St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Jack Strain was in damage-control mode Friday, posting an open letter to residents on the department’s Facebook page to explain his response to complaints of racist emails circulated by Capt. Bobby Juge of his staff — and the request of Slidell resident Belinda Parker Brown that he investigate.
“In one of this morning’s newspapers, there is a story concerning the forwarding of private emails several years ago by a Sheriff’s Office employee using his private email account. These were viral emails, written elsewhere and forwarded many times,” he wrote.
A story about the emails appeared in Friday’s New Orleans Advocate.
Several of the messages depicted black men as monkeys. One showed a photograph of President Ronald Reagan bottle-feeding a baby gorilla with the caption: “Rare photo of Ronald Reagan baby-sitting Barack Obama in early 1962.”
Strain said he does not condone or agree with the emails, which were sent from a private account belonging to Juge to other law enforcement authorities and public officials. But he said that as a law enforcement official, he must defend free-speech rights.
He said Juge’s record of public service shows he has treated all residents fairly and equitably. He highlighted Juge’s recent trip to Washington, D.C., for national police memorial ceremonies as evidence of his lack of racial animus. Juge was accompanied by an employee whom he had nominated as deputy of the year.
“They both said that their experience together in DC was as moving as ever and the two of them had a very rewarding few days together; although, sharing a single hotel room (to save money) was logistically challenging at times,” Strain wrote.
He added: “Incidentally, the detective he nominated happens to be an African-American.”
He then scolded Brown for trying “make this a racial issue” when, he said, the emails read more like a Mel Brooks movie script “making fun of everyone and everything” and not “solely an issue of black and white.”
“I have known this employee professionally for nearly 30 years, and I truly do not believe that these emails are indicative of what is in his heart. If I thought that was the case, even for one minute, I would have already terminated his employment with our agency. Is he guilty of forwarding emails with inappropriate content? Certainly. Along with almost everyone who has ever had an email address.”
Strain said Juge was counseled to make sure he understood the importance of employees’ actions being beyond reproach. The issue has been handled internally, he said, and is now finished.
“Although it is right for those in law enforcement to be held to a higher moral standard, it is also important to remember that we are all human beings and all capable of making ill-advised decisions,” Strain said.
Will online commenter ‘kefir’ be unmasked?
The Times-Picayune is pushing back against former city official Stacey Jackson’s latest attempt to unveil an anonymous commenter she claims tainted her upcoming federal corruption trial by posting inflammatory comments at nola.com.
Jackson believes the commenter, who posted under the handle “kefir,” could be Sal Perricone or Jan Mann, the disgraced federal prosecutors who left the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Orleans after being unmasked as commenters who posted acerbic remarks about various federal targets.
The newspaper, citing First Amendment protections, accused Jackson’s attorney, Eddie Castaing, of pursuing a “fishing expedition” and urged a federal judge Friday to quash a request to subpoena information that would reveal the identity of “kefir.” Castaing has already persuaded the court to approve subpoenas for information on two other commenters, “aircheck” and “jammer1954.”
Castaing is trying to show that Perricone, who left intemperate comments under an array of aliases, may not have acted alone and that other federal officials could have joined him in the commenting.
Lori Mince, an attorney for The Times-Picayune, said Castaing has failed to make a “sufficient showing” to overcome First Amendment protections of anonymous speech, adding: “It is highly likely that ‘kefir’ is simply one of many private citizens who have posted comments on nola.com about Ms. Jackson.”
Castaing pointed to a comment on an Aug. 4, 2008, story about Jackson he said was written in “Memo legal format” and addressed to Jackson. That style and other references in the comment, he contended, were suggestive of federal officials’ fingerprints.
Mince begged to differ in her response Friday. “Neither the legal profession nor Mr. Perricone and Ms. Mann have a monopoly on communicating through the ‘Memo’ form,” Mince wrote. “The writing format is not unique and is widely used outside of the legal profession.”
Castaing also suggested there could be a connection between Perricone and the alias in question because a doctor named Nicholas Perricone in Connecticut promotes the consumption of kefir, a fermented, probiotic milk drink from the Caucasus Mountains touted as “an anti-aging elixir.”
“Using Ms. Jackson’s creative Google skills,” Mince wrote, “it is equally likely that Ms. Jackson is ‘kefir,’ as there is a registered dietician by the name of Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, who also promotes the consumption of kefir for individuals with Crohn’s disease or colitis.”
After election loss, Truehart resigns
Perhaps smarting from the thrashing she took in the May 3 runoff for St. Tammany Parish coroner, Leanne Truehart has decided to resign from the Coroner’s Office, where she has served as mental health director since 2012.
Truehart, who lost by 16 percentage points to Charles Preston, said the move would be best for her “personally,” even as she called for voters to support Preston, who will be sworn in Monday as the parish’s first elected coroner since Peter Galvan left in October.
Galvan pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to steal public funds and is now serving a 24-month sentence in federal prison.
Truehart said her contract with the Coroner’s Office — which pays her $180,000 per year — expires at the end of June and that she would serve until then unless a replacement is named earlier. Preston has said he wants to make the mental health director an employee rather than an outside contractor; that change would require the Parish Council to set the salary for the position.
Truehart said she planned to take most of July and August off, then begin working again in September. She said she has “a number of job offers” in hand, though she declined to specify them.
Truehart was hired on a part-time basis by Galvan in 2011 and was elevated to full time the following year.
Playing both sides or hacked?
So was Robert Muller playing both sides of the fence, or was his email forged?
In two nearly verbatim emails, apparently sent one day apart and bearing his email address in the “from” field, Muller, who finished fourth in the April 5 primary for St. Tammany Parish coroner, pledged his vote to both candidates in the runoff.
The emails also said Muller would not make a public endorsement because it could “be detrimental to me in my possible future endeavors in law enforcement and forensics.”
Reached by phone Friday, Muller said somebody had monkeyed with his email and that he had offered his support only to Preston, the eventual winner.
“Yeah, somebody showed that to me, and somebody must have done that to the email,” he said.
But before the May 3 runoff, Truehart, the other candidate, encouraged a reporter to read Muller’s take on the election. On Friday, she said she and Muller had had “very positive” conversations about the runoff.
When asked about the email, Truehart laughed but refused to confirm whether she had received an email of support from Muller.
Compiled by staff writers Sara Pagones, Richard Thompson, Jim Mustian and Faimon A. Roberts III