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It’s finally here.

After years in the research and writing that saw thousands of pages of records rescued from a historic flood, my fifth book, Murder on the Teche: A True Story of Money and a Flawed Investigation is now available.

Dr. Robert Chastant, a highly successful and widely respected New Iberia orthodontist, was brutally murdered on Dec. 13, 2010 at his horse farm near his home. The killer, a Mexican illegal who worked for Chastant, was quickly apprehended and confessed to killing the doctor with a claw hammer. But, he told authorities, he was paid $1,000 by Chastant’s wife, Laurie, to kill her husband. Her possible motive? The difference between approximately $80,000 she would have received under a pre-nuptial agreement and more than $2 million in insurance and benefits.

Murder on the Teche contains the classic ingredients: money, a love triangle, murder and a bitter fight among Chastant’s third wife Laurie and his children. The inexperienced, bumbling investigators who overlooked or ignored obvious clues that may have revealed the involvement of a second person did little to alleviate tensions.

Laurie Chastant was never questioned as a suspect in the murder. Was it ineptness on the part of the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office or did the fact that Laurie’s father was – and is – a sheriff’s deputy in a nearby parish who had worked with Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal when both were Louisiana State Troopers influence authorities to consider Viera the lone killer?

I undertook this book after being contacted by Dr. Chastant’s brother, Paul Chastant, an architect living in Texas. He directed me to Lafayette attorney James Daniels, who represented his brother’s estate in the myriad legal fights. Daniels graciously provided me with boxes of legal documents which were sitting on the floor of my den when 33 inches of river water invaded my home in the flood of 2016. As I dejectedly stared at the soaked documents, my heroic wife Betty said, “Well, let’s get busy drying them out.” We then laid every single page on 8X4 plywood sheets in the hot August sun. The result was we saved every single page. While not in the best of shape, they were usable.

The result was this book, which you can order from me for $20 (the $17.95 price, plus shipping) by clicking on the yellow DONATE button to the right of this post to pay by credit card or you can mail a check to Tom Aswell, P.O. Box 922, Denham Springs, Louisiana 70727. (This is not a donation to the LouisianaVoice fundraiser: I promised no more of that until September. This is separate and apart from the LouisianaVoice non-profit.)

You may also order by clicking on the CAVALIER HOUSE ad on this page. That will take you to the web page of Cavalier House Book Sellers in Denham Springs.

Finally, you may order direct from DVille Press, my publisher, by clicking on www.dvillepress.com

Whichever method you choose, I sincerely hope you enjoy the book.

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If you encounter an emergency at the University of New Orleans and find that you need police assistance, you probably need to pick a time during which an armed Police Officer Standards and Training (P.O.S.T.)-certified officer may respond in a safe vehicle.

Otherwise, you may get a non-certified, unarmed officer/teacher who is driving a vehicle with no license plate and an expired inspection sticker.

Rick James Saephan resigned after three years as a campus police officer at UNO, saying, “I have just had enough” of seeing and hearing “many disturbing things that goes (sic) on within the police department.”

Saephan said at least one officer who has no arrest powers because of a lack of P.O.S.T certification “has been arresting and putting charges against the UNO community for the past 10 years.” A lieutenant who is not P.O.S.T. certified is allowed to be armed against regulations, he said.

He said when he submitted his resignation to Police Chief Harrington, the chief “became irate” and threatened to give bad performance reviews to any prospective employer who called him for a reference.

Several officers, including a lieutenant, are allowed to work on advanced degrees while on the clock as officers, he said.

LouisianaVoice was provided photos of two police vehicles which had no license plates or temporary tags. Another had an inspection sticker that expired in February of this year and still another’s inspection sticker expired in September of 2019.

I wonder if UNO police write tickets for students whose vehicles are caught on campus with expired inspection stickers or worse, no license plates?

Harrington’s Chief’s Welcome posted on the department’s web page said:

“Welcome to the University of New Orleans campus. The Department of Public Safety and Security’s number one goal is the safety of all students, faculty, staff, and visitors to our campus. The dedicated professionals of the department work hard to achieve that goal and to make this university the safest in the country. Police officers in the Department of Public Safety and Security have completed the State of Louisiana Police Officers Standards and Training and are commissioned by the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections. Security officers are trained in dispatch, security, and parking control. Our administrative staff is here to assist our community in obtaining parking decals and answering questions about parking.

“Members of this department are highly trained and experienced officers who continue to receive additional training in areas such as anti-bias awareness, constitutional community policing, cultural awareness, racial profiling, crisis intervention, and the LGBT community, in order to further the goals of the university community in educating our students. We want you to feel secure and safe when on our campus, and our diverse staff of well-trained professionals are crucial in achieving that goal.”

