Three hope to unseat first-term St. John Parish sheriff _lowres

Mike Tregre

The St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff’s Office said Friday that Sheriff Mike Tregre wasn’t aware until Thursday that one of his top deputies had circulated a memo in 2012 calling for narcotics deputies to produce a minimum number of arrests, search warrants and informants each month.

Because the sheriff never saw the document, the benchmarks that Maj. Walter Chappel laid out in the internal memo to “all narcotics personnel” were not official policy and therefore were not illegal under a state law that bars arrest quotas, according to a statement from the Sheriff’s Office.

The statement, which Tregre texted to a reporter, disputed the idea that the memo, which appeared on Sheriff’s Office letterhead, constituted policy or that it was ever put into operation.

“The St. John Sheriff’s Office has not implemented any sort of quota system, and no quota system was implemented within the Narcotics Bureau by the internal memo dated Oct. 2, 2012,” the statement reads.

“Sheriff Mike Tregre was not aware of the memo’s existence until after (its) publication in The New Orleans Advocate. Regardless, it is the position of Sheriff Tregre that there is no indication of the creation of a ‘quota system’ in the internal memo, and no quota system was ever implemented. Further, no part of the memo meets the standard of the ‘Prohibition against Quotas’ under Louisiana law.”

Chappel’s memo laid out several numerical “goals and objectives for the remainder of 2012.” Among them, it required each of the five deputies in the narcotics squad to produce “a minimum of six felony narcotics arrests per month (excluding drug paraphernalia),” along with two search warrants and two fresh informants per month.

A 2008 state law bars local police and sheriffs’ offices from creating “formally or informally, a plan to evaluate, promote, compensate or discipline a law enforcement officer on the basis of the officer making a predetermined or specified number” of any type of arrest within a specified period.

Under the law, the agency can’t even “suggest” that a certain number of arrests is required or expected.

The author of that law, former state Sen. Joe McPherson, said he wrote it with an eye to preventing excessive ticket-writing because “it looked like the entire state was becoming one big speed trap.”

Chappel’s memo was revealed to a defense attorney in response to a subpoena for the personnel records of two narcotics detectives who were accused of beating up a drug suspect last year in Edgard.

On Friday, District Attorney Bridget Dinvaut’s office turned over the memo and other records to several more attorneys representing various defendants in drug cases that were handled by those two deputies, Hardy Schexnayder and Travis Thomas, and a third former narcotics detective, Justin Bordelon.

Those three deputies lobbed cross-allegations against one another over the supposed beating of the suspect last year. An internal affairs investigator blamed the squabble on jealousy over Bordelon’s high arrest statistics.

That investigator, Capt. C.J. Destor, endorsed drug suspect Darnell Randle’s story that Schexnayder and Thomas pummeled him during a home search and lied about Bordelon’s role. A jury saw it otherwise this week, clearing the two deputies of wrongdoing in a federal civil rights lawsuit.

Tregre, who won re-election last month, acknowledged that Chappel wrote the memo, but he said Friday that he has taken no disciplinary action in the matter.

“An internal office memo created or distributed within a division or bureau of the Sheriff’s Office does not create an official department policy. The Oct. 2, 2012, internal memo was created and distributed within the Narcotics Bureau only and was done without the knowledge or approval of the sheriff,” the statement sent by Tregre reads.

“Therefore, the statements, goals and objectives contained within the memo do not represent any policy held by St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff’s Office.”

Defense attorney John Radziewicz, who received the memo in the case of a drug defendant he represents, dismissed the idea that it doesn’t describe arrest quotas.

“It was definitely saying, ‘You must do this. This is part of your job.’ It’s definitely a quota,” he said.

Tulane law professor Pam Metzger derided the Sheriff’s Office’s statement as a bizarre dismissal of the obvious.

“It is preposterous to suggest that the memorandum does anything other than establish an illegal quota,” Metzger said. “If Sheriff Tregre cannot see that the memorandum establishes a quota, then he lacks even a grade-school level acquaintance with basic math and English. If Sheriff Tregre needed The Advocate to tell him that this memorandum exists, he lacks even the most rudimentary set of leadership and management skills.”

Several defense attorneys asked a St. John Parish judge Friday for more time to digest the memo and present arguments that it, and other personnel information on detectives in the narcotics unit, should be allowed as evidence as they defend their clients.

District Judge J. Sterling Snowdy set a Jan. 11 hearing date for several such cases.

Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.