Sheriff Uses Unconstitutional Law To Raid Home And Seize Electronics Belonging To Watchdog Blogger

from the bad-laws-used-most-efficiently-by-bad-people dept

A Louisiana sheriff has just inserted himself into a mess of First and Fourth Amendment violations by using his power to go after an anonymous blogger who claimed he was corrupt. Naomi LaChance of The Intercept has more details.

After a watchdog blog repeatedly linked him and other local officials to corruption and fraud, the Sheriff of Terrebone Parish in Louisiana on Tuesday sent six deputies to raid a police officer’s home to seize computers and other electronic devices.

Sheriff Jerry Larpenter’s deputies submitted affidavits alleging criminal defamation against the anonymous author of the ExposeDAT blog, and obtained search warrants to seize evidence in the officer’s house and from Facebook.

The target of this raid -- supposedly the blog's author (although he denies being behind it) -- is another law enforcement officer. Wayne Anderson works for the Houma Police Department. Taken from his home during the raid were five cell phones and two computers -- including his children's laptop.

Sheriff Larpenter is trying to use Louisiana's criminal defamation law to prosecute Anderson. Unfortunately for the overreaching sheriff, that law isn't going to work.

The Louisiana Supreme Court ruled the criminal defamation law unconstitutional "insofar as it attempts 'to punish public expression and publication concerning public officials, public figures, and private individuals who are engaged in public affairs.’”

Larpenter is trying to get around this by claiming the "investigation" was prompted by a citizen's complaint -- that of Tony Alford, an insurance agent named in the blog's posts. The blog's author alleges impropriety related to Alford's no-bid contract to provide insurance coverage for the parish via the agency he works for, Alford, Staples, Lapeyre & Robichaux. The corruption hook here is that Sheriff Larpenter's wife also works for the same insurance agency.

So, it's not really about Tony Alford. It's about Larpenter and his wife. The blog has also made allegations about improper relationships between the department and the town's most powerful government officials, including District Attorney Joe Waitz, Jr. Unsurprisingly, this is the same DA Larpenter wants to prosecute the case.

When Larpenter was asked whether there is a conflict in him investigating an alleged crime involving himself, he replied, "If you're gonna lie about me and make it under a fictitious name, I'm gonna come after you."

He went on to say that once he finished investigating the blog, he would turn the case over to District Attorney Waitz to determine if Waitz wanted to prosecute it or “hand it off.”

Waitz, to his credit, has recognized the conflict of interest and has chosen to pass it on to another office for possible prosecution. But the charge is unlikely to stick, even with Sheriff Larpenter's maneuvering. Larpenter's comments make it clear this attempted prosecution is personal ("lie about me") and is willing to use an unconstitutional statute to justify a search/seizure of personal electronics. But even his invocation of a supposed "private" individual (the insurance agent) to obtain search warrants isn't going to be enough to salvage this blatant attempt to shut down a critic. As the parish's main insurance provider, Alford is very definitely a "private individual engaged in public affairs." Beyond that, he's a public figure in his own right.

In addition to holding public contracts, Tony Alford is also the acting President of the Terrebonne Parish Levee and Conservation District Board of Commissioners, a public position that requires him to file annual personal financial disclosures with the Louisiana Board of Ethics.

Even the process used to obtain the search warrant to seize Anderson's devices was a bit shady.

The one they used to search Anderson’s home was signed Tuesday by Judge Randall Bethancourt, who was not serving as the on-duty judge for criminal cases that day.

This suggests a bit of magistrate shopping by the Sheriff's Office. Now that the warrant has been executed and devices seized, a motion to quash is in place. But that does little for Officer Wayne Anderson. Not only has he been suspended (with pay) by the Houma Police Department while this farce plays out, but the court is holding onto his computers and phones until a hearing on the motion can take place.

The First Amendment implications of Sheriff Larpenter's raid are clear. That the search warrant -- in pursuit of bogus criminal defamation charges -- has already been carried out means Sheriff Larpenter will be facing Fourth Amendment violations claims as well in the inevitable civil rights lawsuit that will follow this debacle. Sheriff Larpenter should have had no problem fighting speech he didn't like with speech of his own -- especially considering his position as a public figure who holds a powerful office. Instead, he has chosen to abuse his position and power to silence a critic, something that's not exactly helping him look any less corrupt.


