One month after becoming the first Black citywide elected official in Lafayette history, Reggie Thomas was sworn in as Lafayette City Marshal, beginning the newest phase of a law enforcement career in Lafayette that spans more than three decades.
Thomas was sworn in Friday afternoon at the Heymann Performing Arts Center by Lafayette Clerk of Court Louis Perret and Lafayette City Court Judges Douglas Saloom and Michelle Odinet. The gathered crowd of family, former colleagues and community members gave a standing ovation after Thomas’ oath.
Thomas won the seat in a December runoff, defeating Duson Police Chief Kip Judice by 274 votes. Judice was present Friday, alongside police chiefs from Broussard, Carencro, Lafayette and Youngsville, newly elected District Attorney Don Landry and former Lafayette Police Chief Toby Aguillard, among others.
The new city marshal was all smiles after the ceremony. He said he’s excited and touched by the support from the community, and has been proud to see people from all walks and political backgrounds rally behind his office since the election. Now that the political part is over, he’s ready to get to work, he said.
“It’s like being at the starting gate. Now they shot the gun, I’m ready to go, I’m ready to start,” Thomas said.
Thomas’ historic election as the first Black citywide elected official in Lafayette’s history elevated the ceremony beyond the typical peaceful transfer of power. Family members and loved ones reveled in the moment as a sign of advancement for Lafayette and cheered the opportunity to strengthen the community.
“After having to take a test and go through all these changes in order to just register to vote, it’s just so exciting now to see that our son-in-law is going to be the first African American to hold a citywide office here in Lafayette. This is something we never dreamt of, that a person in our family would reach this height and would make history,” his mother-in-law Lorraine Washington said in video remarks.
Thomas recalled as a boy in New Orleans he would excitedly join his mother to pay bills downtown so he could eat at a lunch counter at a nearby Walgreens; the same Walgreens where his mother was denied counter seating during segregation. Thomas said each time he sat there he felt good.
“[My mother] said the way you felt when you sat at that counter is the way I feel about you becoming the next Black city marshal,” Thomas recounted.
Thomas grew up in New Orleans as one of five children, raised by a single mother after his father was killed when he was young. He entered the Air Force after high school; it was his first time leaving New Orleans and inspired him to do more, he said.
He joined the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office when he returned, and hoped to become a patrol officer, but a negative experience with a city police officer who stopped Thomas and a group of friends shifted his perspective. He was recruited to Lafayette in 1990, and found a city that embraced him.
He took that experience to heart and allowed it to guide his community policing efforts.
“One person can change your mind….Being the first African American city marshal…what that means to me is it gives me a platform, it gives me an ability to talk to someone just like me, without a father, and show them where they can be with hard work,” Thomas said.
Gethsemane Church of God and Christ pastor Bishop Alton Gatlin worked alongside Thomas in his community policing and outreach efforts at the Lafayette Police Department. Gatlin on Friday cheered Thomas as honorable, forthright, accessible and communicative, someone who brings everyone to the table.
Gatlin said he’s confident Thomas will maintain the community’s trust while serving in the city marshal’s office and will make the people proud.
“This is a wonderful opportunity. Today we celebrate and honor a servant. Reggie Thomas has been a servant of this city, of our state and of our nation all his life….Today, Eagle’s wings have brought Reginald from being in the streets, from being a servant in the police department for so long, to now he is making history and becoming a trailblazer for the city of Lafayette, and now we call him marshal,” he said.
Thomas also laid out goals for his deparment, citing plans to launch community policing initiatives, such as a youth mentoring program, improve the image of the marshal’s office and get the agency re-accredited with the assistance of his transition team and leadership, including newly named Chief Deputy Chris Trahan, a retired LPD captain.
Accreditation was lost under former City Marshal Brian Pope, who was convicted of three felony malfeasance in office charges and is serving a year in jail.
Lafayette Mayor-President Josh Guillory, who gave the welcome, pledged his support and the support of his administration behind Thomas’ office. Guillory, a former practicing attorney, praised the kindness, assistance and professionalism of deputy marshals he encountered at city court and said he expects Thomas to further elevate the agency.
“I have every confidence in our new marshal and his ability to lead, organize and lead from the front, lead with his heart and lead with his mind,” Guillory said.