Advocate writers and editors took a look back at another year filled with compelling community issues and tragedies to come up with the top 10 stories for 2014 for Acadiana and the state. The following is the list of top stories:
Superintendent Pat Cooper removed from office.
Lines in the sand were drawn by the feuding Lafayette Parish School Board and the parish’s school Superintendent Pat Cooper, and the bitter dispute between the two ended at a termination hearing this fall.
In the end, Cooper received the title of former superintendent after a majority of the board chose to oust him from office after it became obvious the differences were irreconcilable.
The vote to oust Cooper was 7-2.
Most of the board members determined Cooper was guilty of unworthiness, inefficiency and breach of contract. They said he failed to comply with board policy and state law on four of five charges levied against him related to his management decisions. Those were related to personnel and budgetary decisions Cooper made during the 2012-13 and 2013-14 fiscal years.
Throughout the ordeal, Cooper held on to the support of many in the business community.
Jason El Koubi, the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce’s president, said he had hoped for a different outcome for Cooper and the school system, but said the fall elections should provide a fresh start for the system.
“Like everyone, I’m disappointed that the disagreements between the current School Board and Dr. Cooper could not be resolved in a better way,” El Koubi said.
“I have no regrets,” Cooper said after the vote. “I feel like we’ve done a great job in the past three years. The whole issue of this firing, that’s part of the game. We have six people who control Lafayette and the education system, and that’s the way it is.”
The firing of Cooper didn’t end the dispute. Cooper followed the board’s decision by filing an appeal of the board’s termination decision in state district court. The board, in turn, told its attorney to seek to recover any expenses authorized by Cooper that were included in the budget — an amount that could reach $1.6 million.
Handcuffed man killed in police car.
During the early morning hours of March 3, 2014, Victor White III was pronounced dead of a gunshot wound.
What makes this case unusual is that White was shot while in the custody of the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office and sitting in the back seat of a police vehicle.
White’s hands were cuffed behind his back.
Iberia Parish Coroner Dr. Carl Ditch said White, 22, died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
“Although the decedent was handcuffed at the time with his hands to his back … the pathologist and investigators agree that he would have been able to manipulate the weapon to the point where the contact entrance wound was found,” Ditch said.
The coroner’s report did not end the White case.
The U.S. Department of Justice launched its own probe into the shooting death, which has sparked protests against the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office.
“This tragic incident deserves a full review of the evidence; our objective is to discover the truth,” U.S. Attorney Stephanie Finley said.
In addition, White’s family enlisted civil rights attorney Carol Powell-Lexing, a Monroe lawyer who was part of the legal team representing members of the Jena Six in 2007 and 2008.
“We really have no closure — and it appears to get worse without getting any better,” the Rev. Victor White Sr. said of the search to find out what led to his son’s death.
Speeding truck kills Breaux Bridge students.
It took only a matter of seconds for a routine walk to school by three Breaux Bridge girls to turn into a tragedy in late October on Martin Street.
Cornasha Flugence, 15, died at the scene; 14-year-old Kylee Henry died en route to the hospital. Cornasha’s sister, 13-year-old Niya Flugence, who survived, was taken to a Baton Rouge hospital.
State Police said Jeremy Abraham was driving his red pickup truck more than twice the posted 25 mph speed limit on the street when he allegedly hit the girls before smashing the truck into a utility pole.
He now faces two counts of vehicular homicide and a count of vehicular injury.
Abraham is a 13-year U.S. Army veteran who twice served in Iraq, and his mother said he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
State Police at the time of the crash said they expected impairment was a factor. Results from Abraham’s toxicology report are still pending.
Louisiana voters choose Cassidy.
Fall elections in much of the U.S., including Louisiana, will be remembered as a time when power in the U.S. Senate returned to the control of the Republican Party.
In Louisiana, Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy used the policies of President Barack Obama, unpopular with many Louisianians, against incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Democrat. Cassidy repeated over and over again that Landrieu was more aligned with Obama’s policies, most critically the 2010 Affordable Care Act, while neglecting the wishes of Louisiana residents.
It was a strategy that worked well. In the Dec. 6 runoff, Cassidy scored an easy win over the three-term senator, 56 percent to 44 percent.
