Sheriff’s deputies to continue patrols in Sorrento

SORRENTO — Still without liability insurance and facing a critical deadline from Ascension Parish Sheriff Jeff Wiley, Police Chief Earl Theriot encouraged the Town Council on Tuesday to accept Wiley’s proposal for police protection because there are no other options.

“There ain’t much we can do,” Theriot said. “I mean, what else are we going to do?”

Without any other options, the Town Council unanimously accepted Wiley’s proposal to pay sheriff’s deputies $36 an hour to patrol the streets of Sorrento during weekday evening hours and 24 hours on the weekend beginning Jan. 8 through the end of March.

“Either we take this or we don’t have any protection at all,” Councilman Randy Anny said.

Theriot said he and Assistant Chief Ricky Smith are still searching for an insurance company willing to sell a liability policy to cover the department and its vehicles.

Theriot said he is still speaking with a few insurance companies that are willing to discuss policies as long as the company provides coverage for the whole town and not solely the Police Department.

But Wiley’s proposal also requires the Sorrento Police Department, now made up of only Theriot and Smith, to provide protection from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

But Theriot refused Tuesday to leave the town and his family open to legal liability by patrolling without insurance, even though Wiley has required it.

“I will not jeopardize myself, my family and everything I own to go out there without insurance,” Theriot said.

And that leaves the town of Sorrento without police officers patrolling its streets during daylight hours.

Additionally, Wiley has refused to send his deputies out to Sorrento 24 hours a day while the town keeps two full-time police officers employed. “I frankly choose not to be complicit in that dubious arrangement and will only entertain discussion on that issue when that changes. …” Wiley wrote in an email dated Jan. 3 to several members of the Town Council.

As part of the motion to accept Wiley’s proposal, the Town Council hoped to schedule an emergency meeting with Wiley as soon as possible to see if he might reconsider providing 24-hour police protection.

“The sheriff is a reasonable man,” Anny said. “I know what the sheriff wrote here, but there’s options. We need to sit down and talk with the sheriff.”

After Tuesday’s meeting, Theriot, who was just re-elected to a fourth, four-year term that does not expire until June 30, 2017, said he isn’t going anywhere.

“Not just no, but hell no!” Theriot said when asked by reporters after Tuesday’s Town Council meeting if he would resign to allow Wiley’s deputies to patrol 24 hours. “I’m not going nowhere!”

Troubles arose for the police department Oct. 21 when the department’s insurer, Risk Management, Inc., informed the town in a letter that it was canceling the liability insurance policy for the department’s officers and vehicles effective midnight Nov. 19.

Town officials have said the cancellation was a result of the police department’s excessive number of claims.

Theriot and Smith have been searching for a new insurance provider but have brought nothing before the Town Council to consider except a $67,692 annual policy from Beard Insurance & Financials that did not include vehicle coverage.

The Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office had offered to patrol Sorrento at a cost of $37,521 for six weeks from Nov. 19 through Dec. 31, but hours before the Nov. 19 deadline was to expire, Wiley offered to police the streets for free until the end of the year.

The Town Council took Wiley up on the offer and turned down Beard Insurance & Financials’ policy.

After the police department still had not come up with a solution to its insurance coverage woes by the end of the year, Wiley extended the Sheriff’s Office protection through Jan. 7.

On Tuesday, the Town Council also unanimously voted to introduce a ordinance amending the 2014 fiscal year budget to cover the projected $115,000 cost of having Sheriff’s Office protection through the end of the fiscal year on June 30.

That cost is expected to come from the dismissal of several full-time police officers from the department due to a lack of insurance, said Jacob Waguespack, town accountant.