Former Livingston Parish worker sues council members, sheriff

A former Livingston Parish worker alleges in a federal lawsuit that three Parish Council members and the Sheriff’s Office conspired a year ago to accuse him of making derogatory statements about them through a bogus account on Facebook.

The Sheriff’s Office issued a misdemeanor summons to Royce McLin on Aug. 16, 2012, for criminal defamation using a Louisiana law that was effectively rendered unconstitutional almost 50 years ago, the lawsuit says.

McLin says his rights under the U.S. Constitution’s First, Fourth, Fifth and 14th Amendments were violated and that he suffered mental anguish, lost wages and residual physical disability after the incident.

The lawsuit, which was filed Friday in U.S. district court in Baton Rouge, names as defendants Parish Council members Jim Norred Jr., Chance Parent and Cindy Wale; Sheriff Jason Ard; sheriff’s Chief of Detectives Stan Carpenter; Detectives Benjamin Ballard, Jack Alford Jr. and Bonita Sager; sheriff’s Lt. Col. Brian Smith, and Deputy William “Willie” Dorsey.

Parent said Monday that he and the other council members had not been served with the suit and would reserve comment until they had reviewed it.

Wale, Norred and Chris Moody, the Parish Council’s attorney, did not return phone calls Monday for comment.

Ard declined comment, citing the pending litigation. Sheriff’s Office attorney Eric Pittman said he would not comment about the suit because he has not seen it.

Criminal defamation, as defined by Louisiana Revised Statute 14:47, is “a malicious publication or expression in any manner” that exposes a person “to hatred, contempt or ridicule.”

McLin’s suit says the law was rendered largely unconstitutional 47 years ago.

District Attorney Scott Perrilloux confirmed in January that his office declined to pursue criminal defamation charges against McLin, saying that both the U.S. Supreme Court and Louisiana Supreme Court had found the statute unconstitutional.

Defamation is usually handled as a civil matter, Perrilloux has said.

The state Supreme Court found the statute unconstitutional in 1973 and again in 1981 in cases involving public officials, Craig Freeman, an LSU professor who specializes in media law, has said.

The criminal defamation summonses were based on “facially-invalid arrest warrants maliciously concocted through the individual and concerted efforts” of the council members and the Sheriff’s Office employees, the suit says.

Wale, Norred and Parent alleged that McLin created a bogus Facebook account to post “disparaging comments” on a news story posted on the social media site by a local newspaper called the Livingston Daily Times, the lawsuit says.

A sworn affidavit from Norred says the Facebook commenter accused him of being affiliated with a group that uses hats and robes — possibly the Ku Klux Klan. Wale’s affidavit states she was alleged to have committed “some type of adultery,” while Parent’s affidavit says the commenter referred to him as a homosexual.

The lawsuit says sheriff’s detectives searched McLin’s home on June 11 and took “all manner of electronic equipment and devices,” including a PlayStation 3 device and an XBox 360 console, to determine if he was the alleged anonymous Facebook user.

A State Police analysis showed that the anonymous Facebook user’s name “had been utilized or otherwise cited within a paragraph of text purportedly typed or otherwise entered by a person with access unto one of the laptop computers seized” from McLin’s home, the lawsuit says.

Wale, Norred and Parent then decided to pursue criminal defamation charges, the lawsuit says.

McLin has said there is no evidence that he made the posts because five other people have had access to his computer. He said he was hired in early 2012 to work temporarily as a parish road inspector but was released around the time his computers were seized.

U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick has been assigned to McLin’s lawsuit.