SORRENTO — The Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office has proposed charging the town of Sorrento $353,832 for the first year with a possible increase of up to 5 percent the next year to provide policing services if voters decide Nov. 4 to abolish their Police Department.
“I think it’s an absolute bargain,” Mayor Mike Lambert said.
The town’s Police Department currently exists in name only.
The Police Department lost its liability insurance nearly a year ago when Risk Management Inc. declined to continue providing coverage. The town has been unable to find an insurance provider willing to take on a department known for a history of lawsuit payouts and officer misconduct.
Currently, the town pays the Sheriff’s Office a temporary overtime rate of $36 per hour, or approximately $315,000 if calculated annually, for police protection.
In a Sept. 29 letter, Ascension Parish Sheriff Jeff Wiley said the Sheriff’s Office is willing to provide, under contract, law enforcement services, including full-time patrol presence; specialized investigators and traffic enforcement as needed; administrative oversight of all Sorrento law enforcement operations; and ongoing training exceeding state requirements.
Wiley also wrote that the Sheriff’s Office would assume all liability for actions by employees assigned to Sorrento.
“That’s the biggest thing right there,” Councilman Don Schexnaydre said during Tuesday’s council meeting. “The assurance of no more liability.”
The town is involved in three pending lawsuits stemming from the Police Department.
Lambert said the sheriff’s proposal is $100,000 cheaper than the annual operating costs of former Police Chief Earl Theriot Jr.’s administration.
On the same Nov. 4 ballot, voters also will decide whether to allow either Fern Barnett or Jerry P. LeBlanc to continue Theriot’s term ending June 30, 2017.
Theriot resigned in February as part of a plea agreement for lying to an FBI agent over “inappropriate sexual contact” with a woman he picked up while on duty. He was sentenced to 24 months’ probation and fined $2,500.
Meanwhile, the Town Council on Tuesday went into an executive session for 40 minutes to discuss the woman’s federal lawsuit against both the town and Theriot. She is seeking $500,000 to settle the matter.
Although Risk Management’s liability insurance policy was in effect at the time of the Nov. 1 sexual encounter, Lambert said earlier in the week that Risk Management could refuse to pay the claim because of a possible sexual harassment exclusion in the town’s policy.