on WBRZ’s online story did not work. That report says Mushinsky’s kick was a “trained distraction technique but said that the force used by Bergeron and another officer was “excessive and borderline criminal.”

The report also said, “There were six strikes delivered by Sgt. Bergeron and three strikes by Officer Dunn. Ratliff was of no threat to either officers at this time.”

It’s important to know that the report was commissioned by Mushinsky, so it might be expected that it would try to show him in a favorable light. The company was retained after the Hammond mayor imposed a 60-day suspension and ordered additional training for Mushinsky upon the recommendation of then-Police Chief James Stewart.

The upshot of the whole incident was the filing of 13 serious CHARGES against Ratliff, including disarming a police officer even though Bergeron can be clearly seen placing his weapon in a locker before the fracas ever started, and resisting an officer violently. The term violently is certainly in the eye of the beholder as Ratliff, who is much smaller than either of his subduing officers, doesn’t appear to put up much of a fight.

Some people apparently are beginning to take the entire affair seriously – and not necessarily in Ratliff’s favor.

“We noted a Hammond (police) unit following us out of town today as we were leaving,” Nakamoto told LouisianaVoice on Thursday. “I got a strange phone call last night to stop digging… with an anonymous person telling me it could be dangerous. I’ve worked in this market for 13 years, and can count on one hand how many times that’s happened.”

Meanwhile, Bergeron should do the honorable thing and step down.

He’s brought enough dishonor already.

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The Louisiana Board of Ethics has awakened long enough to file separate ethics violation charges against both Dr. REBEKAH GEE and her husband, attorney DAVID LEE PATRON, according to documents obtained by LouisianaVoice.

The charges, while separate, stem from the same set of facts – Patron’s legal representation of a restaurant which was under the regulation of Dr. Gee during her tenure as Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH).

Governmental ethics has been such a cruel joke since Bobby Jindal’s “reform” of the Board of Ethics way back in 2008 that any action at all by the otherwise moribund board is suddenly a major news story.

This is the same ethics board that cleared state troopers for their 2016 trip in a state vehicle to San Diego via the Grand Canyon, determining they were acting on directives from above, and then clearing the person who gave those directives, then-State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson who was represented, coincidentally (or perhaps ironically), by the former head of the Ethics Board.

Dr. Gee headed LDH from 2016 until her RESIGNATION in January. In March, she was hired as head of the LSU HEALTH CARE SERVICES DIVISION.

Patron, who specializes in intellectual property, is a partner in the Baton Rouge law firm Phelps Dunbar. He was retained by the Ruby Slipper Café, LLC, which has six restaurants in New Orleans and one each in Metairie, Baton Rouge, Pensacola, Florida, and Mobile and Orange Beach, Alabama.

LDH regulates the eight restaurants in Louisiana and between January 2016 and February 2020, conducted 106 inspections of the restaurant’s eight Louisiana locations.

Phelps Dunbar was retained by Ruby Slipper and as part of its representation, filed a breach of fiduciary duty lawsuit on behalf of the Ruby Slipper against a former employee. Patron was the signatory on the pleadings filed in the litigation in U.S. District Court.

Though neither the firm nor Patron handled any matters on behalf of Ruby Slipper in 2016 and 2017, Patron did represent the restaurant in three matters in 2018 and 2019. He billed Ruby Slipper $157,142 in 2018 and $133,528 in 2019, according to July 17 Board of Ethics letters sent to Patron and Dr. Gee. Patron received a percentage of Phelps Dunbar’s net revenue.

PATRON’S LETTER says he violated state law “by virtue of his failure to file the requisite financial disclosures reflecting his direct or indirect receipt of anything of economic value resulting from the provision of legal services to the Ruby Slipper at a time when the Ruby Slipper conducted operations or activities that are regulated by the LDH.”

