Sorrento voters could decide police department’s fate

Mayor Mike Lambert is taking steps to bring to voters this fall the issue of abolishing the town’s Police Department and police chief post.

Lambert said he contacted state Sen. Jody Amedee, R-Gonzales, about the legislative process involved shortly after the abrupt departure of former Police Chief Earl Theriot Jr. on Feb. 7.

Theriot later pleaded guilty in federal court to a charge of lying to an FBI agent about an incident last fall in which Theriot admitted to “inappropriate sexual contact” with a woman.

Sorrento has run a public notice last week and this week in The Weekly Citizen, the parish’s legal journal, of the “notice of intention to introduce bill SLS 14RS-417.”

It says, in part, “notice is ... given that there may be introduced at the session of the Legislature to be convened on March 10, 2014, a bill relative to the town of Sorrento ... to provide for the abolition of the office of the police chief and the police department.”

It also says the bill to be introduced would authorize the municipality to contract for law enforcement services.

Such a public notice, Lambert said, is part of the process to bring the issue of abolishing the Police Department and its office of police chief to the ballot.

Lambert said when he spoke Feb. 10 to Amedee and Amedee agreed to sponsor the bill, he learned that that day, Feb. 10, was the deadline to make such an attempt for the upcoming legislative session.

“The process had to start Monday,” said Lambert, who added he had about a two-hour window to make it happen.

He said he spoke with most of the councilmen that day.

“I asked them if they wanted to start the process” and they did, Lambert said.

The council will next need to pass a proclamation in order to proceed, Lambert said

If the council chooses not to, it could “pull the bill,” he said. The council will take up the issue at its first meeting in March, Lambert said.

Councilman Marvin Martin said, while he would prefer to keep the Police Department, he would vote to let residents decide whether to abolish the department and the chief’s job.

“Because of past incidents and things that happened with our Police Department, it’s almost like it’s become a burden,” Martin said. “It’s time to let the voters decide.”

Sorrento must still appoint a new police chief by Feb. 27 or Gov. Bobby Jindal will appoint one, as required by state law, Lambert said.

“I’m not sure, if say, the voters did approve abolishing the (office of) police chief, when it would take effect,” he said.

River Parishes Bureau chief Darlene Denstorff contributed to this report.