In an open letter on October 22, Ascension Sheriff Jeff Wiley assured the citizens of Sorrento that his office would “be there for you if needed,” subject to his condition that “In the long term…my department would be the sole and exclusive provider of Law Enforcement services while we are on duty.” Wiley’s statement places the ball squarely in the court of Sorrento Police Chief Earl Theriot and there has been much speculation as to whether or not he will resign.
Chief Theriot was not present at the police department on Tuesday and was unavailable for comment during normal business hours. The Creole did manage to contact Theriot last evening and asked the question which has been on so many lips, “Do you plan to resign the office of police chief?”
Theriot, who excused his absence by saying he had to attend a funeral, initially refused to provide any response whatever. After much prodding he stated that the decision has yet to be made.
“I left the meeting at the town attorney’s office last night (Monday), and I understood that the Mayor was going to call me and set up a meeting. Until I meet with the Mayor there is no decision to be made. The Mayor can call me any time and I’ll meet with him,” said the police chief.
Theriot refused further comment other than to say he intends to be at work on Wednesday.
Sorrento Mayor Mike Lambert had a slightly different take.
“I certainly welcome a meeting with Chief Theriot, but everyone needs to know that the fate of the police department rests with him as of now,” said Lambert who was out of town on business Tuesday. “But the chief needs to contact me since this is all in his hands. I don’t know that he even wants to sit down with me because he’s got the decision to make. I can’t tell him what to do. I’ll be at Town Hall tomorrow (Wednesday, October 23) and all he has to do is walk over if he’s at work tomorrow.”
In the meantime, Lambert has spoken to Sheriff Wiley on several occasions concerning the state of policing in Sorrento, but they have never addressed specific contractual discussions whereby APSO would assume such duties.
According to Mike Lambert there is no legal mechanism whereby the town’s elected officials could force the ouster of the police chief unless he is convicted of a felony criminal offense, not that the mayor is contemplating such action. Theriot, like any elected official in Louisiana, could be the subject of a recall petition that would, if successful, remove him from office while a recall election is held. Lambert admitted that he has been told that such a petition is being contemplated by Sorrento residents who he would not identify.
“We are doing everything we can in the way of due diligence to ensure that the citizens of Sorrento will not be without police protection in the future,” Lambert stated. “I am exploring every option I can think of with the assistance of Sorrento’s town attorney. I am currently seeking out other possible insurers for the police department since Risk Management is going to drop its coverage in 30 days. I have to prepare for every contingency.
“I simply have no idea what Chief Theriot is going to do. If he digs in his heels he can make things very difficult for everyone involved, and I am eager to know his decision. I guess he’ll let me know when he’s ready,” a frustrated Mike Lambert added. “If he insists on retaining his current position, Sheriff Wiley has made it very clear that APSO will not step into the void.”
The Mayor expressed his fear that any liability coverage that might be available to Sorrento PD would come at an exorbitant rate.
“Even if we can get another provider to quote a rate the question becomes whether the town can afford the premiums,” he explained. “That question would ultimately have to be answered by the town council. I hope that the chief lets me know something soon since I understand he is scheduled to be out for two months due to a knee replacement surgery he has scheduled for November 4.”
There is no legal requirement that Sorrento PD maintain liability insurance but that would expose the town and the individual police officers to civil liability. Would Chief Theriot even contemplate attempting to operate the police department without liability coverage?
“Only Earl Theriot knows what Earl Theriot is going to do,” Mayor Lambert replied. “I would hope not since a liability judgment against the town would result in a lien against Sorrento. That could prevent the acquisition of loans or grants by Sorrento in the future and would limit the town’s ability to make any meaningful improvements to infrastructure like sewer.”
Risk Management has declared that its liability coverage of Sorrento PD will end on November 19, and Theriot has given no official indication if changes will be made with regard to the department’s operation prior to that date. On Tuesday Sorrento’s police officers, including Officer James Bell, were on the job.
Bell has been in the news recently for his driving practices and improper use of radar guns. Although, earlier reports indicated Bell would be put on administrative leave, he was seen on Tuesday pulling over motorists in pairs near the intersection of Airline Hwy. and John LeBlanc Blvd.