Efforts to revive Sorrento police appear to be floundering

Advocate staff file photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Sorento Town Hall Show caption
Advocate staff file photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Sorento Town Hall

Efforts to revitalize the town’s Police Department seem to be stagnating while the police chief’s position sits vacant and the days pass without anyone actively seeking liability insurance for the department.

Mayor Mike Lambert said Tuesday that Gov. Bobby Jindal’s office is having a difficult time finding a replacement to serve out the rest of former Police Chief Earl Theriot Jr.’s three year-term since Theriot’s abrupt resignation in February.

“They said they’ve had no luck,” Lambert said, of Jindal’s office.

Lambert said the Governor’s Office told him they’ve been searching for a replacement but so far have not found anyone to take the position.

The Governor’s Office has released little information about the search, Lambert said, even declining to share with him the names of people they have considered to fill the vacancy.

“We’re working with local officials and reviewing potential candidates who meet the qualifications laid out by statute to fill the vacancy,” said Shannon Bates, deputy communications director for the Governor’s Office.

To fill the vacancy, a person must be a registered voter and have lived in the town for one year, according to state law.

Theriot resigned in February and pleaded guilty to lying to an FBI agent about inappropriate sexual contact with an intoxicated woman the chief had picked up after a 911 call on Nov. 1.

Jindal has had since Feb. 27 to appoint an interim police chief but has not done so yet.

The town has called a special election Nov. 4 to fill the remainder of Theriot’s three-year term, which expires June 30, 2017.

Sorrento voters also could decide in the same special election to abolish the Police Department and eliminate the police chief’s position entirely.

A proposed bill by state Sen. Jody Amedee, R-Gonzales, to abolish the Police Department and the police chief’s position was introduced March 31. The bill passed out of committee Monday and is waiting on final passage on the Senate floor.

Lambert also revealed Tuesday that the town is no longer seeking insurance companies to replace the Police Department’s liability policies for its officers and vehicles canceled in November by its former provider Risk Management, Inc.

Town officials have cited an excessive number of claims for the department as a reason for the policy cancellation but Risk Management officials have only said the Police Department failed to meet underwriting requirements.

“We are not looking for insurance,” Lambert said.

He said Assistant Police Chief Ricky Smith, the only officer left at the Police Department after several were let go when the insurance policy ran out, is not working to revamp the department’s policies and procedures as he once was with Theriot.

Smith lacks the authority to act on behalf of the chief, Lambert said.

Town Clerk Fern Barnett said Smith responds to emergency calls, such as a fatal traffic accident that occurred just outside town limits Tuesday on La. 70 when a Napoleonville man’s car crashed head-on into a dump truck.

Smith was first on the scene and helped direct traffic while other law enforcement officials responded, Barnett said.

While Smith works from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, the town has contracted with the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office for protection on nights and weekends for a fee of $36 per hour.

Ascension Parish Sheriff Jeff Wiley has said his officers respond to calls during the day as well.

According to a document provided to Town Council members on Tuesday, the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office responded to 98 calls in March.

Some of thee calls included vehicle crashes, disturbances, suspicious persons/activity and false burglar alarms, the letter said.

This deal continues until the end of the fiscal year June 30 and has the potential to continue if the town signs a long-term contract with the Sheriff’s Office, Lambert said.

“Quite frankly, it’s going quite well,” Lambert said. “I don’t have a whole lot of complaints about speeding ... nobody’s complaining about the chief of police. We’re saving a lot of money not paying his salary.”