DR. GEE’S LETTER said she is also in violation of state ethics statutes “by virtue of her receipt of a thing of economic value” (Patron’s compensation from Phelps Dunbar as part of their community property regime).

Both letters requested that the Ethics Adjudicatory Board conduct hearings on the charges to determine if there were any ethics violations and to “assess the appropriate penalties.”

It’s not the first time Dr. Gee has come under scrutiny. In April 2018, LouisianaVoice REVEALED that the LDH legal counsel, a state employee, had pursued negotiations with LSU on her behalf – on state time and using a state computer, state telephone and his state email address – in attempts to help her retain her tenure at LSU and for LSU to pay her medical malpractice insurance premiums.

Any rank-and-file civil servant would be severely disciplined for any such use of state property for personal purposes.

Dr. Gee and legal counsel Stephen Russo apparently also ignored the obvious conflict of interest in her continued part-time employment as a physician at the LSU Health Sciences Center, which like the Ruby Slipper, is overseen by – and which receives funding from – the agency she headed.

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“[A] person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian.”

–Pope Francis, about Donald Trump, February 2016. [But he certainly knows how to hold a Bible upside down in a cheesy photo-op.]

 

“No leader has the right to question another man’s religion or faith.”

–Donald Trump, in South Carolina in 2016, while campaigning for president.

 

“No religion. He’s against God!”

–Donald Trump, about Joe Biden on Aug. 6, 2020.

 

It’s hard to pick somebody that’s that disrespectful.”

–Trump, in additional observations about Biden’s pick. [Yeah, Mr. Tangerine Toddler, we’ll keep that disrespectful thing in mind on Nov. 3. Thanks for reminding us.]

 

“[S]he was very, very nasty. She was probably nastier than even Pocahontas to Joe Biden. “

–Donald Trump, on Biden’s pick of Kamala Harris as his running mate. [Of course, it’s not like Trump wasn’t a bit nasty to Ted Cruz in 2016 or that Lindsey Graham didn’t have a few choice insults for Trump back then. Yet, they are in a virtual lovefest today.

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Chris Lehman retired from both the Navy and from federal civil service before settling in Jennings where he was appointed as an auxiliary police officer for the City of Jennings. He has been crying “wolf” for years but no one in his former department or in city administration would give him the time of day, much less take his concerns seriously.

But now, thanks to a New Orleans attorney you’ve probably never heard of, Lehman’s warnings of rampant corruption in the law enforcement community of his adoptive home, but in the parishes of Jefferson Davis and Calcasieu as well, may finally be gaining some traction.

Perhaps in retrospect, it’s a good thing that Lehman was eventually asked to leave a police department that has since been tainted by almost incomprehensible stories of corruption. To stay may have gotten him unjustly painted with the same broad brush.

Lehman has been aided in his quixotic quest by a bombshell book, Murder in the Bayou, by Ethan Brown that linked the slaying of eight Jennings-area women to local law enforcement. Brown’s book on the so-called “Jeff Davis 8’ was also the subject of a Showtime documentary that refocused national attention on Jefferson Davis Parish. (NBC’s Dateline had earlier done an investigative piece on the abuse of the asset forfeiture laws—particularly in their application to Latino motorists—by the sheriff’s department).

But the Jeff Davis 8 aren’t the only victims; in all, there are 17 unsolved murders on the books in Jennings between 2005 and 2014, giving the town’s police department an abysmal homicide clearance rate south of 7 percent in 2014 (compared to a national rate of 64 percent).

Seventeen unsolved murders in 10 years. Let that sink in.

A July 8 letter by New Orleans attorney Mercedes Montagnes, executive director of The Promise of Justice Initiative, has the potential of blowing the metaphoric lid off the Southwest Louisiana community of about 10,000 people provided, of course, if she can get anyone in William Barr’s Justice Department to listen.

That, admittedly, is a mighty big IF.

