The Evangeline Parish Sheriff's Office deputy who fatally shot an ATV driver during a traffic stop this month was involved in a previous in-custody death less than three years ago — an arrest he participated in before starting his police academy training.
The deputy, Holden Lafleur, had just joined the Ville Platte Police Department and was so new to the force that he wasn't even wearing a name tag — it was on order — when he responded to a bloody domestic disturbance involving a man who was high on PCP and attacking his girlfriend, according to records obtained by The Advocate.
Lafleur, who had no prior law enforcement experience and had been on the job less than three weeks, found himself in a volatile situation in which he and other officers struggled for several minutes to subdue a frequent drug user who investigators said had been exhibiting "superhuman strength." They used an array of techniques on the man, Keenan Ardoin, and eventually strapped him to a spine board before he became unresponsive.
The investigative State Police report about the December 2014 incident says that two of the responding officers — including Lafleur — had not finished all aspects of police training in Louisiana, which requires law enforcement officers both complete a certified training academy and firearms classes. This is allowed under state law, as police officers can take up to a year from the time they start a job to complete their training.
One of the officers who struck Ardoin repeatedly and applied a "pressure point technique" to the man's neck had not completed a "Peace Officer Standards & Training (POST) academy," although had some police experience. Lafleur, meanwhile, "had been scheduled to attend the next available Acadiana Law Enforcement Training Academy" at the time of the domestic disturbance, the report says.
"He had no business being on this call," said Donald Dobbins, a Baton Rouge attorney who filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Lafleur and the other officers on behalf of Ardoin's family. "He had never been trained in any kind of police procedure. It's very unusual — except in Ville Platte."
Ville Platte Police Chief Neal Lartigue said it's not uncommon for his newly hired officers to begin responding to calls for service before graduating from the academy. He said Lafleur had been riding with a supervisor that night and was "in field training."
"He was a good officer," Lartigue said of Lafleur, adding he left the department "on good terms" before joining the Evangeline Parish Sheriff's Office in September.
Lafleur could not be reached for comment. His attorney in the wrongful death lawsuit, Joy Rabalais, said Lafleur had been "cleared of any wrongdoing by the State Police." She declined further comment.
More recently, Lafleur fatally shot 27-year-old Dejuan Guillory during a 4 a.m. traffic stop on July 6 in a rural area south of Mamou. The sheriff's deputy told State Police that Guillory struck him in the head and that he had been "dazed and saw stars" before pulling out his gun and ordering Guillory to the ground. Guillory's girlfriend, Dequince Brown, is accused of attacking the deputy before he opened fire on Guillory. A police report says she threatened to kill the deputy and began biting him as he tried to handcuff Guillory.
An attorney for Brown has disputed the police account, saying she was trying to defend her boyfriend.
State Police booked Brown with one count of attempted murder. They continue to investigate whether Lafleur, who remains on administrative leave, was justified in shooting Guillory.
The earlier case, involving Ardoin, happened Dec. 4, 2014, in the 100 block of East Oak Street in Ville Platte. Ardoin's mother told authorities that her son frequently used PCP, adding he acted out violently when he "got some bad wet."
On the night in question, Ardoin had come home high and began trying to pull his girlfriend and her children out of bed. The girlfriend told State Police that Ardoin punched through a glass window in the bedroom and said "I am going to meet God" as the glass shattered.
Officers responded to Ardoin's residence about 12:45 a.m. and found the man attacking his girlfriend in the backyard, biting her breast and behaving erratically, according to the State Police report. The woman pleaded for help as Ardoin ignored officers' commands that he let her go. "She screamed but was able to do little else, as he was too strong," the report says.
One officer used pepper-spray on Ardoin, exposing the woman to the substance in the process. A long and violent struggle ensued in which officers tried several different techniques to bring Ardoin into submission.
One officer beat Ardoin in the thighs with a baton, while another "delivered knee strikes to the kidneys, elbow strikes to the shoulder and fist strikes to the chest of Ardoin" before applying "a pressure point technique to Ardoin's neck utilizing his thumb," the report says. The pressure point technique caused Ardoin to release his girlfriend, but the man continued to resist the officer and thrash around on the ground.
"I feel no pain," Ardoin said at one point, according to the State Police report. "I love my family."
Lafleur told State Police investigators that it seemed Ardoin had "superhuman strength, requiring three officers to gain control of him."
"Nothing the officers said to Ardoin seemed to resonate with him, and Ardoin never communicated with officers or acknowledged their presence."
Lafleur checked on Ardoin's girlfriend at one point before returning to the struggle. He told State Police that he placed his body around Ardoin's legs to "keep him from kicking" and then assisted his colleagues in strapping the man to a spine board with retention straps around his hips and legs.
Ardoin became unresponsive after being loaded into an ambulance and was later pronounced dead at the Mercy Regional Medical Center in Ville Platte. Terry Welke, the Calcasieu Parish coroner, ruled Ardon's death an "accident" and said he had died of "mixed drug intoxication following alleged usage of cocaine and PCP-laced marijuana." None of the injuries he received from police "caused the death," Welke wrote in a report.
One neighbor interviewed by State Police said he believe the officers had saved the life of Ardoin's girlfriend. "The cops did their job," he said, according to the State Police report.
But Dobbins, the attorney for Ardoin's family, said the officers had used excessive force. He also raised questions about the body camera footage that, according to police, only captured a portion of the arrest. "They tried to cover this up," he said. The family's lawsuit against the Ville Platte police department is still pending.
The only officer wearing a body camera that night, Chris Lemaire, told State Police that the department's body cameras "do not have a large memory and sometimes lapse." He said policy required officers to turn over their cameras to the assistant chief, who would upload the footage to a computer.
"Lemaire claimed he was frequently instructed by the assistant chief to just let it 'roll' causing the videos to be recorded over," the State Police report says. "Lemaire said officers were supposed to wear the chest camera all the time, but most do not."