evangeline009.adv

An Evangeline Parish sign is pictured along Hwy. 167 Thursday, December 29, 2016, near Ville Platte, La.

Advocate staff photo by LESLIE WESTBROOK

The old story about the Three Wise Monkeys perhaps explains why state Sen. Eric LaFleur passed on a U.S. Senate run and might pass on a state treasurer candidacy later this year.

Seems a lot of hearing no evil, seeing no evil, and speaking no evil has occurred for years, even decades, in Evangeline Parish, particularly in the parish seat of Ville Platte. Turns out that the city’s police and parish deputies regularly locked up people and hid the key for days without charging them of any crime, well past both constitutional and state statutory standards.

This unconstitutional and illegal practice caught the attention of the wider world when the U.S. Department of Justice investigated the matter. But around this corner of Acadiana, law enforcement and those associated with it knew it as an open secret.

And they now all play dumb about it. Ville Platte Police Chief Neal Lartigue, in office since 2007, said he had no idea the practice violated the Fourth Amendment. By implication, nor did any of his officers, who he said engaged in what he called customary behavior of long standing. Sheriff Eddie Soileau, in office since 2008, literally was mute on the matter, refusing to comment on the practice.

By law, all Peace Officer Standards and Training Council certified officers — by definition including all elected law enforcement officials — undergo at least 8 hours of continuing education each calendar year on legal issues and optional matters. These agency heads also deal with questions of legal arrests and detentions on a daily basis, interact with their officers (who in many cases also must undergo POST training), and surely read law enforcement literature that addresses this issue. It is inconceivable that these veteran elected officials did not know something taught in a basic American Government or Introduction to Criminal Justice college course.

That others who dealt with these law enforcement agencies on a regular basis did not know also defies belief. Alex Chapman, Jr., the parish public defender, said he had no inkling of the widespread nature of the activity — around 900 such incidents over a recent three-year period — since authorities would not book the victims. But his clientele under arrest surely would have talked to him about what they undoubtedly knew from their own experiences as “witnesses” rounded up without notice or legitimate cause or from knowing others who had been.

Then there’s LaFleur, who not only serves as a legislator for the area but also works as a municipal bond attorney and as Ville Platte’s city attorney. Before his 17-year stint representing his hometown, he prosecuted felonies in Orleans Parish. His words of wisdom on this matter consisted of “I think, in large part, they didn't know that they had a problem” and, “I just don't see it as widespread as maybe the report would make it sound,” figuring sloppy record-keeping explained most of the questionable detentions.

So LaFleur’s asking us to believe that in all those years involved with the city as an attorney and representing it in the Legislature he never heard of or at least considered as a problem something he surely knew was unconstitutional and illegal? Really?

LaFleur might have been the Democrats’ best hope to win the U.S. Senate seat that went to Republican John Kennedy. Recent talk has abounded that term limits on LaFleur’s present spot could vault him into the race to replace Kennedy as treasurer. Just as the roles of Lartigue and Soileau need further investigation in this matter, LaFleur — especially if he takes the plunge for treasurer — will need to explain further his actions regarding this controversy.

Jeff Sadow is an associate professor of political science at Louisiana State University-Shreveport, where he teaches Louisiana government. He is author of a blog about Louisiana politics, www.between-lines.com, where links to information in this column may be found. When the Louisiana Legislature is in session, he writes about legislation in it at www.laleglog.com. Follow him on Twitter, @jsadowadvocate or email jeffsadowtheadvocate@yahoo.com. His views do not necessarily express those of his employer.