And lest one become fixated on the Jeff Davis 8 because of the national publicity their murders have received, there are other issues: the aforementioned asset forfeiture enforcement spree in both Jeff Davis and Calcasieu parishes, drugs going missing from evidence rooms (try 300 pounds of marijuana in a single theft), a deputy’s purchase of a truck from a suspect during questioning (a truck believed to have been used to transport a murder victim that was never processed for possible evidence), multiple cases of sexual abuse of female prisoners by law enforcement officials and other inmates, human trafficking carried out by deputies, embezzlement, malfeasance, misuse of public funds for personal use, and voyeurism.

But aside from the unsolved murders, possibly the most unfathomable offense – and one of the most common – is not even illegal: the practice of errant cops and deputies being allowed to resign in lieu of being fired only to turn up in a neighboring town or parish in the employ of another law enforcement agency.

It’s a form of Recidivism you never hear discussed by politicians, probation officers, sheriffs or chiefs of police even though it is obviously a problem in law enforcement. The only recidivism they’re concerned with is not the reemergence of bad cops but the repeat offenders who keep returning to their jails and prisons.

When DENNIS PERKINS, for example, was allowed to resign under a cloud from the City of Walker Police Department, he next turned up as head of the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Department’s SWAT team when he and his schoolteacher wife were arrested last October for numerous sex crimes, including rape and child pornography and sexual abuse of an animal. Only then was he fired by Sheriff Jason Ard, ironically, the man who’d originally recommended him for the sheriff’s department position when he himself was a deputy.

Montagnes alludes to the problem of bad cops who simply resign only to pop up down the road like some sort of whack-a-mole where they can continue to harass women, steal, sell drugs, or even kill.

But her letter goes much further than that. She cites actual names, dates, and places:

  • Frankie Richard, deceased: known drug dealer, human trafficker and a “prime suspect” in the murders of the Jeff Davis 8,” who, along with an unidentified police officer took 300 pounds of weed from the Jennings Police Department’s evidence room.
  • Jeff Davis deputy and chief criminal investigator for the sheriff’s office, who coerced a suspect, Connie Siler, into selling him her truck (which he in turn sold for a profit) while she was being questioned. The truck was believed to have been used to transport the body of a murder victim but the vehicle was never processed for evidence.
  • Calcasieu Parish detective Donald “Lucky” DeLouche was said by Montagnes to have provided suspects drugs that had been seized by police. DeLouche was director of Calcasieu Parish’s Violent Crimes Task Force during the time when there was a series of violent murders, including at least two in which the sheriff’s son was implicated. In 1997, DeLouche was accused of sexually molesting his daughter and his then-girlfriend. He was charged with aggravated rape and aggravated oral sexual battery but never prosecuted. In 2000, he was recruited to the Jennings Police Department. Later, as Jennings Police Chief, DeLouche forced a female employee to videotape herself getting her nipples pierced and then showed the video to office visitors. He resigned from the Jennings Police Department in 2003 and next turned up in a leadership position in the Welsh Police Department.
  • Todd D’Albor, a former Jennings police chief, discouraged his officers from investigating certain drug crimes and used public property for personal use while in office. He briefly served as police chief for St. Martinville and is now the New Iberia Police Chief.
  • Allarate Frank, a jailer convicted of criminal malfeasance for trafficking women in the Jeff Davis jail, continued to work in a number of nearby local law enforcement agencies and ran unsuccessfully for Eunice police chief.
  • Lake Arthur police detective Raymond Mott refused orders from detective supervisor (and later warden) Terrie Guillory to cease conducting drug arrests and was punished for his commitment to his job. Guillory, who participated in the trafficking of women and is a potential suspect in the murders of the Jeff Davis 8, became a detective for the Welsh Police Department.
  • Former Jefferson Davis Parish Sheriff Dallas Cormier was charged with 36 federal felonies, including improper use of inmate labor and using $250,000 in public funds to purchase trucks, boots and guns for personal use. He subsequently served only one year’s probation and was ordered to pay a fine of $10,000 – for diverting 25-times that amount for his personal use. (See pages 139-141 of my book, Louisiana’s Rogue Sheriffs: A Culture of Corruption.)
  • His successor, Sheriff Ricky Edwards, and his deputies instituted a practice of stopping cars on I-10 without probable cause and seizing assets under civil forfeiture laws. They were accused specifically of targeting Latino drivers. Edwards was rewarded with a cushy position with the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association after he left the sheriff’s office.
  • Jennings Police Chief Johnny Lassiter was accused in 2013 of taking public funds after a state audit revealed that cash and drugs were missing from the police department’s evidence room.
  • The Calcasieu Parish District Attorney’s office accepted gift cards from defendants in lieu of the performance of community service without the knowledge or approval of the sentencing judge.
  • Jeff Davis deputy Eric Phillips removed a female inmate from her cell and raped her in a closet, removed a second female from her cell during the night and raped her and attempted to coerce a third female prisoner into engaging in a sexual relationship.
  • Deputy Jacquelyn Varner arranged for a male inmate(s) to rape two female prisoners in separate incidents.
  • Deputy Ralph Broussard entered a female inmate’s cell without warning while she was in bed and simulated sex with her as a female deputy watched.
  • Male trustys were allowed to roam the jail without supervision and reportedly harassed female detainees and even paid jailers for sex with detained women. Detained women who agreed to such arrangements were given special privileges.
  • Deputies were able to watch sexual encounters which occurred in a visitation room.