LouisianaVoice conducted a survey of Louisiana universities to determine how many officers in the various departments were P.O.S.T. certified. Harrington said UNO “currently has 14 P.O.S.T. certified police officers and five officers who are not P.O.S.T. certified.”

Other responses:

All of the LA Tech Police Departments patrol/response officers are POST certified. 

In the case of a newly hired officer/employee who is not POST certified, that person would be limited to only dispatch duty until able to attend a POST academy. 

Chief Randal Hermes

All of our patrol/response personnel are P.O.S.T. certified.

Northwestern State University

Mr. Aswell,

LSUE Police and Security has a staff of 5.  Myself and one other are POST certified police officers. The other three are unarmed security staff

CAPT. CORY LALONDE

Director of Police

Louisiana State University Eunice

All of ours at LSU are POST certified

Ernie Ballard III
Media Relations Director  

Thank you for your email. Southeastern has 24 sworn officers and all 24 are POST certified. 
Tiffany Chavers-Edwards, M.S.

Southeastern Louisiana University Police Department

All of our officers are POST certified.

Billy Abrams
Lieutenant
UL Lafayette Police Dept.

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Anyone can file a lawsuit. For proof of that, just check the court filings in just about any court at any level – municipal, small claims, state district or federal court.

Most never actually make it to trial, and that’s a good thing. Otherwise, court dockets would be even more crowded than they are already.

Many are dismissed for lack of merit or a lack of legal standing. Others are quietly settled. Of the latter, far too many of the settlement agreements are sealed by the court. That’s especially true of litigation against state or local government – like the spate of settlements negotiated on behalf of the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office, for example. It would seem the public has a right to know how its tax dollars are spent.

LouisianaVoice takes the position that settlement of these case should be open to the public.

All that aside, an interesting action has been filed in the Western District of U.S. District Court in Alexandria against the Alexandria City Marshal’s office, the city marshal and several of his deputies personally.

If even half of what former deputy marshal Patricia “Kay” Whatley claims is true, the entire office should be cleared out, scrubbed down with bleach or Lysol and re-staffed by individuals who have at least a passing familiarity with what constitutes sexual harassment.

Again, if her claims are substantiated, that office is populated by a bunch of moronic high school sophomores who still giggle when the science teacher discusses the planet Uranus or a hoar frost.

We make no claim as to the authenticity of Whatley’s claims but the pattern of behavior and retaliation she describes in her federal lawsuit is disgusting and far too familiar.

The alleged tasing of her buttocks, followed by subtle threats of repeating the offense, is bad enough but the suggestions and requests she describes are repulsive and even complaints to City Marshall Jerrome Hopewell which she said were met with retaliation and assignment to menial chores were actions about which you would expect adult men to know better.

Moreover, she claims that two fellow deputies who befriended her and who witnessed the harassment, were subsequently fired by Hopewell.

One thing that is certain is Whatley’s claim that Hopewell disciplined her in writing on Jan. 13, 2020, the day that she filed an EEOC charge against the office. In that letter, which was included in the filing of the lawsuit, Hopewell instructed her to cease “disrupting” the city marshal’s office with threats of legal action.

Also named as defendants were Chief Deputy Steve Boeta and deputies Harry Robertson and Chris Pruitt, along with several unidentified individuals.

In one Catch-22-like incident, Whatley was assigned to manning the front desk, entrance and metal detector. Despite having completed firearms training at the Alexandria Police Academy, her weapon was denied permission to wear a gun. But when she returned to work after a second knee injury (both suffered while attending the Alexandria Police Academy), she was told she could not return to the front desk because she did not have a firearm.

Whatley claims in her petition that:

  • Boeta would approach her from behind and give her unwanted shoulder rubs and hold his body against hers.
  • Pruitt asked her if he could touch her breasts and requested that she sit on his face.
  • Robertson commented that “a girl with clean feet takes care of her vagina” and commented to her and others that he believed she shaved her vagina.
  • Pruitt and Robertson once shoved her against a wall and Pruitt used a taser on her right buttock.
  • Deputy Butch MacKey witnessed the tasing incident and was subsequently fired by Hopewell, who instructed remaining staff members to avoid contact with Whatley.
  • Robertson, in front of other employees, announced to Whatley that he had deleted nude photos of her that she’d sent him. She claims in her lawsuit she never sent such photos to Robertson or anyone else.
  • Pruitt entered her office that same day, Dec. 10, 2019, and announced that the FBI was after him and he needed her help to “hide my wiener.”
  • Both Pruitt and Robertson made requests to see her breasts.
  • Robertson asked her to unbutton her shirt and suggested she would like being handcuffed and said that he had taken his “blue pill.”

