Midafternoon yesterday, Friday, January 17, I was alerted that WBRZ would be reporting “something big” with regard to Sorrento Police Chief Earl Theriot on its 6 pm broadcast. I have devoted and inordinate amount of hours in the effort to stay on top of all things Sorrento since I joined The Creole’s staff in May of last year, and I wracked my brain to figure out what I didn’t know that WBRZ did.
I waited very impatiently to find out just what Channel 2 had uncovered. As I viewed Rob Krieger’s report I was left dumbfounded.
An Ascension Parish woman filed suit in the U. S. Middle District Court for the State of Louisiana alleging that Earl Theriot committed a sexual assault against her on November 1, 2013. The plaintiff’s attorney, Tregg Wilson, detailed several allegations which, presumably, appear in the “Complaint for Damages and Demand for Jury Trial.” Those allegations, in Wilson’s verbiage, “shock the conscience.”
WBRZ, which chose not to identify the plaintiff, did show page one of the Complaint for Damages wherein the plaintiff’s name is clear. I mention this only to placate those of The Creole’s commenters who think it appropriate to identify the plaintiff. The pleading is also public record should you wish to obtain the information from the Middle District.
I recorded WBRZ’s report and viewed it repeatedly. I was shocked by the allegations.
On November 1, a Friday, just before 1 pm, the plaintiff was so intoxicated that an emergency call was made to Sorrento PD. Theriot, first on the scene, could barely find her pulse but eventually did so. EMT providers arrived but were told they would not be needed, after which, Theriot is alleged to have obtained more alcohol for the plaintiff to consume on the way to the police station.
At some point Theriot forced her to perform oral sex on him and then kept her restrained in his office while he met with the Mayor. According to Tregg Wilson the plaintiff was restrained under Earl Theriot’s desk. During this interval the plaintiff accessed a phone and called her boyfriend who, in turn, called the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office. WBRZ reported that APSO has a recording of the call.
These events are alleged to have occurred between 1-5pm. Since November 1, Earl Theriot is alleged to have “repetitively called and sexually harassed” the plaintiff up to the present by “four to five phone calls a day.”
My initial reaction was probably just like yours. WOW!!! It’s unbelievable! I began to make phone calls to everyone I could think of that might have relevant information, Earl Theriot being the first. All calls to him went directly to voice mail. Neither Mayor Mike Lambert, nor Sheriff Jeff Wiley, would comment on an ongoing investigation.
As always, there are many more questions than answers when it comes to Sorrento’s police department. Let’s review few facts that are known.
On November 1, Sorrento PD was still a functioning police department and these events are alleged to have occurred on a Friday afternoon when police personnel should be on the job. APSO was made aware of the allegations as the events were ongoing. Two and a half months elapsed before suit was filed. Chief Theriot has not been arrested nor, to my knowledge, has he been questioned with regard to these allegations.
Once the initial shock of WBRZ’s report wore off I began to think analytically. By training, and temperament, I am a criminal defense attorney, but I was also a personal injury lawyer. I analyzed the allegations against Chief Theriot from those perspectives.
The allegations made against Theriot constitute a heinous criminal act. Sex crimes are difficult for the prosecution to prove in many instances because the case often boils down to the alleged victim’s testimony against the defendant’s. This would appear to be such a case.
Is there additional evidence which supports the plaintiff’s accusations? Is there any physical evidence such as Earl Theriot’s DNA? Other than Mike Lambert, who was meeting with Theriot while the plaintiff was being detained, is there an eye-witness who was present at the police station?
I do not mean to suggest that Earl Theriot is going to be arrested, but it is undeniable that APSO is conducting an investigation. If he would ever stand trial it seems likely that the only witness who could possibly testify that Earl Theriot committed the criminal act alleged is the plaintiff/victim. The question then becomes one of credibility.
The peripheral allegations like repeated sexual harassment via phone calls seems easy enough to prove, or disprove.
How credible a witness would the plaintiff/alleged victim make when it is beyond dispute that she was highly intoxicated just before incident occurred? Could the prosecution ever meet its burden of proving “beyond a reasonable doubt” that Earl Theriot committed such a heinous act?
In a civil proceeding, in which the ultimate objective is the award of money damages, the plaintiff’s burden of proof is a mere preponderance of the evidence. Put simply, if the finder of fact (a jury in most instances) believes the plaintiff slightly more than the defendant is believed, then the plaintiff wins. The defendant is found liable as opposed to guilty in a criminal proceeding.
As a personal injury lawyer one assesses the likelihood of success of any personal injury claim, the potential damage award if successful and the amount of money it will take to fund the case since the plaintiff’s lawyer, in most instances, takes such a case on contingency. The history of successful claims against Sorrento PD would argue in favor of pursuing such a case for a lawyer. The fact that Sorrento PD has been so prominent in the media recently, nearly all coverage unflattering, would also tip the scales in that direction.
My point is this, let’s not rush to judgment. I have never met the woman who is the plaintiff in the suit against Earl Theriot, and I have no reason to believe or disbelieve her. There are, though, admissions on her behalf that seriously undermine her credibility.
That being said, I have no sympathy whatever for Earl Theriot IF he committed such acts in the course and scope of his duties as the police chief. That’s a very big if.
One thing I can’t get past is the fact that APSO was made aware of these allegations 77 days ago and no action has been taken yet. I would have assumed, especially with the ongoing turmoil surrounding Sorrento PD, that an investigation into allegations of such heinous conduct by its police chief would have some urgency.
Plus, if the allegations are true, a sexual predator has been allowed to roam the streets, with a badge and a gun, for over two months.
Maybe an investigation has concluded with no finding of wrongdoing by Earl Theriot.
It calls to mind the fact that APSO commenced a criminal investigation into a Sorrento construction contract back in July of 2013 and there is no end in sight to that one either. According to parish authorities, that July investigation was “taken over” by the feds but the frustration created by uncertainty is no less real for Sorrento officials and citizens.
I apologize for getting sidetracked.
Ultimately my point is this…
Tregg Wilson took to the airwaves yesterday to begin convincing potential jurors that Earl Theriot is guilty, excuse me, liable to Wilson’s client. This was his true opening statement in the trial of his suit against Earl Theriot…and nothing more.