Louisiana's Terrible Criminal Defamation Law Again Being Used To Unconstitutionally Target A Critic Of Law Enforcement

from the they-never-learn dept

Louisiana's stupid, unconstitutional criminal defamation law remains on the books despite the state's highest court reaching this conclusion nearly forty years ago:

We hold R.S. 14:47, 48, and 49 to be unconstitutional insofar as they attempt to punish public expression and publication concerning public officials, public figures, and private individuals who are engaged in public affairs.

Despite that, law enforcement officers and agencies continue to use the state's criminal defamation law to punish people for saying bad things about public officials. In every case we've seen, the law is deployed unconstitutionally to protect law enforcement officers/officials and their friends -- a direct contradiction of the state supreme court's holding.

Sheriff Jerry Larpenter of Terre Bonne Parish used the law to subject some bloggers critical of him and his business partnerships to searches of their residences and seizures of their electronic devices. Over in Livingston Parish, parish council members filed criminal defamation complaints against commenters on Facebook who criticized the council's misuse of public funds.

If you're sensing a pattern here, it's because there is one. The law seems to be exclusively used in the way the state's supreme court has said it can't be used. And, thanks to the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office, we have yet another data point to add to this shitty law's saga.

The St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office arrested a federal law enforcement agent and former STPSO employee Monday (Sept. 16) for defamation.

Jerry Rogers Jr. (DOB 11/3/1972) was arrested after it was discovered he sent numerous emails which included false information in relation to an open investigation.

Rogers used a fake name to create an email account and then sent messages to the family members of a victim.

The emails contained false information regarding the ongoing investigation as well as derogatory statements regarding the lead investigator and others closely involved in the investigation. The false information deprived the lead investigator of the family’s trust and confidence.

Here it is again: law enforcement making with the criminal defamation charges when, at best, it should be considered a civil case. There are more details in this in-depth report by Nola.com, which suggests the statements -- and the resulting criminal defamation charges -- stem from the Sheriff's Office's investigation of a homicide the Sheriff was initially unwilling to investigate as a homicide, despite the victim being found with a bullet through her head inside of her burned home.

The sheriff claims the former employee/current federal agent used a fake name to create accounts to send emails to the victim's family in order to undermine their confidence in the Sheriff's investigation. Yet again, the use of a pseudonym isn't a factor that should turn this from a civil case to a criminal case.

No, the problem here was someone was badmouthing the sheriff and his investigators. It may be some of what was said was substantially true. The sheriff's reluctance to investigate this death as a homicide -- at least not until he decided to run for re-election -- may have resulted in this case being back-burnered… and ultimately to the emails at the center of this attempted prosecution.

This internal investigation that has now manifested itself as an unconstitutional enforcement of a horrible law has also resulted in the firing of one of the office's investigators.

The arrest comes on the heels of the firing of Sgt. Stefan Montgomery, one of a team of Sheriff's Office investigators assigned to the Krentel case.

Documents from the Sheriff's Office said that Montgomery shared privileged information with someone outside the agency on multiple occasions. "This person then in turn used that information to defame the investigation, (Sheriff's Office) personnel and the ... agency," according to a document concerning Montgomery's termination.

This only makes this prosecution more disingenuous. If the emails the Sheriff is basing his criminal defamation case are based on credible information leaked to the suspect by another law enforcement officer, chances are there's a lot of truth in this so-called "defamation."

Even if everything the Sheriff is angry about is pure bullshit, the law cannot be used to prosecute someone who criticized public officials, even if the accused is a public official himself. Hopefully, the prosecutor will recognize this for what is -- a violation of the Constitution -- and refuse to move forward with charges. But this is Louisiana, and the state's prosecutors have shown repeatedly they're willing to compound unforced errors by local law enforcement.

Filed Under: 1st amendment, criminal defamation, critics, defamation, free speech, jerry larpenter, jerry rogers, law enforcement, livingston parish, louisiana, st. tammany parish, terre bonne parish


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 25 Sep 2019 @ 1:57pm

    A rule never enforced might as well not exist

    Despite that, law enforcement officers and agencies continue to use the state's criminal defamation law to punish people for saying bad things about public officials. In every case we've seen, the law is deployed unconstitutionally to protect law enforcement officers/officials and their friends -- a direct contradiction of the state supreme court's holding.

    The fact that the state's supreme court may have found it unconstitutional to (ab)use that way matters much less than if there's any penalties for doing so. With no penalties then there's no reason not to ignore the ruling and use it that way regardless, and as such it's hardly a surprise that it keeps happening.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Sep 2019 @ 3:06pm

    It doesn't help that Louisiana is not one of the 49 common-law states, so the courts are used to ignoring precedent.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 25 Sep 2019 @ 3:17pm

      Re:

      It is also used to being corrupt and closed to outsiders. If they want to be part of the US, they need to have their laws updated to match the rest of the states.

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

      • icon
        Nathan F (profile), 25 Sep 2019 @ 4:56pm

        Re: Re:

        Any particular reason we need to change our laws to accommodate the rest of the States?

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 25 Sep 2019 @ 5:31pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          The Constitution.

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

          • icon
            Nathan F (profile), 25 Sep 2019 @ 5:59pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            I'm sorry, but where does it say that Louisiana has to have every law in lockstop with every other state? Or for that matter every state having to have the exact same laws as every other state?

            I'm not trying to defend the law mentioned in the article, it does need to get removed from the books. Until such a time as it does we will just have rely on the courts to dismiss any attempts to prosecute anyone under it.

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

            • icon
              Gary (profile), 25 Sep 2019 @ 8:27pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              LOL. So you are arguing that everyone else has it wrong. Slavery is just fin in THIS state! Those Revenuers can't tell US what to do!!

              Yes - different states have different laws. But some protections laid out in the Constitution apple to al the stats. Even if they are inbred hillfolk that want to marry at age 9 and sell moonshine to 11 year olds!

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

              • icon
                Nathan F (profile), 25 Sep 2019 @ 10:41pm

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                I made no such argument. You are right that there are some rights and protections written out in the constitution, which is why there is no slavery in this state. However when it comes to other matters States have quite a bit of leeway, as long as it doesn't run afoul of any federal regulations.

                I'm arguing that Louisiana has just as much right to base their laws on something other than whatever that common law is from the first post as every other state has the right to base theirs off whatever they want.

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

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 25 Sep 2019 @ 7:45pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            That's not the way it works

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Oct 2019 @ 12:31pm

      Re:

      Of course everyone should use common law. Just let your judges effectively make laws and judge cases of that law. Makes so much sense. (Ex)-British countries are so funny.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Sep 2019 @ 3:16pm

    Why bother to care if your case doesn't win. It's not like you are paying for it. The Taxpayers are. It's free money.

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


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