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Wednesday, September 27, 2017
Surely a sheriff cannot be intimidated by a whistleblower - Could they?
Blogger Comments: Why would a sheriff go after a whistleblower?
Terrebonne Sheriff reaches
'compromise' with blogger in 1st Amendment lawsuit over illegal search
CDT September 07, 2017
NEW ORLEANS -- A
"compromise" has been reached in the civil lawsuit against Terrebonne
Parish Sheriff Jerry Larpenter over the illegal raid of a Houma couple's home
aimed at unmasking a blogger critical of Larpenter and Terrebonne Parish leaders.
District Court Judge Lance Africk issued an order Thursday dismissing the case,
citing the compromise as the reason for the dismissal, but retained the right
to re-open the case if the terms of the undisclosed settlement are not carried
out in a "reasonable time."
and Wayne Anderson sued Sheriff Larpenter after he searched their home and
seized the family's computers and cell phones a year ago. Larpenter ordered one
of his detectives to secure a search warrant under the guise of a criminal
defamation investigation into Jennifer Anderson's blog, "ExposeDAT."
Andersons and their attorney couldn't disclose the details of the settlement,
but they declared victory.
ready to put this behind us and we're going to move on with our lives,"
Wayne Anderson, a Houma police officer, told WWL-TV in an interview. "I
think the sheriff’s finally learned that he can’t bully people and violate
people’s constitutional rights. In our case, he stepped on the wrong people’s
constitutional rights because we knew our rights. Hopefully, he thinks twice
the next time he gets his feelings hurt."
Andersons' attorney, Jerry Smitko, struck a more conciliatory tone.
is a victory for citizens' right to be critical of their elected officials
without fear of retribution," Smitko said in a statement. "It is
reassuring to see that the Sheriff has decided to take responsibility for what
he did to the Anderson's, and compensate them for the harm they suffered due to
Andersons previously settled with Terrebonne Parish President Gordon Dove
for his role in the case. The Andersons were paid $50,000 from parish coffers.
didn't respond to a request for comment or a public records request for the
settlement agreement by the time of publication.
criminal defamation statute was declared unconstitutional by the La. Supreme
Court decades ago as it pertains to elected officials and private individuals
engaged in public affairs.
said he initiated the investigation after insurance company owner Tony Alford
filed a criminal complaint about "ExposeDAT." The blog questioned the
close ties between Alford, Larpenter and Terrebonne Parish President Gordon
the time of the search and seizure, Anderson's true identity was not publicly
known. She created "ExposeDAT" using the pseudonym John Turner.
the judge who issued the search warrant found probable cause for the search,
Louisiana's 5th Circuit Court of Appeal found it unconstitutional.
Andersons filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal court against Larpenter,
alleging the sheriff violated Jennifer's 1st Amendment right to free speech,
their 4th Amendment protection from unlawful search and seizure and for
a scathing order filed Wednesday, July 19, U.S. District Judge Lance Africk
denied Larpenter's motion to throw out the case in its entirety, allowing the
constitutional claims to proceed, but dismissing the malicious prosecution
claim because Anderson was never formally prosecuted.
the longstanding and robust constitutional protections afforded speech
involving public officials (and speech involving public funds), it can be
argued based on these allegations that Sheriff Larpenter acted with at least
deliberate indifference to the risk that his actions would violate the
Andersons’ constitutional rights," Africk wrote.
has argued Anderson's blog targeted Tony Alford in his capacity as a
businessman, not in his role as a public official on the Terrebonne Parish
Levee and Conservation District Board of Commissioners. But like the state
court, Africk found Alford is a public official, and therefore Anderson's
speech would be protected.
Anderson’s speech falls squarely within the four corners of the First
Amendment," Africk wrote.
implications of the case not only reach far into the precious protections
guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, but for the Andersons, the ExposeDAT
investigation was life-changing, and not for the better.
day of the search, Wayne Anderson was placed on indefinite administrative leave
by the Houma Police Department. He then had medical problems that forced him
off duty until last week.
resulting scandal caused Jennifer Anderson to lose her job as well.
order says Larpenter has argued there was no damage done to the Andersons
because they got their phones and their computers back without them being
Judge Africk indicated in his July order the damages caused by sheriff's
actions go beyond the alleged trampling of the Andersons' constitutional
message—if you speak ill of the sheriff of your parish, then the sheriff will
direct his law enforcement resources toward forcibly entering your home and
taking your belongings under the guise of a criminal investigation—is
inseparable from the injury and would certainly chill anyone... from engaging
in similar constitutionally protected speech in the future," Africk wrote.
months after Africk's scathing ruling, the Andersons and the Sheriff reached
Anderson also had harsh words for Judge Randy Bethancourt, the state judge who
signed off on the search warrant and said the sheriff should be allowed to have
a "look-see" in spite of the unconstitutionality of the state's
criminal defamation law. A state appeals court later overturned Bethancourt's
ruling, and Anderson said he hoped Bethancourt would review search warrants
more carefully from now on.
proceedings should serve as a preeminent caution to any government official who
even thinks about using his position to punish those who exercise their
constitutional rights," Smitko said, "The Andersons are eager to
move on with their lives, and hope to return to some semblance of
Investigative Reporter David Hammer contributed to this report.