With state charges still possible, former Sorrento Police Chief Earl Theriot Jr. apologized in federal court Thursday to the law enforcement community and the town of Sorrento — but not his female victim — before being put on probation for lying to the FBI about his admitted “inappropriate sexual contact” with the heavily intoxicated Ascension Parish woman in November.
Chief U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson placed the 66-year-old Theriot on probation for two years and also fined him $2,500.
Theriot declined comment after the sentencing hearing, but U.S. Attorney Walt Green issued a harshly worded statement indicating the law enforcement community is better off without Theriot in its ranks.
“This defendant had no business being in a position of law enforcement authority. The people of Sorrento deserve better,” Green said.
Theriot’s victim, a 42-year-old woman, sued him in Baton Rouge federal court in January after the Nov. 1 incident and has called the incident a “sexual assault.”
The woman’s attorney, Tregg Wilson, was in Jackson’s courtroom for Theriot’s sentencing — as he was for the former police chief’s prior guilty plea — and said afterward the civil rights lawsuit will go forward.
“It doesn’t have any substantial impact,” Wilson said of the sentencing’s effect on the suit. “It’s a completely separate matter.”
District Attorney Ricky Babin, of the 23rd Judicial District — which encompasses Ascension, Assumption and St. James parishes — said his office has been waiting on the completion of the federal probe into Theriot for the state investigation of possible sexual battery charges against the former police chief.
“Now that it has been done, we will get as much information as the FBI will share to make a determination as to whether to proceed with a sexual battery case,” Babin said after Theriot’s sentencing.
Babin said he was waiting because the probe into Theriot was a joint investigation by the FBI and Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office.
Theriot claims his sexual contact with the woman was consensual, according to an April filing from her attorneys summarizing the suit’s status.
But Babin noted that consent may not include instances where someone in authority holds some benefit or threat over a person.
In the federal suit, the woman, who also claims she was severely intoxicated at the time, alleged that Theriot promised not to take her to jail if she gave him oral sex.
Theriot, who resigned in February before pleading guilty in federal court that month, admitted at that time to coming in contact with the woman at a Sorrento gas station, putting her in the front seat of his police car and taking her to his office at the Police Department, where he engaged in the sexual contact.
The woman’s suit claims Theriot gave her vodka and forced her to perform oral sex over a four-hour period while she was bound under the desk in his office.
Theriot, who faced up to six months in prison, told Jackson shortly before the judge sentenced him that he has paid a heavy price for his actions.
“I have to carry this burden the rest of my life,” he said.
Theriot’s attorney, Roger Jordan Jr., told the judge that Theriot’s 40-year law enforcement career should not be judged by a “singular event.” Jordan called the diabetic Vietnam War veteran a “prime candidate for probation.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Alan Stevens painted a different picture, telling Jackson that Theriot deserved some prison time for lying to the FBI and the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office about actions that occurred in his police car and at the police station. He also asked the judge to take into account the condition of the woman at the time.
“This was a very, very serious crime,” Stevens argued. “It’s more than an embarrassing situation. It is really an egregious set of facts.”
Theriot, who was police chief for more than 12 years, has admitted making numerous false statements in January to an FBI special agent and an Ascension Parish sheriff’s deputy who were investigating whether Theriot violated the woman’s civil rights.
Jackson said Theriot’s actions eroded the public’s confidence in law enforcement.
“You believed yourself to be above the law,” the judge told Theriot.
Outside the courthouse, Wilson described Theriot’s victim as “an alcoholic who is battling her addiction daily.”
“We feel good about how she’s handling matters,” he added.
Jordan reiterated outside the courthouse what he said inside.
“This was one singular incident in his long, long law enforcement career. Hopefully, he won’t be defined by this,” Jordan said.
Federal prosecutors had required that Theriot step down from office before he entered his guilty plea.
Green on Thursday said he was particularly grateful to Ascension Parish Sheriff Jeff Wiley, Babin and the FBI for working closely with the U.S. Attorney’s Office to make sure Theriot was removed from his position of trust and that his criminal conduct was addressed.
Prosecutors agreed not to file federal charges against Theriot in the sexual encounter that occurred in the former chief’s office.
An election will be held Nov. 4 to fill Theriot’s remaining term, which ends June 30, 2017.
Also on the Nov. 4 ballot is a proposition asking Sorrento voters to abolish the police chief’s position and the defunct Police Department, which was idled over insurance troubles.