GONZALES — Three years before state Sen. Troy Brown allegedly punched a woman who claims to be his girlfriend at a New Orleans hotel, the same woman called Assumption Parish sheriff’s deputies about a domestic disturbance with the senator at her home in Labadieville.
Brown, 44, who is married to another woman, was not arrested after a deputy arrived at 9:58 p.m. Oct. 12, 2012, and found things were OK.
According to the sheriff’s report, the woman did not want to press charges and Brown had left.
Assumption Parish Sheriff Mike Waguespack, whose office provided the report Wednesday after a public records request, said it appears the incident was a verbal argument and that his deputies would have issued a warrant for Brown’s arrest had there been any signs of physical injury.
The same woman told New Orleans police officers that Brown, who had been drinking alcohol Saturday, punched her in the eye that night after an argument with him in his room at the Hyatt Regency hotel following the Bayou Classic football game.
She also claimed there had been past arguments with Brown in which he grabbed her, though he had not hit her.
Brown was arrested on a misdemeanor count of domestic abuse battery and, though he claims he does not remember the incident because of an old brain injury from a car accident, pleaded not guilty to the charge Monday in a New Orleans court.
Allegations of Brown’s relationship with the woman have come to light in the days since the encounter Saturday.
The woman told New Orleans officers she has been his “side friend” and been in a romantic relationship with him for more than 10 years.
In late 2007, Brown bought the Labadieville home where the 2012 argument occurred and the surrounding land for $95,000, Assumption land records show.
After donating the home and all of the land to one of his companies, he broke off part of the property where the house is located and sold it to the woman 11 months later for $85,000, land records show.
The woman has not returned calls for comment, including a call on Wednesday. On Monday night, a young adult answering her door in Labadieville refused comment on her behalf.
Troy Brown’s spokeswoman, Marsanne Golsby, claims the sale of the home was just another business transaction for a man who builds houses for a living. Golsby refused to entertain questions about his relationship with the woman.
“I don’t know whether she is his girlfriend or not. It has no bearing on whether or not he is fit to serve in office,” Golsby said.
But other questions have also emerged about Brown after he told the New Orleans police officers responding to the incident at the Hyatt that a Geismar address, which is outside of his Senate District 2 jurisdiction, is his home. The two-story, columned house in a cul-de-sac neighborhood at 36518 S. Francine Circle, Geismar, is in Senate District 18, Ascension Parish Registrar of Voters Robert Poche confirmed.
Under the state constitution, elected officials must be domiciled in the district they represent.
In election qualifying papers in 2011 and 2015, Brown, a Democrat who was re-elected to a second term Oct. 24, has listed his home as a small two-unit duplex in the Assumption Parish community of Paincourtville along La. 308 and next to a cane field.
Parish assessor’s offices have pegged the market value of the Geismar house at $493,200 while the Paincourtville duplex is at $193,700.
But Golsby contends Brown spends time in both homes and stays in one-half of the Paincourtville duplex some nights of the week when he is working late and rents out the other half. She said the Paincourtville home is his legal domicile. She said he built the Geismar home for the convenience of his wife because it is near her work. Toni Brown works for a bank on Siegen Lane in Baton Rouge.
Golsby said the Paincourtville duplex is near his parents’ home, his district office and the office of one of his businesses and is in the precinct where he has always been registered to vote.
“He has got deep roots there, and he has got deep connections there,” Golsby said.
Brown’s wife, Toni Baker Brown, was asked Wednesday at her home if Troy Brown lived in their house in Geismar. She responded: “He does.”
When asked if he lived anywhere else, Toni Brown declined further comment.
A longtime neighbor of the Browns, who wished not be identified, also said Troy Brown, while a busy guy on the go, lived at the Geismar home.
But Golsby countered that, as far as the legal question of his domicile, Brown’s domicile is in Assumption inside District 2.
“It doesn’t matter what anybody says. It matters what his legally defined residence is for legislative purposes,” Golsby said.
One major factor in Brown’s favor, Golsby said, is that Brown does not claim homestead exemption in Ascension or Assumption parishes. Assessor’s Office records in both parishes verify this claim.
On the other hand, several business records and three of Brown’s five annual Senate financial disclosure forms say his mailing address is the Geismar house. Also all of his property tax bills for his house in Ascension and his five properties in Assumption, including the Paincourtville duplex, are mailed to the Geismar house in Ascension.
Dane Ciolino, a Loyola University law professor, said that when the courts try to determine someone’s legal domicile, they look at the facts of each case. Homestead exemption is only one factor.
“You can look at all the available evidence, things like where he gets his mail, where he spends the night, where he parks his automobile, how much time he spends at each place, where he has his evening meal, so, you know, it’s everything,” Ciolino said.
He said courts are ultimately trying to determine where a person physically resides and where a person intends to make his primary place of habitation.
But Ciolino also notes that courts start out presuming an official is where he or she is registered to vote.
Glenn Koepp, secretary of the Senate, said the state Constitution says elected officials who are no longer domiciled in their district must vacate their office. But he says it would be up a court to decide that question, noting that voters could file a petition raising the issue.
Senate President John Alario Jr. said that if Brown were in a leadership position in the Senate, he would be removed from that post while he faced a “serious charge” like the domestic battery count until it is resolved.
“But, unfortunately, he is not in a leadership position, so there’s no action we need to take on him at this time, and we need to let it run its course in the judicial system,” Alario said.
However, Brown’s Senate web site notes he is vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Environmental Quality. Alario, when questioned about that position, said he originally hadn’t thought of vice chairmanships as being leadership positions, but acknowledged that they are. Alario said he will ask Brown to step aside from the vice chairmanship until the New Orleans incident is resolved in court.
Brown, along with the rest of the Senate, is slated to be seated for his second term in office Jan. 11.
Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter @NewsieDave.