Sorrento council gets insurance quote to cover police

SORRENTO — The Police Department is still without liability insurance but the Town Council has one insurance proposal to consider and a second proposal expected within the week.

On Tuesday, council members Marvin Martin, Patti Poche, Wanda Bourgeois, Don Schexnaydre and Randy Anny unanimously postponed action on a proposed $34,937 annual insurance policy from Indian Harbor Insurance Co.

Harold Williams, a broker with 1st Team Consulting Group, of Baton Rouge, told the Town Council that the policy covers the Police Department’s two officers, Chief Earl Theriot Jr. and Assistant Police Chief Ricky Smith, and any officers to be added later to the force.

Smith introduced Williams because Theriot did not attend Tuesday’s meeting.

Smith later said Theriot did not attend because he was meeting with his attorney to discuss a federal civil lawsuit filed Jan. 17 by an Ascension Parish woman who claims on Nov. 1, Theriot gave her vodka and forced her to give him oral sex at the town Police Department.

The suit names Theriot individually and as police chief of the town.

Williams told the Town Council on Tuesday that the policy includes a $25,000 deductible and limits policy coverage to $500,000 for each “wrongful act,” with a $500,000 annual aggregate limit, according to the liability insurance quote.

The $34,937 annual policy does not include vehicle insurance coverage, but Williams said he is working to provide the Town Council the cost of such a policy.

Williams said Indian Harbor Insurance Co. is based in Pennsylvania.

Anny said the $500,000 limit for wrongful acts is comparable with the limit from Risk Management Inc., the Police Department’s former insurer.

Schexnaydre noted the town would pay a little more than $40,000 with the company’s extra fees including a loss control audit fee of $4,000 and potential adjuster charges plus the premium.

Virgil Jonson, executive vice president of 3rd Millennium Insurance & Financial Services Inc., also addressed the Town Council on providing insurance for the Police Department but did not have hard figures or a policy to present.

Jonson promised to provide a proposal from Prime Insurance Co. in a few days.

Anny stressed the town needed to focus on the affordability of the proposed insurance claims, especially with Sorrento losing tax dollars and other revenue from River Parishes Community College students leaving when the school moves to Gonzales this year.

“We don’t know how much the impact is going to be when you lose that many students from the town of Sorrento,” Anny said.

The town has the money to purchase insurance, Anny said, but he also proposed the creation of a Police Department hiring committee and the use of a local mediator to settle problems in the department and to provide transparency to the community.

Lambert responded the Lawrson Act dictates the police chief has the authority to hire and didn’t think a hiring committee would be legal even if the chief supported the idea.

Without liability insurance since Nov. 19, Theriot has been forced to let go all of the department’s officers except for himself and Smith as they search for insurance providers and “revamp” the department, Theriot has said.

On Oct. 21, the Police Department’s insurer, Risk Management Inc., informed the town in a written letter that it was ending liability coverage for the department’s officers and its vehicles effective midnight Nov. 19.

Risk Management officials said only that the Police Department failed to meet underwriting requirements but town officials have said the cancellation was a result of the Police Department’s excessive number of claims.

Theriot and Smith, the only two remaining police officers on the force, have struggled over the past three months to find an insurance company willing to insure the Police Department.

The Town Council previously rejected a $67,692 annual insurance policy from Beard Insurance & Financials after Ascension Parish Sheriff Jeff Wiley offered to allow parish sheriff’s deputies to patrol Sorrento for free through the end of 2013.

With no insurance policy to consider at the time, council members on Jan. 7 unanimously accepted another proposal to pay sheriff’s deputies $36 an hour to patrol the streets of Sorrento during weekday evening hours and 24 hours on weekends beginning Jan. 8 through the end of March.

But Wiley’s proposal also requires the Sorrento Police Department to provide protection from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Theriot initially refused to allow himself or Smith to patrol without liability insurance but later changed his mind and the pair have been on duty during the daylight hours of the workweek.

Wiley also has refused to allow his deputies to patrol 24 hours a day while the town still employs two full-time police officers.

Theriot has refused to resign in order to allow Wiley to patrol full time.