St. Landry Parish’s law and order sheriff’s Capt. Clay Higgins, known for promising criminals they will be caught and punished, has drawn the ire of the American Civil Liberties Union over the latest televised segment of Crime Stoppers.
“You will be hunted. You will be trapped. And if you raise your weapon to a man like me, we’ll return fire with superior fire,” Higgins said in the segment that aired on KATC-TV on Wednesday.
Higgins directed the message at the seven alleged Gremlins street gang members who remain at large. The Gremlins gang hails from Vermilion Parish, namely Abbeville, but Higgins used the highly watched St. Landry Crime Stoppers to publicize the law enforcement effort.
As in past Crime Stoppers segments, Higgins employs his stern drill sergeant voice, mocking and belittling the fugitives, even sometimes cajoling them to turn themselves in.
Marjorie Esman, executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana, penned a statement that chastised Higgins’ message for what she said was stepping over a constitutional line. She said the use of the phrase “bounty on their heads” was an archaic term that recalled a less civilized law and order period.
But Higgins never used that phrase in the video. Esman and media outlets across the state read a draft copy of the Crime Stoppers script, which was published on the KATC website. It has since been removed from the Web page.
Esman said Friday that she still had problems with Higgins saying “You will be hunted. You will be trapped.”
“The issue remains,” she said. “He says, ‘You will be hunted.’ We don’t hunt people in this country.”
Higgins said Friday he wasn’t fomenting vigilantism, adding that Esman and the ACLU know nothing about him. He said he’s an advocate for prisoner rights and personal liberties and that he would never kill someone who didn’t seriously threaten police.
“Those guys at the ACLU, for them to accuse me of being some kind of redneck thug who has no concept of constitutional rights, they just haven’t researched me,” Higgins said.
Higgins then issued a challenge to the ACLU of Louisiana and Esman: a debate on civil liberties in front of 10,000 people inside the Pete Maravich Assembly Center at LSU.
“I could bring 9,998 of my followers, and they could bring both of theirs,” he said. “If they have a position they believe is righteous, and I have my position that I believe is righteous, then by all means let us stand on a stage in a debate format with an independent panel of judges. ”
Esman said Friday there would be no debate. “I’m not going to debate the Bill of Rights,” she said. “This isn’t anything you can win or lose. This is about the rights that the Constitution guarantees people in this country, and that’s not subject to debate.”
The Crime Stoppers video shows Higgins with local and state law enforcement personnel standing alongside civilian leaders of the black community.
In the video, the mugs of 10 Gremlin gang members who have been caught and jailed appear, then the seven photos of those who remain at large.
“Every one of these animals is armed and dangerous,” said Higgins, who added that he was interviewed this week on the syndicated radio show “Walton & Johnson,” whose hosts are big fans.
The ACLU’s statement also objected to Higgins’ characterization of the wanted fugitives as “heathens,” saying it’s “inappropriate and incorrect” for Higgins to apply a religious term to people when he has no specific information about their religious beliefs.
Esman added that it’s the job of law enforcement to protect a person’s legal rights “while keeping our communities safe.”
She continued, “Acting on valid arrest warrants in a legal manner is Mr. Higgins’ job. I hope he can do that well. In doing so, he must honor the laws of this country, or he is unfit to serve.”