Judge: Defamation against former Lafayette police captain not proven

Lafayette City Marshal Earl “Nickey” Picard will not face defamation damages for giving a television reporter confidential police records about his challenger in a 2008 election, a federal magistrate judge has ruled.

Joseph Bowman Cormier, a retired Lafayette police captain who lost his bid for the marshal’s seat, filed a lawsuit in 2009 alleging that a politically motivated investigation wrongly targeted him for accosting a homeless man and that Picard leaked internal records about the probe to tarnish Cormier’s campaign.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Patrick Hanna filed a written ruling in the case this week following a three-day bench trial in July.

Picard did not deny that he directed one on his deputy marshals to bring KLFY-TV reporter Chuck Huebner witness statements from the case, but Picard reasoned that the public should know about an incident involving a candidate for political office, according to a summary of the evidence in Hanna’s ruling.

Picard’s agency, the City Marshal’s Office, was not investigating the case against Cormier, and the statements came from Lafayette police.

Picard maintained that he did not seek out the documents but that an unmarked brown enveloped containing the witness statements appeared on his desk without explanation.

“The magical mystery envelope,” said Cormier’s attorney, Dan Scheuermann, when discussing the ruling on Friday.

Deputy City Marshal Timothy Picard, “Nickey” Picard’s son, had acknowledged receiving the witness statements from Lafayette police, but the son testified that he did not request the documents. The son also testified that the documents were given to him when he requested only a court summons for Cormier — a document that contained little information about the case other than Cormier’s charges and court date.

The younger Picard denied giving the witness statements to his father and said he returned them to the Lafayette Police Department.

“It was just implausible,” Scheuermann said of the Picards’ version of events.

Hanna wrote in his ruling that it was reasonable to believe that “Nickey” Picard knew the witness statements were confidential and that he gave the documents to the news reporter “in order to gain a political advantage.”

But the judge ultimately ruled that there was no defamation claim, in part because “Nickey” Picard himself did not speak with the reporter about Cormier but only passed along official police documents that he had no reason to believe were inaccurate.

Hanna also tossed out claims that “Nickey” Picard and his son had worked with others to push an improper prosecution of Cormier.

The charges against Cormier emerged in April 2008 after he called police to complain of homeless people on a piece of property he owns at West Simcoe and South Pierce streets.

But officers ended up charging Cormier after witnesses alleged he yelled and shoved a homeless man while wielding a gun — accusations that Cormier denied.

After the election, prosecutors dismissed simple battery and aggravated assault charges against Cormier, but he was later convicted of disturbing the peace.

“Nickey” Picard, who has served since 1984, could not be reached Friday for comment on the ruling. His office staff said he was out until next week.

Scheuermann, Cormier’s attorney, said an appeal is being considered.