Cassidy said voters made it clear they wanted the nation to go in a more conservative direction, “where we the people have the power and not the federal government,” the newly elected U.S. senator said at his victory party.
Cassidy’s win also marks the first time since 1883 that Louisiana will not have a Democrat in the U.S. Senate.
Landrieu, in a farewell speech to her colleagues, said she was experiencing “extraordinary peace.”
“It’s just been a joy,” Landrieu said on the Senate floor, “but I know that God is calling me to a different place. I’m not the least bit sad, and I’m not the least bit afraid. It’s just been a remarkable opportunity to serve with all of you.”
Landrieu said she plans to work as a private citizen for causes important to her before she and her husband return to Louisiana to retire.
District Attorney Mike Harson voted out.
A federal probe into whether bribes were paid to District Attorney’s Office employees in exchange for favorable treatment in DWI cases likely was the main factor that ended the string of election victories for DA Mike Harson.
Harson, a Democrat, held the office for 20 years before he was defeated in the November election by Keith Stutes, a longtime former employee.
Stutes, a Republican who served as prosecutor for 28 years, hit Harson hard for the bribery scandal and talked of the need for more businesslike management and accountability in the DA’s Office, including the need to better track criminal cases that Stutes said were slipping through the cracks.
Harson is not a target of the investigation and federal investigators doubt he was aware of the alleged scam.
University of Louisiana at Lafayette political science professor Pearson Cross accurately predicted that the scandal would hurt Harson’s re-election chances, although election results appeared to be mixed in the three parishes represented by the 15th Judicial District.
The district takes in Lafayette, Vermilion and Acadia parishes — and Stutes won overwhelmingly in Lafayette Parish.
“I don’t know if it was just the need to clean house or a need for change. I’m certain the scandal had some kind of effect on it, but there are other issues. I don’t know if I could single out a particular thing. It was a close race. I think it was just that people wanted something different, and I offered that: new and better,” Stutes said on election night.
The Catholic Church molestation scandals, revisited.
The child molestation accusations that rocked the Diocese of Lafayette in the 1980s sprang back into the public eye, when a raft of old documents were unearthed from federal court records by Minnesota Public Radio.
The documents provided new details about Lafayette-area priests accused of molesting — and sometimes raping — children in the decades before infamous pedophile priest Gilbert Gauthe became a household name in 1984.
The records also cast suspicion on one still-practicing priest: the Rev. Gilbert Dutel, accused in one deposition of coercing a young boy to have sex with him over a five- or six-year period.
Both Dutel and the diocese denied that accusation. The diocese said an investigation was conducted that exonerated Dutel of an accusation he molested the boy when he was 9 or 10 years old, but could not produce records of that probe.
“There was an investigation by Bishop Harry Flynn in 1992,” Monsignor Richard Greene, media liaison for the diocese, said in an emailed response to questions posed by The Advocate. “We have no record in the files, but apparently Bishop Flynn was satisfied that there was no credible allegation.”
Dutel has served as the priest at St. Edmond Catholic Church in Lafayette since June 2010. He issued a statement saying the allegations were found to be not credible in 1992, and he maintains that he is innocent.
“Let me assure you that I have not been a threat to young people in this parish or any other parish in which I have served as a priest or anywhere else,” Dutel said during a Sunday service at St. Edmond Catholic Church in Lafayette.
Diocese of Lafayette Bishop Michael Jarrell, who earlier said that the diocese knew of 15 priests who had committed offenses against minors, stood by the priest late this summer at St. Edmond. He also emphasized that there have been no new allegations of abuse occurring after 1984 raised within the diocese.
“I know it’s been very painful for many of you,” Jarrell told St. Edmond parishioners. “Most of what you read was old stuff.”
Louisiana’s gay marriage ban.
Louisiana’s prohibition on allowing gay couples to marry got different treatments from two judges — one state and one federal — sending the issue on to the higher courts.
In a 23-page ruling in September, state District Judge Edward Rubin in Lafayette ruled that Louisiana’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.