You can read the entire 15-page letter to Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband HERE.

Montagnes, a native of New York whose husband is a civil rights attorney and a Louisiana native, has no illusions about the Trump-Barr justice department and its tough on crime stance. To initiate prosecutions—or even an investigation—would fly in the face of the law and order advocacy that Trump considers so important in an election year. To think that any decision in Washington would not be political—first, last and always—would be naïve at best.

“We do have concerns about (Attorney General William) Barr,” she admitted. “But the Justice Department has responded that they’re looking into our concerns—an acknowledgement that is light years from any commitment to justice.

“Our letter is a call to action and we are encouraging others to contact the Justice Department about the issues we’re concerned with. We would like to see a real groundswell of demands that action be taken against these rogue departments and individuals,” she said.

Whether the Justice Department takes action or not, at least no one should think Lehman is crying wolf anymore.

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“Never suggested it although, based on all of the many things accomplished during the first 3 1/2 years, perhaps more than any other Presidency, sounds like a good idea to me!”

–Donald Trump, on reports that he suggested to the South Dakota governor the idea of adorning Mt. Rushmore with his likeness, along with those of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt.

 

“I said, ‘Mr. President, you should come to South Dakota sometime. We have Mount Rushmore.’ And he goes, ‘Do you know it’s my dream to have my face on Mount Rushmore?’ I started laughing. He wasn’t laughing, so he was totally serious.”

–South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, describing an encounter with Trump in the Oval Office in 2018. [Oh, dear God.]

 

“The Lord and the Founding Fathers created executive orders because of partisan bickering and divided government. That’s what we have here.”

–White House economic adviser Peter Navarro, on NBC’s Meet the Press, Aug. 9, 2020.

 

“Why Is Barack Obama constantly issuing executive orders that are major power grabs of authority?”

–Donald Trump tweet, 2012.

 

“The country wasn’t based on executive orders. Right now, Obama goes around signing executive orders. He can’t even get along with the Democrats, and he goes around signing all these executive orders. It’s a basic disaster. You can’t do it.”

–Donald Trump, at a South Carolina campaign stop in February 2016. [In his first year in office, Trump signed 55 executive orders compared to 39 in Obama’s first year. Trump also had more in his second year (37 to 35) and his third year (38 to 34). Overall, Trump has issued 177 executive orders in three and one-half years compared to 276 for Obama’s full eight years.]

 

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