New Iberia crowd rallies to support family of slain officer

Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- Chitimacha Tribal Police Chief Blaise Smith hugs fallen police Sgt. Rick Riggenbach's daughter, Mary Riggenbach Thompson, during a Voices of Innocent Citizens Empowered rally at New Iberia City Hall Monday.
Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- Chitimacha Tribal Police Chief Blaise Smith hugs fallen police Sgt. Rick Riggenbach's daughter, Mary Riggenbach Thompson, during a Voices of Innocent Citizens Empowered rally at New Iberia City Hall Monday.

Families of crime victims and others rallied in front of City Hall on Monday evening to support the family of slain Chitimacha Tribal police Sgt. Rick Riggenbach, whose accused killer pleaded not guilty to murder last week and awaits a sanity hearing.

“This (Riggenbach’s killing) has hit so close to home,” said Catalene Theriot, who for the 10th time held the annual victim’s rally for the Voices of Innocent Citizens Empowered.

“We picked Sgt. Riggenbach to honor because of his bravery,” Theriot said. “And we wanted to show our support to all law enforcement.”

Riggenbach, 52, responded Jan. 26 to a call about a man with a gun roaming Flat Town Road in Charenton, a small town of less than 2,000 near Franklin where the Chitimacha Tribe owns and operates Cypress Bayou Casino.

Wilbert Thibodeaux, a 48-year-old Charenton resident with a history of mental problems, is accused of shooting and killing Riggenbach and then firing on two responding St. Mary Parish sheriff’s deputies, wounding both.

Neighbors said Thibodeaux had showed no previous inclination toward violence.

Authorities said that before killing Riggenbach, Thibodeaux shot a 78-year-old man to death in the elderly man’s home then set it ablaze.

A grand jury has since charged Thibodeaux with two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of attempted first-degree murder and one count of arson. He is being held in the mental ward at the Elayn Hunt Correctional Center in St. Gabriel.

Judge Keith Comeaux has set a hearing for Aug. 1, when prosecutors will announce whether they will seek the death penalty, said Thibodeaux’s attorney, public defender Craig Colwart.

Thibodeaux pleaded not guilty in a St. Mary Parish courthouse in Franklin on Friday, then was returned to Hunt after Comeaux signed papers ordering the release of Thibodeaux’s medical records to the defendant’s attorney.

“Because of his mental status, we haven’t been able to convince him (Thibodeaux) to sign a waiver” releasing the records, Colwart said.

Colwart said he didn’t know when he’d file motions seeking a sanity hearing for Thibodeaux. Colwart said investigators working on Thibodeaux’s legal defense continue to uncover information to suggest he’s mentally incompetent to stand trial.

“Everything’s pointing that way,” Colwart said.

Riggenbach’s daughter, Mary Thompson, attended the rally Monday with her mother, Bonnie, and brother, William, a junior at Patterson High School.

The family also attended Thibodeaux’s arraignment Friday, Thompson said.

“It was harder than I thought it was going to be,” Thompson said. “He entered the room casually, saying hello to everybody. He was leaning back in his chair, with a smile on his face.”

Chitimacha police officers supporting the Riggenbachs were also at the arraignment, as were some of Thibodeaux’s Charenton neighbors who had looked after him for much of his life, Colwart said.

“They (neighbors) consider themselves like an extended family,” Colwart said.

Colwart said the neighbors have told Thibodeaux’s legal team that they reported his increasingly erratic behavior to authorities before the shootings and nothing was done.

The emphasis at Monday’s rally was on crime victims and their families.

“This is meaningful for all those attacked by crime,” said Lori Matte, whose brother David Matte, 45, was killed in July 2004. David Matte’s murder remains unsolved.

“It’s a dirty word, murder. I hate to say it,” Matte said.