Judge: Ex-Sorrento police chief’s sexual contact with drunk woman violated her civil rights _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- Former Sorrento Police Chief Earl Theriot arrives for his civil trial beginning at the Federal Courthouse in Baton Rouge on June 6, 2016. 

A St. Amant woman who was awarded $50,000 after being sexually assaulted in the office of then-Sorrento Police Chief Earl Theriot Jr. is not entitled to more money for alleged false imprisonment or emotional distress, a federal appellate court has decided.

The woman was drunk at the time of the November 2013 incident, and Theriot was on duty. He resigned and pleaded guilty in February 2014 to lying to the FBI about the sexual encounter, and was put on probation for two years.

U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick ruled last year that Theriot violated the woman's constitutional rights, and the judge found Theriot and the town of Sorrento liable for sexual assault and sexual battery. Dick said Theriot and the town owe the woman $50,000.

The judge, however, said the former police chief and town were not liable to the woman for false imprisonment or intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The woman appealed, and a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans affirmed the judge's ruling Thursday.

"We are disappointed with the ruling as the court chose to place an impossible burden on the plaintiff, effectively permitting Theriot to escape liability for additional damages under IIED and false arrest," the woman's attorney, Tregg Wilson, said Friday. IIED stands for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Theriot's attorney, Sally Fleming, said the federal appeals court — "under the facts presented here" — was correct in agreeing with Dick.

Scott Thomas, who represents the town of Sorrento, said he could not comment on the ruling.

The woman testified at the trial of her lawsuit against the town and Theriot that the chief forced her to perform sexual acts in his office after finding her drunk outside a Sorrento antique shop. His attorneys claimed she initiated the "unconsummated" sexual encounter to avoid jail.

Dick, though, ruled the woman at that time was legally incapable of consenting to sex, given her "extreme intoxication."

The woman said Theriot groped her in his police car while taking her back to his office. Theriot admitted at his guilty plea that he engaged in "inappropriate sexual contact" with her in his office.

Although she sat outside the back door of Theriot's office to smoke a cigarette, and used his telephone to call her boyfriend several times when Theriot left the office, the woman testified she believed she could not leave because of an implied threat of being sent to jail if she failed to cooperate with his demands, the 5th Circuit panel noted in its ruling.

In rejecting her false imprisonment claim, Dick cited the woman's testimony that she was not locked in Theriot's office and placed several phone calls to her boyfriend. The woman also testified Theriot used her belt to tie her wrists, but Dick said she failed to mention that in her FBI interview.

Earlier this year, Dick awarded nearly $40,000 in fees to the woman's attorneys.

Follow Joe Gyan Jr. on Twitter, @JoeGyanJr.