Appeals Court Tosses Search Warrant Used By Louisiana Sheriff In Attempt To Silence Critical Blogger

from the stupid-law-fails-to-help-out-even-stupider-Sheriff dept

The Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeals has just ended Terrebonne Parish Sheriff Jerry “Censorious Dumbass” Larpenter’s attempt to silence a critic through the magic of abusing his power. The sheriff obtained a warrant to raid a blogger’s house, using the state’s mostly-unconstitutional criminal defamation law to justify the search. The blogger had pointed out that Larpenter’s wife works for an insurance agency that provides coverage for the local government — something that looked just a wee bit corrupt.

Larpenter didn’t care for this, so he took his search warrant application — and a complaint by Tony Alford, who runs the insurance company that Larpenter’s wife works for — to an off-duty judge to get it signed. This same judge later declared the warrant to be perfectly legal when challenged by lawyers representing the blogger. The blogger’s lawyers appealed [PDF] this decision, which has resulted in the warrant [PDF] being killed. Naomi Lachance of The Intercept has more details.

An appellate court in Baton Rouge ruled Thursday that a raid on a police officer’s house in search of the blogger who had accused the sheriff of corruption was unconstitutional.

The Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeals argued that Sheriff Jerry Larpenter’s investigation into the blog ExposeDAT had flawed rationale: the alleged defamation was not actually a crime as applied to a public official.

The unanimous ruling from the three-judge panel comes after police officer Wayne Anderson and his wife Jennifer Anderson were denied assistance in local and federal court.

The one-paragraph decision [PDF] points out that Tony Alford is a public figure and cannot avail himself of the state’s criminal defamation law.

Anthony Alford, the supposed victim, is President of the Terrebonne Parish Levee and Conservation Board of Louisiana, and a public official. Consequently, the search warrant lacks probable cause because the conduct complained of is not a criminally actionable offense. The ruling of the district court denying the motion to quash the search warrant is reversed, the motion is granted, and the search warrant is quashed.

So much for Judge Randall Bethancourt’s declaration that the warrant he signed was valid. And so much for the Terrebonne Sheriff’s Department’s “look see” Bethancourt granted earlier. The seized devices — which included a laptop belonging to the blogger’s children — have been held by the clerk of courts, which hopefully means Sheriff Larpenter didn’t sneak some peeks before having his bogus warrant tossed.

The state’s top prosecutor won’t be humoring Sheriff Larpenter any further.

“We respect the First Circuit decision, we have no plans to appeal, and as far as the attorney general is concerned, the case is closed,” Ruth Wisher, press secretary for the attorney general, told The Intercept.

Sheriff Larpenter still seems willing to abuse his office to shut people up, as evidenced by his inability to do so himself.

Over the month of August, Larpenter had publicly defended his position. “They need to upgrade [criminal defamation] to a felony,” he recently said on local television station HTV10.

“The media come and all the different outlets, even our local media, wrote unsatisfactory accusations about me like, ‘Oh, they got freedom of speech. They can say what they want.’ Well that’s not true,” he said.

Larpenter is wrong on both counts. Defamation shouldn’t be a criminal offense. Ever. And his definition of “free speech” doesn’t sound very “free.” Instead, it sounds like Larpenter would prefer limits to speech he doesn’t like, which is a stupid and dangerous ideal to hold while in an elected office holding considerable power. I have my doubts Larpenter thought he’d really end up with a criminal prosecution, but he’s probably satisfied that he was allowed to walk into someone’s home, take their stuff, and force them to spend money defending themselves from a completely bogus criminal charge.

Of course, intimidation tactics like these can sometimes backfire completely. Larpenter now looks like an easily-bruised bully and his BS attempted prosecution will likely only encourage his critics to speak up more loudly and frequently. In addition, The Intercept reports the blogger’s lawyers will be moving forward with a lawsuit against the parish for Sheriff Larpenter’s actions, so this may end up costing taxpayers some cash as well. Hopefully, this unneeded spending will be on their minds when Larpenter’s up for re-election.

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Comments on “Appeals Court Tosses Search Warrant Used By Louisiana Sheriff In Attempt To Silence Critical Blogger”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Perk #1: Never being held accountable for your actions

In addition, The Intercept reports the blogger’s lawyers will be moving forward with a lawsuit against the parish for Sheriff Larpenter’s actions, so this may end up costing taxpayers some cash as well. Hopefully, this unneeded spending will be on their minds when Larpenter’s up for re-election.

Isn’t it just great how those with the most power, politicians and law enforcement, can abuse that power as much as they want and never be held personally accountable other than maybe not being re-elected a few years later, as opposed to pretty much any other job where you are held accountable for your own actions, generally immediately at that?

Must be nice having a job where you can just shift all the blame and punishment on to others with a blithe ‘Hey, it’s their fault for electing me!’

Anonymous Coward says:

Thinking a new law is needed

I think that there should a law that forbids insurance and employment terms from insulating LEO from suits for “Official oppression under color of law enforcement”. All too often we see asshats acting badly, only to leave the taxpayers or insurance (or both) on the hook for their foul acts.

Take away their pension and everything they own, I say. I’m not talking about normal mistakes or events that in hindsight shouldn’t have happened. I’m talking about people like Sheriff Larpenter and Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood. Those are the kind of people that should not just be voted out of office, but thrown in jail for their outrageous abuses of power.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Think of a law? Nay, think of the politicians!

Personal accountability for public officials? Perish the thought, who would ever go into politics and/or law enforcement if they were actually personally held accountable for their own actions?! Are you trying to get rid of vast numbers of politicians and police by taking away one of the biggest perks of the job?

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

I’m confused.
Didn’t the accused officer deny being the blogger from the beginning?
I do not remember him ever admitting he was the blogger.

Also I still hope the lawyer immediately took all of the items that were seized to a computer forensics team. Seeing if they were access or altered while in custody would just be prudent at this point, as it seems that the Sheriff will grasp at anything to harm those he thinks are against him. It wouldn’t shock me if they discovered spyware or newly hidden CP on the machines to be discovered at a later date.

Groaker (profile) says:

And what happens to the judge now? We don’t expect LEOs to be lawyers, though everyone should have known that this was a clear 1st Amendment violation.

But the judge is supposed to be a lawyer, and should have immediately known that this was an improper warrant. He should have thrown the warrant application out immediately. His failure to do so should result in impeachment and disbarment.

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