Sorrento police chief says he’s going back on patrol

Sorrento Police Chief Earl Theriot Jr. and his assistant chief will return to the beat 8 a.m. Monday, parish and town officials say, but without the special type of insurance coverages required for police patrols.

Ascension Parish Sheriff Jeff Wiley and Sorrento Mayor Mike Lambert said Theriot told them Thursday he intends to start patrolling again on Monday 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., weekdays.

Wiley said Theriot reported that “he will be on duty and subject to call.”

Lambert said Friday that he and the council remain concerned about the financial risk to the town when Theriot and Smith patrol without professional liability insurance on themselves or the type of insurance needed for their vehicles.

Lambert said Thursday the patrol vehicles are insured for administrative use, not emergency or police use. But Lambert acknowledged he and the council lack authority to stop Theriot from patrolling.

“He is an elected official. That’s his department,” Lambert said. “The council is concerned about this. It puts this town in a very bad position.”

The resumed police coverage would close the gap left Tuesday under a deal the Town Council cut with Wiley to provide police protection through the end of March on weekday nights and 24 hours per day on the weekends for $36 per hour.

Wiley had been providing law enforcement protection for free since Nov. 19 when the town Police Department’s professional liability insurance was canceled by insurer Risk Management Inc. Efforts to find a replacement insurer have been unsuccessful.

Without insurance, the Police Department ceased patrols and now only Theriot and Assistant Police Chief Ricky Smith remain on the payroll.

Theriot did not return messages left on his cellphone for comment Friday.

Theriot’s and Smith’s return to the streets after the month-and-a-half hiatus is an abrupt shift from Theriot’s announcement Tuesday during a Town Council meeting that he would not risk patrolling without insurance.

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

Wiley said Theriot did not tell him Thursday why he changed his mind. But Lambert said Friday that Theriot told him the public demanded that he patrol.

Lambert said Theriot also told him he based his decision on what he had learned after speaking with representatives from the Louisiana Association of Chiefs of Police, Louisiana Municipal Association and other groups.

“I have no idea what they told him,” Lambert said.

The insurance cancellation and its aftermath have become a battle of wills among Theriot, Lambert, the Town Council and Wiley. The incident has also played a part in recall petitions against Lambert and Councilman Randy Anny.

Theriot, an elected chief who started his fourth, four-year term in July, claims Lambert and the council are trying to push him out of office and have the sheriff take over police protection.

Lambert said when he ran for office last year that he’d like to have the Sheriff’s Office take over protection. Meanwhile, Wiley told town officials in an email Jan. 3 that he would not provide 24/7 protection while Theriot and Smith remained on the payroll full time.

“I frankly choose not to be complicit in that dubious arrangement and will only entertain discussion on that issue when that changes. …” Wiley wrote to Town Council members.

When reporters asked Theriot Tuesday if he would resign so Wiley would provide 24/7 patrols, Theriot told reporters he was not going anywhere.

“Not just no, but hell no!” he said. “I’m not going nowhere!”

At the same time, the Town Council has aired concerns about the costs of replacement police insurance, as well as the cost of protection through the Sheriff’s Office.