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  • identicon
    David, 5 Aug 2016 @ 11:55am

    Genius move.

    What a wonderful way to discredit suspicion of corruption - act more corrupt.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Aug 2016 @ 1:01pm

      Re: Genius move.

      What is the over/under on this Sheriff keeping his job, not being brought under federal charges, and having no real negative fallout from this?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      trollificus (profile), 5 Aug 2016 @ 6:46pm

      Re: Genius move.

      Maybe he's trying to make the relatively minor, commonplace (for Louisiana. And Illinois.) corrupt practice of crony favoritism seem unimportant by comparison to the direct abuse of citizens under color of law.

      Though illegal search and theft of private property has been somewhat devalued as a shocking violation of the oath to "serve and protect" recently. Was the failure to administer a beatdown just professional courtesy or something?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Padpaw (profile), 5 Aug 2016 @ 6:48pm

      Re: Genius move.

      maybe the petty tyrant was hoping the media would be too afraid to report on his criminal activities lest they be targeted next.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Aug 2016 @ 3:06am

      Re: Genius move.

      Yep

      Their moto

      If at first you dont succeed, try and try and corrupt again

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    TexasAndroid (profile), 5 Aug 2016 @ 11:55am

    As I commented yesterday on Reddit:

    Terrebonne Parish? Meet the Streisand Effect. Where the effort to censor news instead results in it being seen far, far more widely than it otherwise would have been.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    kasper, 5 Aug 2016 @ 11:58am

    We can only hope that the personal nature of the case will be enough for the sheriff to be personally liable in a future suit. I doubt it, but we can hope.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      pegr, 5 Aug 2016 @ 12:37pm

      Re:

      No, no. You want the county (parish?) to be held responsible. The county will have to rely on their insurance policy to pay the claim. You know, the one the sheriff's wife works for?

      Delicious irony for dinner, kids!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Skeeter, 6 Aug 2016 @ 9:08am

      Re:

      The bigger issue that wasn't discussed in this article, is what about the judge who signed the warrant initially, for the sheriff? Surely the judge knows the Supreme Court ruling on this state law, and should have known better than to sign a warrant for the sheriff on this matter to start with?!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Agena, 6 Aug 2016 @ 9:50am

        Re: Re:

        what about the judge who signed the warrant initially, for the sheriff?

        So let Anderson move to exclude evidence at trial by challenging the warrant. Good luck with that.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 5 Aug 2016 @ 11:58am

    How entertaining it will be if the target isn't behind the blog.

    Not only will the citizens be paying out the nose for violating the rights of an innocent, but the odds that an offical willing to be this shady won't try to gather any data he can from the devices to gain leverage are low.

    One would think that investing a portion of the settlement into a forensic review of the system would be a wise move, and might add more 0's to the settlement.

    It almost sounds like there should be some sort of "department of justice" to come in and make sure that they know their duty & live up to the letter of the law. Willing to bet that given the overreaction, there is a really big fire that the smokes been pointing to.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 5 Aug 2016 @ 12:08pm

    How the Union will twist this to portray the officer as a victim shall be interesting.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Aug 2016 @ 12:13pm

    Sheriff Larpenter needs to either grow a pair or step down, which? He is no gentleman, that much is obvious.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 5 Aug 2016 @ 12:42pm

    Telling priorities

    But that does little for Officer Wayne Anderson. Not only has he been suspended (with pay) by the Houma Police Department while this farce plays out, but the court is holding onto his computers and phones until a hearing on the motion can take place.

    So the one under investigation has been suspended with pay during the investigation. So out of curiosity, what's the sheriff's employment status? You know, the sheriff that responded to accusations of corruption by raiding the house of someone that may or may not be the one who made the accusations, and is trying to do a legal tap-dance around what the law actually says to do so?

    Still employed? Same as before?

    Yeah, I can tell the police really take accusations of corruption seriously.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Roger Strong (profile), 5 Aug 2016 @ 12:59pm

    > That the search warrant -- in pursuit of bogus criminal defamation charges -- has already been carried out means Sheriff Larpenter will be facing Fourth Amendment violations claims as well in the inevitable civil rights lawsuit that will follow this debacle.

    Once he realizes this, his next thought will likely be "What would Sheriff Joe Arpaio do?"