Whatley submitted her resignation on Feb. 4, 2020, because of the “stress of being subject to a hostile work environment…”

Her attorney, Hope Phelps of Most & Associates of New Orleans said, “It is alarming to see a law enforcement agency normalize the sexual harassment and physical abuse of a female employee. The perpetrators are still employed, armed, often tasked with showing up at the homes of vulnerable people – and this is how they treated one of their own. We will hold them to account in this case.”

To read Whatley’s entire petition, including Hopewell’s disciplinary letter, click here:

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Emitto vel pessum eo.

Emitto et pessum eo.

Two Latin phrases that appear similar but which have vastly different connotations.

The first is the mantra of academia: publish or perish. Every college professor has heard it.

The second is also Latin and translated, carries a message you wouldn’t normally expect to hear in the field of higher education – or anywhere else, for that matter: publish and perish.

One of the three finalists for LSU president may be thinking a lot about that second translation as the latest round of interviews continues, according the explosive content of an anonymous email received by LouisianaVoice Sunday night which included a two-paragraph statement from one of the students whose work was supposedly plagiarized as well as passages from the original work and the copied paper presented not once, but twice at international conferences.

INTERVIEWS CONTINUED Sunday and will run through Wednesday for University of Louisiana System President James Henderson, former Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy in the Trump administration Kelvin Droegemeier, and University of South Carolina Provost William Tate IV.

Droegemeier and Tate will participate in half-hour forums on LSU Shreveport/LSU Health Shreveport from 6:30 to 7 p.m. on Monday and Tuesday. Droegemeier’s will be on Monday and Tate on Tuesday. Henderson’s half-hour on that subject was held Sunday night.

Student and Instruction forums will be held on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. with Henderson on Monday, Droegemeier on Tuesday and Tate on Wednesday.

A third one-hour forum on Research and Scholarly Work will be from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m., again with Henderson scheduled for today, Droegemeier for Tuesday and Tate for Wednesday.

It’s that one hour with Droegemeier at 1 p.m. Tuesday that should get interesting if the search committee does its homework.

Perhaps the committee should begin by asking him to explain his definition of plagiarism.

LouisianaVoice has learned that Droegemeier, along with three associates, submitted a scientific PAPER in Cairns, Australia on August 6, 2007, that contained extensive verbatim passages from a paper written by two University of Oklahoma undergraduates, Chris Nuttall and Chris Gilreath, but whose names as the authors were removed from the paper.

The presentation by Droegemeier, Jidong Gao of the University of Oklahoma, K. Brewster and G. Ge. M. Xue, was entitled Assimilation of CASA and WSR-88D Radar Data Via 3DVAR to Improve Short Term Convective Weather Forecasting.

It was not the first time the two students’ work had been presented by a team including Droegemeier without crediting Nuttall and Gilreath as authors. In 2005, a paper containing extensive identical passages was presented in a 2005 paper entitled Multiple Doppler Wind Analysis and Assimilation via 3DVAR Using Simulated Observations of the Planned CASA-Network and WSR-88D Radars was presented at the American Meteorological Society’s 32nd Conference on Radar Meteorology in Albuquerque, New Mexico

CASA is an acronym for Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere.

Nuttall currently works at the NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE office in Shreveport. An attempt to reach him was unsuccessful. We were told he was on vacation. LouisianaVoice left a voice mail and an email message asking him to contact us.

Gao was a researcher at the University of Oklahoma under whom Nuttall and Gilreath worked while students there. Nuttall confirmed the involvement of Gao on the paper but no mention of any involvement by Xue, Brewster or Droegemeier.

The university received more than $30 million in federal grants to support the paper that appears to have been copied from students Nuttall and Gilreath, sources informed LouisianaVoice.

The Call for Papers for the August 2007 International Conference on Radar Meteorology did not prohibit university faculty members from submitting the work of students under the members’ own name(s), but for any faculty member to do so would seem in direct contradiction to most university policies prohibiting students from plagiarizing others’ writings.

Nuttall confirmed the usage of his and Gilreath’s work in a two-paragraph statement:

“I attended the University of Oklahoma (OU). One of the undergraduate degree requirements is a Senior Seminar which is also called the “Senior Capstone Experience.” This involves undertaking a research project of some kind and usually writing a paper, producing a poster, and possibly even delivering an oral presentation. This was my Capstone project, along with Chris Gilreath. We were the two undergraduate students, and we wrote a paper and produced a poster, similar to what would be presented at scientific conferences. I wrote most of the paper, but Chris (Gilreath) did most of the work on the poster that we submitted. Unfortunately, I do not have any contact information for (Gilreath).

