Former Sorrento Police Chief Earl Theriot Jr. violated the rights of a St. Amant woman who testified she was drunk when he picked her up in his police car, said it was his “lucky day” and took her to his office, where he used the threat of arrest to force her to perform a sex act on him, a federal judge ruled Monday.
U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick, who presided over the one-day bench trial, withheld ruling on monetary damages for the woman and whether the town of Sorrento also is liable for Theriot’s actions on Nov. 1, 2013, while he was serving as the town’s elected chief of police.
Theriot resigned in February 2014 and pleaded guilty that same month in federal court to lying to the FBI about the sexual encounter. He admitted to having “inappropriate sexual contact” with the woman and was put on probation for two years in September 2014.
The woman, who testified earlier Monday that she tried to take her own life as a result of her run-in with Theriot, previously offered to settle her lawsuit for $500,000.
Dick, who said she will file additional written reasons at a later date, ruled there was sexual contact between Theriot and the woman, that the woman was legally incapable of giving her consent, that Theriot knew or should have known she was incapacitated, and lastly that he violated his sworn duty to serve and protect.
“He failed in both,” the judge stated from the bench.
“We fought a good fight,” Theriot’s attorney, Sally Fleming, said outside the courtroom. She had no further comment.
The woman and her lead lawyer, Tregg Wilson, also declined comment.
Wilson called Theriot as his final witness Monday afternoon before resting his client’s case, but Theriot refused to answer any questions. To each of the roughly 10 questions posed to him by Wilson, Theriot answered, “Plead the Fifth” — a reference to the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Fleming said Theriot did so because the statute of limitations has not expired on possible state malfeasance in office charges against Theriot stemming from the sexual incident.
The questions Wilson asked Theriot in court included: Did Theriot buy the intoxicated woman additional alcohol as she claimed; did the woman consent to the sexual behavior; and did the former police chief offer her a deal in return for sexual favors?
Through tears and in a voice that trembled at times but also reached shouting level, the woman testified she was so intoxicated she “didn’t know if I was coming or going” when the then-chief took her to his office where she performed oral sex on him twice to avoid being arrested for public intoxication and loitering.
She had passed out outside 61 Junk Street, an antique shop in Sorrento, and was picked up by Theriot.
Shop owner Vickie Dupuy testified the intoxicated woman pleaded with Theriot not to arrest her before she left with him in the front seat of his car.
“I felt like he was holding that over her head,” Dupuy said. “It’s like she was scared. I trusted him, but I had this feeling that it wasn’t good.”
In documents filed last week in federal court, Theriot contends the intoxicated woman initiated “an unconsummated sexual encounter in a bid to persuade Mr. Theriot not to jail her.”
The woman acknowledged in her testimony Monday that her recollection of the events that day are not crystal clear because of her intoxication. She noted she moved to Ascension Parish from the New Orleans area after Hurricane Katrina ravaged that area in 2005.
While she was riding in the car, the victim testified, Theriot told her, “It was going to be my lucky day.” Theriot also groped at her chest and commented on its size and shape along the way, she said.
“He was referring to me as doing a friend a favor. I was going to do him a favor and he was going to do me a favor. It wasn’t specified what the favor was, but I knew,” the woman testified.
Once at the police station, she said, Theriot took her into his office through a rear door and told her to remain there quietly while he met with the mayor. Instead, the woman said, she called her boyfriend, which angered Theriot because her boyfriend called 911.
Once back in the office, Theriot sat in his chair, leaned back and spread his legs, and said, “This better be good,” she testified. The woman said she twice performed oral sex on Theriot, who she says at one point lowered her pants and underwear.
Theriot eventually called the woman’s longtime boyfriend and told him to pick her up from the Police Department. Her boyfriend testified she was so intoxicated she did not recognize him. He also said Theriot told him she kept coming on to him.
Sometime after the sexual encounter, the woman said, she cooperated with a joint Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office/FBI investigation and wore a recording device while speaking with Theriot. The recording was introduced into evidence during the trial.