SORRENTO — The town Police Department, once responsible for serving and protecting this small Ascension Parish community for nearly 60 years, is officially closed for business.
With zero fanfare or reaction from residents gathered at Tuesday’s Town Council meeting, council members unanimously adopted an ordinance closing the scandal-plagued department effective immediately.
Voters agreed in the fall to abolish the department and the elected position of police chief, but state law required the Town Council to adopt an ordinance officially closing the department.
“It’s over with,” Mayor Mike Lambert said after the meeting. “Let’s move on.”
Councilman Don Schexnaydre said after the meeting that the Police Department’s closure will benefit the town tremendously as the town can now fully rely on educated and professional law enforcement officers for protection.
The town contracts with the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office for police protection.
“It’s the best thing for Sorrento,” Schexnaydre said.
The Police Department could be reinstituted, but it’s a process with many steps. First, the Town Council would have to approve a resolution seeking the reinstitution of the department, Lambert said. A state legislator representing Sorrento would then have to introduce a bill supporting the action, and the measure would then have to appear on a ballot for Sorrento residents to vote on, he said.
The Police Department’s shutdown has been nearly two years in the making.
As part of his 2013 mayoral campaign, Lambert vowed to close the department, a branch of the town government where Lambert believed costly embarrassments outweighed its public benefit.
In late 2013, the department lost its liability insurance for its officers and vehicles after its insurer, Risk Management Inc., declined to continue providing coverage, citing an excessive number of claims.
No other insurance company would provide coverage for the department at a comparable rate, and as a result, the department was forced to terminate a majority of its officers.
The town later terminated an officer after he used a Taser on a community college student because the student requested it, and also terminated an officer whose patrol car tracking device showed he exceeded 75 mph in the vehicle 720 times in a two-month period.
And last year, Earl Theriot Jr., who had served as police chief for 12 years, resigned as part of a federal plea agreement. He admitted to lying to FBI agents about his role in picking up a drunk woman in his police cruiser and engaging in inappropriate sexual behavior with her in 2013.
The woman has sued Theriot in federal court, accusing him of violating her constitutional rights.
Former town police clerk Fern Barnett ran to fill Theriot’s term and became chief after her two opponents dropped out of the race.
The Town Council refused to pay Barnett because council members said she had no police force to direct and therefore no job to perform.
Barnett left office five months later when the Town Council agreed to pay the money she was owed in exchange for her resignation.