Trouble is brewing around the St. John the Baptist Parish courthouse, where dozens of pending drug prosecutions may be tainted by conflicting stories among former narcotics deputies about just how a suspect got bloodied last year during a search for drugs and guns in Edgard.
In a drama pitting deputy against deputy, somebody lied. Yet none of the three officers involved in the dispute has been fired, much less prosecuted.
Sheriff Mike Tregre ignored a recommendation that Deputies Hardy Schexnayder and Travis Thomas lose their jobs, after an internal investigation concluded that the pair had placed false blame on another deputy, Justin Bordelon, for a beating that sent Darnell Randle to the hospital.
The internal report suggests that Schexnayder and Thomas conspired to concoct an allegation against their fellow officer to cover their own misdeeds, in a “bitter attack” born out of jealousy over Bordelon’s stellar arrest numbers.
More than a year later, Schexnayder was demoted; he now stands sentry at the entrance to the sleepy Edgard courthouse. Thomas quit in April when he was reassigned to jail security.
Bordelon, whom the internal probe exonerated, resigned after he was suspended in May following an unrelated felony battery charge filed against him in Jefferson Parish. In that case, he is accused of smacking his 16-year-old daughter, giving her a black eye and yanking her to the floor by her ponytail.
Now, Tregre, who is up for re-election, faces two lawsuits: a federal civil rights complaint that Randle filed in February over the beating, and a defamation suit filed Monday by Thomas, who quit the Sheriff’s Office this year, claiming he was caught in the vortex of dirty politics.
District Attorney Bridget Dinvaut’s office, meanwhile, has inundated the courthouse with legal filings in case after case that the three deputies worked, aiming to keep future juries from hearing the sordid allegations — even though neither her office nor Tregre’s has turned over personnel records on the deputies, defense attorneys say.
The three deputies were among just five who worked in the St. John Parish narcotics squad when they all arrived at a house on Tigerville Loop on Feb. 7, 2014, prepared to seize a cache of guns.
Inside were Randle and another man. Both were detained. Bordelon would later admit trying to pry Randle’s mouth open with a “Stinger” flashlight, then grabbing Randle in a headlock and applying “pressure points” to get him to spit out a plastic bag of cocaine lodged in his mouth.
The internal report said Tregre’s office launched a probe after Maj. Walter Chappel, commander of the Narcotics Division, said he saw blood on the floor of the house and Thomas told him that Bordelon had repeatedly struck Randle with a flashlight to the face.
Schexnayder told Capt. C.J. Destor, the internal investigator, that he saw Bordelon punch Randle twice in the face. But when questioned, Randle blamed Thomas and Schexnayder.
“Travis was the one that kept punching me in the face, and Hardy kicked me and stomped me in my mouth,” he said, according to Destor’s March 5, 2014, report.
The investigation included polygraph tests that found Bordelon was truthful and that Schexnayder “was showing signs of deception and that he was not telling the truth,” the report said.
Thomas “also showed signs of deception,” but the polygraph was inconclusive, the report said.
Destor ran printouts that showed that, combined, the three detectives had “made” more than 400 arrests between them. Bordelon, who along with Thomas was hired in late 2009, accounted for 61 percent of those arrests.
Other than the arrest statistics, Destor offered no basis for his assertion that professional jealousy led Thomas and Schexnayder to lie about Bordelon.
Destor concluded that Bordelon should be cleared and returned to work, while Schexnayder and Thomas “should be severely punished for statements made during this investigation which were not true, and should be terminated for their actions.”
Destor wrote that the two deputies’ “credibility has been destroyed for future court cases, and this entire report becomes (exculpatory) material if and when any defense attorney asks to see if either of them have anything in their personnel files.”
Yet Destor’s report remained under wraps for nearly 14 months while the three deputies stayed on the job, working narcotics cases. It only emerged this year after Randle filed his federal lawsuit, naming Tregre, the parish law enforcement district and all of the deputies involved in the search.
In his lawsuit, Randle claims he has schizophrenia and suffered “lacerations and disfiguration to his face, and pain-inducing compressions to his chest region.”
Tregre declined to answer questions about his actions or discipline of the deputies, citing pending litigation.
Dinvaut did not return several messages.
Anthony Radosti, vice president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, said he met with Dinvaut in March after the commission received complaints about how the investigation was handled.
