Houma blogger Jennifer Anderson is a Tulane grad and studied media law so she knows her rights when it comes to criticizing elected officials. She assumed they can’t punish her or violate her privacy just because she criticizes them. She was wrong.
Anderson anonymously published a blog called ExposeDAT. In it, she questioned some public contracts involving Terrebonne Parish Sheriff Jerry Larpenter and two other parish officials.
Larpenter didn’t care for the criticism and was determined to find out who was behind the anonymous blog attacking him. He obtained search warrants for Facebook and A&TT and discovered it was Anderson.
The Sheriff then sought a search warrant for Anderson’s home. Alarmingly, State District Judge Randall Bethancourt approved the warrant for the blatantly unconstitutional search of the Anderson home in 2016. It’s a prime example of the good ol' boys network in action. Weeks later, another court ruled Bethancourt’s warrant unconstitutional. No surprise there.
Linda Anderson was not home when six sheriff’s deputies showed up unannounced. Her husband, Wayne, a Houma police officer, was. The deputies searched the Anderson home and seized some of their computers and cellphones.
The sheriff’s department then contacted Wayne Anderson’s employer, the Houma Police Department, and informed the police chief Anderson’s home was the target of a criminal investigation for defamation. The Houma chief then placed Anderson on administrative leave for a week and a half. He had to turn in his gun and badge. Anderson was taken off the job solely because his wife had the audacity to criticize a thin-skinned, bullying sheriff. This happened in America in 2016.
The sheriff picked the wrong couple to mess with. The Andersons filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in New Orleans claiming the search of their home violated their First Amendment free-speech rights.
The sheriff's department’s insurance company decided it would be better to settle the case and agreed to pay the Andersons $150,000. Justice served.
After the settlement, U.S. District Judge Lance Africk said the damages caused by the sheriff's actions go beyond the trampling of the Andersons' constitutional rights.
"That message, if you speak ill of the sheriff of your parish, then the sheriff will direct his law enforcement resources toward forcibly entering your home and taking your belongings under the guise of a criminal investigation, is inseparable from the injury and would certainly chill anyone ... from engaging in similar constitutionally protected speech in the future," Africk said.
Larpenter is obviously unrepentant about all of this. “If you’re gonna lie about me and make it under a fictitious name, I’m gonna come after you,” he told WWL-TV.
Jennifer Anderson told me she believes Larpenter has not learned his lesson and will probably do something like this again. She says the sheriff has a reputation for being arrogant and sees himself as invincible. She says he is well known for silencing his critics.
Anderson believes Larpenter should be brought up on federal charges for violating her civil rights and thinks he should see prison time. Anderson’s attorney recommended she stop blogging while the litigation was pending. She is undecided if she will start blogging again now that the case is settled.
The sheriff’s behavior will, of course, end up costing the taxpayers of Terrebonne Parish. While the insurance company paid for the damages caused by Larpenter's vengeful, illegal, and tyrant-like behavior, insurance premiums are sure to go up. And go up they should as long as Jerry Larpenter remains sheriff of Terrebonne Parish.
When government officials so blatantly and in an unrepentant and remorseless way target citizens and violate their rights just because they don’t like being criticized, they present a clear and present danger to our constitutional republic. What holds our country together is the ability of our elected leaders, endowed with considerable power, to show restraint and live within the confines of our constitution.
Larpenter at the very least should admit what he did was wrong. If he refuses, he should be removed from office.
Dan Fagan is a former TV and radio broadcaster who lives in Metairie. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.