Clay Higgins, the St. Landry Parish sheriff’s captain who gained viral fame online through his weekly Crime Stoppers segments, announced his immediate resignation on Monday.
Higgins announced his departure on the steps of the St. Landry Parish courthouse and posted a video of the news event to the “Capt. Clay Higgins Gear” Facebook page, a social media outlet for the merchandise venture he began during his course as the lauded television lawman.
“I was not forced to resign. The sheriff didn’t ask for my resignation. Rather, I’ve turned in my badge as a matter of conscience,” Higgins said, wearing civilian clothes and a cowboy hat.
“I would die rather than sacrifice my principles. I would leave my wife without a husband, my children without a daddy, rather than kneel to the very forces of evil that I have so long stood against,” he said.
For the little more than the year he held the role, Higgins’ persona as St. Landry Sheriff’s Office spokesman has sparked positive responses from Acadiana-area television viewers and Internet users from around the world, with his videos clocking in millions of YouTube hits and earning him speaking engagements, advertising work and his own line of merchandise.
But he faced criticism over a recent Crime Stoppers segment in which he used his signature colorful commentary to bring attention to seven alleged Gremlins street-gang members, of the Abbeville area, on behalf of State Police.
In contrast to the usual scene of a solo Higgins doling out witticisms toward accused criminals he urges to surrender, the amped-up production in question also features his rifle, dozens of law enforcement officers and community leaders and language that drew the ire of the American Civil Liberties Union and family members of some of the accused.
“You will be hunted. You will be trapped. And if you raise your weapon to a man like me, we’ll return fire with superior fire,” Higgins says in the segment aired on KATC-TV.
Higgins goes on to call the accused criminals “animals” and “heathens,” and perhaps anticipating backlash from the production, he also makes note of the black community members standing behind him in the video.
“And for those who use this message as a way to create false racial division in our country, take a close look behind me. Next to every cop is a black leader of this community,” he says in the video, which ends with instrumental music and the message “Stand up America, Contact law enforcement with information on violent crimes.”
The ACLU, in its statement, said: “Assuming that what is reported is true, Mr. Higgins has suggested that those he seeks to arrest are subject to execution before trial.”
Higgins did not elaborate on which of St. Landry Parish Sheriff Bobby Guidroz’ orders he could not fulfill but said he admires and respects the man. Higgins also added he’s “certainly not backing down to the ACLU or anybody else.”
In a prepared statement released following Higgins’ Monday resignation, Guidroz agreed with the sentiments aired in the Gremlins video but said he had continuously asked Higgins to “tone down his unprofessional comments.”
“Secondly, I repeatedly told him to stop saying divisive, disrespectful or demeaning things like, ‘You have no brain cells,’ ‘knuckleheads’ or ‘liars,’ ” Guidroz said, adding the request “had nothing to do with the Gremlins video or bowing down to political correctness.”
Guidroz also said Higgins had recently posed in his uniform on the cover of a local magazine, without permission, and he used the Sheriff’s Office’s physical address to register his merchandise company — all of which features Higgins in a silhouetted version of his uniform campaign hat.
“The public needs to remember the department public information officer is a spokesperson for the sheriff and represents the sheriff’s words, thoughts and message. If Clay Higgins cannot agree with my words, thoughts and message, then he is correct in resigning his position,” Guidroz said.
Higgins, who began working in St. Landry Parish law enforcement roles in 2004 and joined the Sheriff’s Office in 2011, said he plans to remain a cop.
“I’ve got options,” Higgins said. “My phone is already ringing.”
Attendees of Higgins’ news conference closed out the 19-minute event with a round of applause.
Follow Lanie Lee Cook on Twitter, @lanieleecook, or contact her by phone at (337) 534-0825.