Rubin’s ruling conflicts with a decision handed down by U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman, of New Orleans, who a month earlier declared the state’s ban constitutional. Feldman is the only federal district judge to uphold a state ban on same-sex marriage since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in U.S. v. Windsor struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
Feldman’s ruling is expected to get taken up relatively quickly by the federal appellate courts. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to expedite the case, while the U.S. Supreme Court soon will consider a request to grab it for themselves.
Attorney Kyle Duncan, hired by the state to handle challenges to the same-sex marriage ban, has appealed Rubin’s ruling to the Louisiana Supreme Court. The Louisiana Supreme Court has said it will hear the state Attorney General’s Office appeal of Rubin’s ruling. Until that time, the ruling will have no impact on the status of same-sex marriages in Louisiana.
Rubin’s ruling was made in an adoption case involving two women in Lafayette. Angela Costanza and Chasity Brewer were legally married in California in 2008 and now live in Lafayette. The Lafayette judge likened the same-sex marriage ban to segregation-era prohibitions on interracial couples.
Eight-part series about Louisiana’s tax credit programs.
At a time when state officials are searching for dollars to make up the gigantic gap in revenue caused by the slump in oil prices, an eight-part series by The Advocate detailed how the state is not collecting more than $1 billion in tax incentives.
In some instances, the incentives are heading to the less-than-needy. The world’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart, benefits from one program. So does Valero, the largest independent refiner in the United States, and “Duck Dynasty,” the most popular show in the history of the A&E network.
Information provided by state economic departments show the six incentive programs examined by The Advocate jumped from $208 million in 2004 to $1.08 billion in 2014.
Over the course of a week, Advocate writers provided an in-depth look at how tax incentives related to the film industry, business inventory, solar power, industry in the fracking business, the Louisiana Enterprise Zone program and others.
Kidnapped woman screams, ‘Help, he is killing me.’
In May, six months after a woman was kidnapped by her ex-lover, details of the horrifying ordeal came to light.
Marcus Arceneaux was searching for his kidnapped cousin, Bethany Arceneaux, when he located her in a long-abandoned house.
“Help, he is killing me,” Bethany screamed.
The ex-lover, Scott Thomas, had already stabbed the woman in the face, neck and head by the time Marcus Arceneaux arrived at the west Lafayette Parish house.
To make him let her go, Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office Detective Mike Fincher wrote in a report, Marcus Arceneaux shot Thomas in the leg, then in the ribs. Thomas dropped the knife, and Bethany Arceneaux was able to roll away.
Thomas then gained control of the knife and stood to once again go after the woman, Fincher wrote in the report. Marcus Arceneaux shot him one more time, and Thomas died on the floor of the abandoned house.
“In viewing the evidence, I concur with the Sheriff’s Office’s assessment that the matter was a justifiable homicide,” Assistant District Attorney Pat Magee said. “But to ensure its (the legal process) completion, we have decided to submit it to the grand jury as well.”
The Lafayette Parish grand jury met a week later to decide whether Marcus Arceneaux should be charged with a crime.
On April 23, a Lafayette Parish grand jury cleared Marcus Arceneaux, now 20, of wrongdoing
‘Kissing Congressman’ loses re-election bid.
When he was elected to his first term in Congress in 2013, Vance McAllister was a political newcomer who had never set foot in the nation’s capital.
By early April of 2014, it wasn’t clear that McAllister’s visits to D.C., at least as the congressman for northeastern Louisiana, would continue for much longer. His short stint in office began to spiral out of control when he was captured on video in his district office passionately kissing a married staffer.
Then-U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Virginia, personally asked McAllister, a Republican, to resign. Gov. Bobby Jindal called McAllister’s behavior “an embarrassment” and called for his resignation.
By October, though, McAllister had qualified to run for re-election. He had been serving out the unexpired term of Rodney Alexander when elected in 2013.
Questioned about the possible effect on his re-election bid, he replied: “I don’t think I’m the first Christian to make a mistake.”
During the campaign, McAllister’s wife, Kelly, stood by her husband.
But voters in the 5th Congressional District chose not to forgive and forget at the polls in November. Instead, voters selected as runoff candidates Jamie Mayo, Monroe’s Democratic four-term mayor, and Dr. Ralph Abraham, a Republican rural family practitioner. McAllister finished in fourth place.
Abraham won the December runoff.