    (As of last year, cases involving Arpaio or his office have cost Maricopa County taxpayers $142 million in legal expenses, settlements, and court awards.)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    orbitalinsertion (profile), 5 Aug 2016 @ 1:02pm

    What is this i don't even

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Sargas, 5 Aug 2016 @ 1:18pm

    Sheriff Larpenter will be facing Fourth Amendment violations claims as well in the inevitable civil rights lawsuit

    None of which will hurt him in the least. He has immunity. The taxpayers will pay for it all.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Aug 2016 @ 1:20pm

      Re: Sheriff Larpenter will be facing Fourth Amendment violations claims as well in the inevitable civil rights lawsuit

      As they should.

      Sheriff is an Elected Position. Maybe next time they will not vote for a fraud!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 5 Aug 2016 @ 1:58pm

        Re: Re: Sheriff Larpenter will be facing Fourth Amendment violations claims as well in the inevitable civil rights lawsuit

        So it's only right that the taxpayers pay for his actions instead of him?

        Must be nice being in an elected position, never having to be personally responsible for your own actions because you can always say "Hey, it's their fault for electing me!"

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Aug 2016 @ 1:38pm

    Nothing says "I'm not corrupt" more than abusing your position to go after an alleged critic pointing out how corrupt you are.

    But in the end will anything happen to that Sheriff abusing his power? Seriously doubt it. If anything it'll be a light slap on the wrist.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Trails (profile), 5 Aug 2016 @ 1:41pm

    Conflict of whatnow?

    When Larpenter was asked whether there is a conflict in him investigating an alleged crime involving himself, he replied, "If you're gonna lie about me and make it under a fictitious name, I'm gonna come after you."


    So, yes?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    SpaceLifeForm, 5 Aug 2016 @ 2:05pm

    Open WIFI involved?

    Will not surprise.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Aug 2016 @ 2:33pm

    Taking bets this sheriff plants child porn or something else nasty on the laptops and "finds" it later when this all starts going to shit....

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Aug 2016 @ 3:42pm

    An elected sheriff vs. appointed sheriff

    In my state sheriffs are elected in some counties and some are appointed by the county commission. The appointed ones come from national searches and generally have long training and experience in law enforcement. The elected ones often come out of political, "old boys" associations and have little law enforcement and legal knowledge. Sometimes both types have little managerial experience but generally the searched for ones come from high level positions in law enforcement with experience in both areas. A former elected sheriff in my state is currently under investigation and perhaps now indicted for many alleged crimes including hiding paper work on an investigation, sexual interactions with female subordinate sheriffs deputies, and many more offenses. He was a product of the political process and is alleged to have had little if any law enforcement or legal experience. If I remember correctly, his managerial experience was as a building contractor.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Parish Avenger, 5 Aug 2016 @ 4:19pm

    The crooked are beginning to fall

    All of you crooked guys and gals in TPCG are coming down. The time of your greedy, crooked time in power is over. Just have to make sure no one "suicides" those who oppose their cash hungry appetites. It does happen.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    NeghVar (profile), 5 Aug 2016 @ 4:51pm

    Self Fulfilling Prophecy

    The sheriff turned this into a self-fulfilling prophecy

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Padpaw (profile), 5 Aug 2016 @ 6:46pm

    so this sheriff basically just shouted out to the country I am corrupt and will target and attack anyone that tries to expose me.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Atkray (profile), 5 Aug 2016 @ 7:45pm

    Whole story echos of the Warrant song "Uncle Tom's Cabin".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Aug 2016 @ 3:02am

    The guy should return everything STOLEN and forced to pay the value of everything stolen NEW and then some, so that everything can be replaced

    I hesitate to use the word forced, but then i realize he used it first and hence gave up his right in this SPECIFIC situation

    Oh yeah, then FIRED, for thinking nothing wrong with this action AND/WHILE holding a position with an ever growing list of authority, requiring much more responsibility then shown

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Whatever, 7 Aug 2016 @ 6:47am

    A member of law enforcement finally giving a faceless critic what he deserves? Mmm, that makes me hard. I bet Masnick is going to get his lapdog PaulT to censor this comment too. Or Leigh, I'm pretty sure he's a sub. Mmmmmm.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Leonardo Sotelo, 19 Sep 2016 @ 12:16am

    Rights of Violation

    This is a violation of one's basic rights and I can't help getting angry over this. As an owner of a home automation in Chennai system, I can really feel the anguish of the owner.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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