Sorrento has one police officer who’s in ‘employment limbo’

Assistant Police Chief Ricky Smith, the sole officer remaining in this Ascension Parish town, is a man without a salary.

Elections are set Nov. 4 to determine whether the town will have its own Police Department and elected police chief.

In the meantime, the Town Council on July 22 eliminated funding for the Police Department, including Smith’s salary, effective Aug. 1.

The Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office has picked up police protection.

Despite the town providing no funding for his salary, Smith has continued to report to work.

He said Wednesday he is continuing to perform administrative duties until Mayor Mike Lambert or the Town Council clarifies Smith’s employment status.

“Our job is to protect and serve and the serve part is what I’m doing now,” Smith said Wednesday.

Lambert contended Tuesday that Smith spends his days “sitting in his office,” but Smith said he is busy helping residents navigate through courtroom procedural paperwork and police fines.

If it is the town’s intent to let him go, Smith said, he wants written notification and unemployment benefits.

Until he is notified, Smith should be compensated for his work, said his attorney Monica Gant Moton said.

“He is in employment limbo,” Moton said.

She said Smith acknowledges the Police Department is being dismantled but has a problem with the way town officials have slowly taken the department and his position down around him.

“It’s being done in a piecemeal fashion,” Moton said.

Smith claimed the Town Council is targeting him for his association with former Police Chief Earl Theriot Jr. and several other police officers who were fired after violating department procedures.

Theriot resigned in February shortly before pleading guilty to lying to an FBI officer about alleged inappropriate sexual contact with a woman, whom he said he initially found passed-out and drunk late last year while responding to a 911 call.

Theriot, whose job has remained unfilled, is set for sentencing Sept. 18 before Chief U.S. District Judge Brian A. Jackson in Baton Rouge. Theriot faces up to five years in prison.

The Police Department lost most of its other officers last fall when they resigned or were terminated after the department’s insurance provider declined to continue its liability coverage of the department’s officers and vehicles.

No insurance company has agreed to insure the department within a price range the town can afford. Without insurance, Smith now performs administrative work while sheriff’s deputies patrol the streets.

“I have an unblemished record over here,” Smith said, adding he has been nothing but transparent in all his activities within the department.

Lambert said the issue should be resolved by the next Town Council meeting Aug. 19.

“The goal is to resolve this as quickly and as amicably as possible,” Moton said.

Advocate staff writer David Mitchell contributed to this report.