The woman whose sexual assault allegations against former Sorrento Police Chief Earl Theriot Jr. led to his resignation from office and conviction for lying to an FBI agent earlier this year wants to settle her lawsuit over the incident for $500,000.
The offer, issued in a Sept. 8 letter from the woman’s attorney, comes about a month after U.S. District Judge Shelly D. Dick rejected a motion to dismiss the town of Sorrento from the lawsuit.
In the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Baton Rouge in January, the woman has accused Theriot of responding to a 911 call on Nov. 1, picking her up while she was drunk and unconscious in a parking lot, then coercing her to give him oral sex over a period of several hours in his office while he held the threat of jail over her.
The woman claims Theriot’s actions deprived her of her civil rights.
In Dick’s ruling, which keeps the town of Sorrento in the case, the judge found that Theriot, as elected chief, was the final decision-maker for law enforcement in Sorrento and that the alleged actions happened in the exercise of his law enforcement duties. Therefore, the town also could be held liable for Theriot’s alleged actions if they were proven in court.
Theriot pleaded guilty in February to a federal charge of lying about “inappropriate sexual contact” with the woman, but Theriot claims in the civil case that the oral sex was consensual. The woman claims she was too drunk to consent.
In the settlement letter, the woman’s attorney, Tregg Wilson, told the town’s attorney that he and his client are ready to start negotiations if someone — the town, Theriot or former insurer Risk Management Inc. — can tell him who has the ability to pay.
“It is, however, imperative that we know the ability of the parties to accomplish the goal, should we elect to begin talks,” Wilson wrote.
In late July, Dick dismissed Sorrento Mayor Mike Lambert and Risk Management Inc. from the suit. That ruling leaves Theriot, who is under two years’ probation after his sentence Sept. 18 and no longer in law enforcement, and the town as the only defendants.
The town of Sorrento’s general fund had just $918,123 in revenue when the 2012-2013 fiscal year ended, the last year for which an audit is available, and had a surplus of $603,482.
Wilson said Risk Management was dismissed because the self-funded risk management pool through the Louisiana Municipal Association is not viewed as a private insurer under state law and cannot be sued directly as a private insurance company.
But he said Risk Management’s policy was in effect at the time of the incident and claimed Risk Management still could end up being indirectly involved in any settlement, but through the town.
“It may very well be. I just won’t know about it,” Wilson said.
John Scott Thomas, an LMA attorney who represents the town in the case and also represented Risk Management before it was dismissed, said he has received the settlement demand letter.
“Beyond that, I am unable to comment at this time,” Thomas said Monday.
Mayor Lambert also declined comment. An attorney for Theriot did not return a message for comment Monday.
In Wilson’s letter to the town, he claims to be offering a good deal. He pointed to a 1992 federal lawsuit in Texas over a county sheriff accused of raping a murder suspect. The murder suspect was awarded $1 million each in compensatory and punitive damages, plus attorney’s fees. The District Court found the sheriff and county liable, according to Wilson and accounts from the Dallas Observer.
“That being said, I believe that my client is being more than fair in our offer to settle the instant case for the sum of $500,000,” Wilson wrote.
On appeal, however, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals partially reversed the District Court in the Texas case, holding the sheriff liable but ordering a new trial on the county’s liability, due to a procedural misstep.
The case later was settled for an undisclosed amount that involved the county and insurers, Thomas Kolker, a plaintiff’s attorney in that case, said Monday.
According to federal court records, however, a type of seizure writ for nearly $2.4 million was filed against the sheriff in 2005 to seek payment of the judgment and for interest.
Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.