Livingston — A challenger for sheriff in Livingston Parish faces accusations that he tried to have a child poisoned and that he beat his wife and menaced her with a gun, and a judge has ordered him to appear before a sanity commission.
Now the race for the parish’s top lawman is playing out in court. Challenger Eric McNeil, 35, has alleged that deputies working under incumbent Jason Ard, 43, have tried to harass and frame him, but a State Police investigator has found no evidence that would back up McNeil’s claims, court records show.
McNeil has denied the criminal accusations against him and says the Sheriff’s Office, District Attorney’s Office, Clerk of Court, several judges and the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services are conspiring against him. He says his trouble began due to a custody dispute between his wife and her ex-husband, who is now dating a woman with law enforcement connections.
For his part, Ard won’t address the charges lodged by his challenger. The incumbent sheriff, first elected in 2011, says he wants his campaign to focus on the job he’s done. Ard said he deserves to be re-elected based on his track record.
McNeil has accused deputies of planting narcotics in his truck, forging a judge’s signature and other abuses of power, which he chronicles in a Facebook page he created called Livingston Parish — Crime, Corruption & Cover Ups.
A prosecutor entered screen shots from that page and McNeil’s YouTube account as evidence when he requested McNeil be evaluated by mental health professionals in the course of two of his cases. He faces a combined three counts of inciting a felony, one count of felony domestic abuse or battery, and one count of aggravated assault with a firearm.
Assistant District Attorney David Guidry wrote that evidence raises “reasonable grounds to doubt (McNeil’s) capacity to proceed due to a mental disease or defect resulting in paranoid delusions.”
He is due in court next month, at which time the sanity commission will discuss its findings.
According to court documents, last year McNeil encouraged his three stepchildren to “put peanut products in (their 6-year-old stepbrother’s) food and on his pillow … aware that (the child) has the allergy to peanuts.”
A month or two later, McNeil’s wife filed a petition for a restraining order against him, saying her husband attacked her after she spoke to her three children from a previous marriage, which she wrote, “was not allowed.”
“(H)e jumped on top of me and punched me/kicked me all over my body. I got up and he pushed me into the door (and) my head split the panel,” McNeil’s wife wrote in her petition.
“He put a loaded gun to my head and told me he would kill me, my daughter, and himself,” she wrote. She also said that McNeil had previously broken her nose, choked her with a belt and threatened her with a gun.
“I am in fear of him. He will kill me and my daughter and himself if he has a chance again,” she wrote.
McNeil said his wife lied on the petition due to pressure from her family, who he said prefer his wife’s ex-husband to him.
When contacted by phone last week, McNeil’s wife said she supported her husband’s campaign but declined to discuss any of the ongoing court cases or her petition.
McNeil, who owns the HVAC company McNeil Mechanical Services, said that in the wake of all the accusations, his young daughter was placed into foster care where, he alleges, she was abused. He said he wants to be sheriff to make sure those in positions of authority obey the law themselves.
McNeil has accused deputies of planting evidence and other misdeeds. In May 2014, the State Police opened a bribery investigation, with an investigator concluding that he could find no evidence to support McNeil’s contentions.
Ard, the current sheriff, declined to comment when asked about McNeil’s campaign. However, a portion of email correspondence between the two has been entered as evidence in court.
In August, McNeil asked, “man to man,” if signatures on his warrants appeared legitimate.
“Yes they do. (Sheriff’s Maj.) Alden Thomasson and (Judge Bruce) Bennett signed your warrants. No one at my office forged anything,” Ard responded. “Man to man … It looks like you need to get yourself a good attorney. If you feel the need to call the FBI, CIA, or NCIS then that you (sic) God given right.”
In an interview about the campaign, Ard emphasized his record as sheriff, noting he has allowed administrative positions to thin with attrition, creating more salary room for patrol deputies. He said the office has added about 17 or 20 deputy positions during his tenure, bringing the force up to approximately 300 sworn deputies.
The biggest issue facing parish law enforcement is growth and development, Ard said. Most calls are for “nuisance” crimes such as burglary, theft, speeding and disturbing the peace, and the parish does not have problems with gangs, he continued. The challenge will be in keeping pace with a rising population.
At present, the local jail cannot fit all the parish’s inmates and must pay roughly $25 per day per inmate to house some inmates out of the jurisdiction. It was not immediately clear how many inmates are currently shipped elsewhere, but Livingston moved 25 to Catahoula Parish in the spring, and Ard said his office still has inmates in other localities.
Some jurisdictions keep jail populations down by releasing certain inmates without bail, but Ard said he is “not a fan” of such an arrangement.
“You need to be able to put your foot down and put people in the detention center and keep them there,” he said.
The incumbent acknowledged that he has not fulfilled one of his campaign promises from the last time he sought office — the Sheriff’s Office still does not have substations.
However, Ard said he is still working to establish posts in communities in the southern and eastern regions of the parish, and French Settlement has already drawn up an unsigned agreement that would provide a space for parish law enforcement to set up in a village-owned building.
Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.