The commission was urging an independent investigation. At the time, Radosti said, Dinvaut didn’t appear to be aware of the depth of the trouble, nor had she received personnel records on the deputies.
“The idea was, if these officers did something wrong, they should be prosecuted. If they had not done anything wrong, their names should be cleared,” Radosti said.
Nothing like that appears to have taken place, he added.
“Unfortunately, they took the easy route,” he said. “The risk of not doing it is litigation in every single drug case because it wasn’t properly handled by the Sheriff’s Office. The sheriff dropped the ball on this one.”
In his defamation suit, Thomas names both Tregre and Destor, the captain who ran the internal probe. The former deputy claims in the suit that Tregre ignored his request to have Louisiana State Police investigate the allegations.
Thomas claims he was repeatedly told he’d been cleared of wrongdoing, only to find he’d been reassigned to corrections. Thomas says he wasn’t aware of the findings of the internal probe until this year.
He claims his name was sullied when the internal investigation turned up in federal and state court filings, including the file in the felony case lodged against Randle, 36, who faces drug, stolen gun and obstruction charges.
In an interview, Thomas maintains that he took Randle to the ground with a leg sweep and placed him on the ground but never beat or threw him.
He insists Bordelon socked Randle with a flashlight and that he quit rather than accept a transfer to the jail, where he said he was concerned about working around so many inmates he had arrested.
“My statement will never change,” Thomas said, describing Bordelon jumping on Randle’s back and “going to town on him. He started hitting him in the face. I just remember seeing blood in his mouth, spitting out blood.”
He said he recalled turning around to see Bordelon holding Randle in a choke hold.
“He was saying, ‘Go to sleep. Go to sleep.’ ”
Thomas called such a hold “a last-resort maneuver. I’m not going to choke you out to get it. What if you had it in your throat?” he said.
Thomas said there was no jealousy over Bordelon’s arrest figures, only a friendly competition to make good drug cases. He said he eagerly accepted an invitation in a meeting with Tregre to have State Police investigate, but it never happened.
In Destor’s report, a witness described Thomas packing up his things after he was called in for a polygraph, giving a co-worker a hug and saying “it was nice working with her and for her to promise him, she should never lie about anything in her career.”
Thomas said the report flipped his words around.
“I kind of saw where they were going with this. I was pissed these people were going to screw me over. I was crying,” he said. “I had respect for these guys. I’m about to lose my job for a lie that somebody told on me.”
Thomas said he joined the Sheriff’s Office in 2009 after law enforcement stints in Lafourche Parish and the Houma Police Department. He said he has since taken another law enforcement job but declined to say where.
His attorney, Nghana Lewis Gauff, said it appears the Sheriff’s Office “has a vested interest in protecting Bordelon,” based on what she described as a pattern of misconduct complaints against him that haven’t gone anywhere.
The lawsuit blames Tregre for allowing Destor, the internal affairs captain, to file a flimsy report that relied heavily on the statement of a drug offender who was under the influence.
Destor, however, concluded that Randle “recalls too much at the scene for him not to remember who beat him up.”
Bordelon’s attorney in the Jefferson Parish case, Joseph Marino, did not return calls.
But in three interviews for the internal investigation, Bordelon denied hitting Randle with a flashlight and insisted he saw blood in Randle’s mouth before trying to extract the cocaine. Bordelon acknowledged only prying Randle’s mouth open with the flashlight and applying “pressure points” that he learned at the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office, where his father is a top-ranking official.
Approached at the courthouse security door, Schexnayder, in uniform, declined to comment.
Randle, who tested positive for cocaine at the hospital, is next due in court on Wednesday. Last week, his public defender, Lisa Parker, lodged subpoenas seeking all personnel and investigative files on the three deputies.
His attorney in the federal lawsuit, Vercell Fiffie, declined to comment on the case.
Nowhere in Thomas’ police report are Randle’s alleged injuries mentioned. Thomas acknowledges grabbing Randle’s throat to extricate the cocaine and a right leg sweep to take him down, but no further physical force by deputies. The report says deputies found a bolt-action gun and a loaded, stolen .45-caliber handgun in the house.
Just how many parish drug prosecutions may be affected is uncertain.
According to figures from the internal report, the three deputies averaged a combined 10 drug busts per month up until the incident.
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.