SORRENTO — Criticized by some residents for not doing enough to secure liability insurance for the town’s defunct Police Department, Councilman Don Schexnaydre told the Town Council on Tuesday that he can’t find a provider because of the department’s history of lawsuit payouts, lack of current leadership and its uncertain future.
Schexnaydre also publicly asked the two candidates running for chief of police to come before the Town Council and share their ideas for resurrecting the discontinued department.
On Nov. 4, Sorrento residents will decide if Fern Barnett or Jerry P. LeBlanc will continue the term of former Police Chief Earl Theriot Jr., who resigned in February as part of a plea agreement in lying to an FBI agent over his involvement in the alleged sexual assault of a drunk woman he picked up while on duty.
Theriot is scheduled to be sentenced Thursday in federal court.
His term ends June 30, 2017.
On the same Nov. 4 ballot, voters will decide on a proposition to abolish the police chief’s position and the Police Department entirely.
Although Schexnaydre has for months supported abolishing the Police Department, he said Tuesday that he sought quotes for liability policies for the department after residents accused him, other Town Council members and Mayor Mike Lambert of not doing enough to secure a policy.
Several insurance companies, through brokers, flat-out rejected the town’s request, he said.
Mark E. Dillard, of Professional Governmental Underwriters Inc. of Texas and Virginia, said in a report prepared for Schexnaydre: “It is impossible to underwrite the Law Enforcement Liability coverage for a department that doesn’t exist, especially when the leadership of that department is entirely up in the air. I must also take into account the residual ramifications of the prior administration.”
Dana Fawber, a broker with Prime Insurance Brokers, wrote on behalf of Indian Harbor Insurance Company: “We actually looked at this account earlier this year and declined to offer terms due to the loss history and the recent turmoil this department was going through and had indicated that even if we were able to consider offering terms we would be looking at a premium of $40k or higher.”
Two other companies, Lexington Insurance Company and CNA Insurance Company, have not committed to a quote in writing but Schexnaydre said both companies gave a verbal no to his request.
Another company, OSS Law Enforcement Advisors, based out of Spring, Texas, offered to charge the town $8,900 to create a risk assessment report that would evaluate the costs, benefits and risk of reconstituting the town’s Police Department, Schexnaydre said.
“I’m trying desperately to say enough’s enough here,” Schexnaydre said. “Can we please move forward?”
Schexnaydre said he placed a large red campaign sign at the corner of Airline Highway and La. 22 that says “Stop the Embarrassment! Vote to Abolish Sorrento Police Department.”
“I think it’s in the best interest of the town to abolish it,” Schexnaydre said.
The town Police Department has been without liability insurance for nearly a year after its provider, Risk Management Inc., declined to continue providing coverage in November.
Lambert has said the reason Risk Management canceled the Police Department’s coverage is because of the department’s excessive number of claims and because Theriot failed to comply with “various issues.”
In recent years, the Police Department has faced a number of lawsuits, been plagued by officer misconduct and accusations of harassment.
Schexnaydre said the town’s Police Department is currently facing three pending lawsuits.
Jerry Cronin, Risk Management’s general manager, has disputed this, explaining the cancellation was due to the town’s failure “to meet the underwriting requirements to maintain coverage.”
Schexnaydre said he reached out to Cronin this month to inquire about purchasing a new insurance policy for the department but Cronin replied in an email that the company would have to wait until after the November election before considering renewing any coverage.
Over the past year, several other companies have submitted insurance proposals to the Town Council but the proposals were more expensive than the department’s previous plan or left out important insurance coverage inclusions such as assault and battery.
The Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office now provides police protection for the town at an overtime rate of $36 per hour.
Schexnaydre said at this overtime rate, the Sheriff’s Office would charge $315,000 for one year’s protection, which is in the range of Theriot’s annual public safety budget of $318,000.
Sorrento resident Robert DeBate asked if Lambert could nail down the amount Sheriff Jeff Wiley is planning on charging if the town votes to abolish the Police Department.
DeBate said he has heard the Sheriff’s Office would charge from $300,000 to $500,000 for a year’s protection.
“All we can do is ask him,” Lambert replied.
Although both Barnett and LeBlanc have said previously that they are running for police chief to turn the Police Department around, Barnett said Tuesday during a phone interview that she “probably” would resign the position if elected and if the people of Sorrento vote to abolish the department.
“I probably would, and the reason I say ‘probably’ is I can’t see sitting there drawing a paycheck for two and a half years doing nothing,” Barnett said.
But she can’t rule out staying for the remainder of the term, either. “I don’t like to say never,” Barnett said.