Why Randy Smith is faking it is by no means clear, but nobody should be fooled.
Smith has been a cop for around 30 years, and, when he was sworn in as St. Tammany Parish Sheriff in 2016, received extravagant praise from then-U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite.
He can't possibly be as dumb as he makes out. Louisiana sheriffs are not always great legal scholars, but the rawest deputy from the backwoods will know it is against the law to falsify public records. Yet, when it turned out that one of his deputies had submitted a report full of lies to justify a DWI arrest, Smith said no crime had been committed.
State law prescribes up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine for filing a “document containing a false statement or false representation of a material fact.” Deputy Ricky Steinert should therefore have been charged with a felony when he decided to frame Ryan Heyd on a drunk-driving rap. In fact, when he was finally found out, and prosecutors refused charges against Heyd, Steinert was allowed to resign last year and move out of town.
Steinert would usually have gotten away with his story that Heyd had failed a field sobriety test, because St. Tammany is not one of those high-tech, modern departments with dashboard and body cameras. That doesn't matter in the vast majority of cases, because a breathalyzer reading will settle the issue and induce a plea from the guilty. But sometimes it's a cop's word against an alleged drunk driver's, and the courts tend not to agonize over that call. Thus, a rogue such as Steinert pretty much has carte blanche. When Heyd, who already had a DWI, refused to blow and took the field sobriety test, Steinert must have figured he didn't have a leg to stand on.
Sure enough, according to Steinert's report, Heyd lost his balance three times, failed to walk a line and did a great deal of swaying. But it was evidently Steinert who didn't have his wits about him, for he failed to notice that Heyd had a friend on the scene who whipped out his cell phone video camera. After that video, on which Heyd showed no signs of intoxication, was forwarded to prosecutors, Steinert admitted that his damning words had been copied and pasted from another report.
Steinert made at least 117 arrests since 2015, and it will presumably take some time to establish how many more of them were frame-ups. One conviction secured with Steinert's testimony has already been vacated.
Smith called Steinert a good cop, when it is glaringly obvious that he was a thoroughly rotten one, and explains he should not have been arrested because he did not break the law for personal gain. Filing a false report is illegal regardless of motive. If it is absurd for Smith to pretend he doesn't know that, ignorance of the law can never be an excuse for District Attorney Warren Montgomery. Yet Montgomery had made no move to bring charges, and the possibility of prosecution would never have arisen if The Advocate and WWL-TV had not started asking questions recently.
A false public record charge may not have been the only option available. Any scheme to convict the innocent with falsified evidence surely constitutes perversion of the course of justice, and an enterprising prosecutor could have ensured Steinert received the treatment appropriate for a crooked officer of the law.
Once Steinert's caper was reported in the paper, Smith and Montgomery were finally forced to take action, although their response could hardly have been more pathetic. They punted to state Attorney General Jeff Landry. Since Steinert has admitted falsifying a police report, Landry won't need to call on his top legal brains to figure out whether to file charges. Steinert would have to be pretty reckless to fight them; the evidence is overwhelming.
But Landry's office should never have been saddled with the case. Taxpayers are stuck with extra expenses because Smith and Montgomery have failed to do their jobs. A sheriff who really was too dumb to read the law could not have made a bigger mess of things.
Email James Gill at Gill1407@bellsouth.net.