“Our instructor, who was not a co-author, provided the students with a list of researchers and professors who may have been looking for student assistance, already had projects ready for students to work on, or were open for advisement. If these topics interested us and we had not thought of topics on our own, we were encouraged to work with the researchers and professors. Chris and I were both interested in Radar meteorology, and I was highly interested in the CASA project. That led us to working with Dr. Jidong Gao, who was a researcher with the Center for Analysis and Prediction of Storms (CAPS) at OU. He is now an adjunct associate professor with the university and is a research meteorologist with the National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL). As an undergraduate student not on scholarship, I was not directly funded by the NSF (National Science Foundation) grants… Several months after I graduated and left OU, Dr. Gao delivered an oral presentation on our work at the American Meteorological Society’s 32nd Conference on Radar Meteorology. He submitted the paper that Chris and I wrote as the abstract.”

The content of the students’ senior capstone paper was copied in the 2005 presentation in Albuquerque conference and again in 2007 in Australia – each time including Droegemeier as a co-author but neither time crediting Nuttall and Gilreath.

To read the email received by LouisianaVoice in its entirety, go HERE. Scroll down to the text highlighted in pink to see the verbatim passages. The students’ paper is in the left-hand column and the copied text is on the right.

When one goes to LSU’s web page under “Student Advocacy & Accountability, there is an entire section headed “Understanding Academic Integrity” in which the university says PLAGIARISM is “an extremely serious violation of academic integrity” and a “breach of academic standards.”

Here are 10 suggested questions for the search committee to ask of Droegemeier on Tuesday:

1. How does Oklahoma University define “plagiarism”?

2. What’s wrong with plagiarism?

3. Have you ever committed plagiarism?

4. Did you copy the words of undergraduate students without quotation marks and without citation?

5. Who investigates plagiarism at Oklahoma University?

6. As VP of Research at OU, what conflicts of interest did you have regarding investigation of plagiarism of work that had been published by students Nuttall and Gilreath?

7. How much federal funding did OU receive in grants that supported your paper that copied from students Nuttall and Gilreath?

8. What risks are created when a university conceals misconduct funded by multi-million-dollar federal grants?

9. What risks are created when a university’s president has committed plagiarism?

10. Why did you publish the work of students Nuttall and Gilreath under your own name, without quotation marks and without citation?

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Back on March 23, LouisianaVoice informed you there were 111 co-sponsors for HR-82 , the decade-old (at least) effort to repeal the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and the Government Pension Offset (GPO) programs that adversely impact the retirement earnings of certain government employees in Louisiana as well as the spouses of others who pay into Social Security all their working lives.

As of today, there are now 138 co-sponsors to the resolution, including the same four Republican House members we named in March: Reps. Garret Graves, Clay Higgins, Mike Johnson and Steve Scalise.

Newcomers Julia Letlow and Troy Carter may be excused for not signing on yet as they – especially Carter who was just elected a week ago – have barely had time to introduce themselves to their staff members.

But it might be of some interest to affected Louisianans to know that the four Louisiana Republicans are among only 37 Republican members of the House who have signed on as CO-SPONSORS, compared to 101 Democrats.

That should be enough to cause some to wonder just who it is that truly has the concerns of working Americans at heart. Is it the Party of Lincoln cum Trump, which pays lip service to looking out for the middle class, or those damned tax (the wealthy) and spend Socialist Democrats?

But not to worry. HR-82 can pick up 435 House members as co-sponsors and 100 senators (those are the total number of seats in both chambers, for those who may not know) who give lip-service approval, but you will never see it come to a vote.

The reason is quite simple: neither party is particularly concerned about the inability of Louisiana’s school teachers to collect SS benefits even though their private sector spouses paid into the system their entire working lives. Nor do they care that state civil service employees who had previously worked in the private sector will have SS benefits offset by some federal formula that no one understands.

And these prohibitions are not limited to Louisiana: There are 14 other states that are impacted by this GPO provision.

LouisianaVoice will continue to monitor HR-82 but don’t get your hopes up. This resolution has been introduced every year since at least 2008 when it had 352 co-sponsors, far more than the 290 needed for a veto-proof majority.

The GPO and the WEP are nothing more than a hidden tax subterfuge on working Americans that has no chance of repeal.

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