GREENSBURG — In the shadow of Greensburg’s water tower, atop the hill at the corner of La. 10 and La. 37, the offices of mayor and police chief sit 10 steps apart but divided by a political mile.
Leaders said their small community of about 700 residents an hour’s drive northeast from Baton Rouge has been left in disarray following the June 2 resignation of Mayor Burke Jones, who hadn’t lived there in more than two years despite an ordinance requiring it, and the arrest Monday of Mayor-elect Willie Hurst, an alderman accused by police of interfering with an investigation of a domestic violence complaint.
“Our main situation in Greensburg right now is we need all of this settled so that we can move on with a little honesty and some integrity,” said Alderwoman-elect Jo Ellen Carruth, who will replace Hurst on the board starting Dec. 1. “There are so many wonderful people in Greensburg, and this has been very disruptive to our whole town.”
Carruth and others are hoping that outside intervention — like Gov. John Bel Edwards’ appointment of an interim mayor — will help calm the chaos and restore political order.
One outside agency already has stepped in. On Wednesday, District Attorney Scott Perrilloux said he will not prosecute Hurst on the allegations raised by police, which Perrilloux described as politically motivated.
Tensions have run high in Greensburg since the March 5 mayoral election, which some political insiders described as a referendum on whether to keep Police Chief Tim Brown, who was appointed to the post in 2012.
Hurst won the mayor’s race against Alderwoman Paula McNabb by a vote of 136-134.
Following Jones’ resignation, Hurst asked his fellow board members June 7 to support a motion appointing him as interim mayor, pending his officially assuming the office in December. The motion was never voted upon because none of the other aldermen offered a second.
Because the board failed to appoint an interim mayor within 20 days of Jones’ resignation, the task falls to the governor.
“Since the election, there’s been some people that, I don’t know, got mad politically, people not liking the way things went, not liking who’s there or whatever,” said Alderman Charles “Danny” Carruth, the son of Jo Ellen Carruth. “You know, politics. Then you end up with a big ol’ mess that don’t nobody want to clean up. That’s about the gist of it.”
Nine days after the election, Brown and another officer arrested Terran Love at 21 Under the Hill on a count of domestic abuse battery and accused him of choking the mother of his child. During that arrest, neighbor Phillip Travis cursed at the chief and told him that when the new mayor takes office, “Your ass will be gone,” a police report says.
Travis was trying to stop the officers from arresting Love after the woman said she did not want to pursue charges; she just wanted to leave.
When Brown explained that in a domestic violence case, the alleged abuser must be arrested regardless of the victim’s wishes, Travis tried to prevent the woman from leaving and called Mayor-elect Hurst to come to the scene, the report says.
Hurst arrived soon after and asked Brown whether the victim had any marks, whether there was a gray area in the law and whether an arrest was necessary, according to Brown’s supplemental report.
The chief advised the mayor-elect that the town would pursue charges, even if the victim wouldn’t.
“At this point Willie Hurst got back in his truck and left as he told Phillip Wayne Travis that this was not the time,” the police report notes.
Three months after that incident, and just days after Hurst’s failed motion to have himself appointed interim mayor, Brown obtained arrest warrants for Hurst and Travis on June 16.
Both men were booked Monday into the St. Helena Parish jail on counts of public intimidation and retaliation, a felony; obstruction of justice and interfering with a law enforcement investigation. Travis also was booked on counts of inciting a felony, intimidating or impeding a witness and a second count of public intimidation.
Neither man’s name appeared in the jail’s handwritten booking log Tuesday. Sheriff Nat Williams said the men’s names should be there, but his deputies never received the booking paperwork from Brown.
“It was all done through the town,” Williams said. “The chief made the arrests. He just used our facilities.”
Brown has declined to comment on the case. Messages left for Hurst have gone unreturned.
Perrilloux said Wednesday that he chose not to prosecute Hurst because the officers’ body camera footage “clearly sets out that Hurst did not commit a crime” and because Brown’s affidavit for an arrest warrant on the public intimidation count “was, at a minimum, very misleading and/or patently false.”
In that affidavit, Brown wrote that Hurst “did state that he would fire Chief Tim Brown by stating to Phillip Wayne Travis after (Travis) stated to Mr. Hurst that he (Hurst) should fire Chief Tim Brown by stating to (Travis) that this is not the time or place but he (Hurst) would take care of it.”
Perrilloux said that after reviewing the body camera footage numerous times, he saw no evidence the mayor-elect had ever said he was going to fire Brown.
“It’s unfortunate that the chief apparently let politics motivate his actions against Mr. Hurst,” Perrilloux said.
The district attorney is still reviewing the charges against Travis.
Danny Carruth said had he not missed the meeting at which Hurst sought appointment as interim mayor, he probably would have seconded Hurst’s motion.
“He’s going to be the mayor. He’s been elected,” Carruth said. “He’s going to end up there, so why keep prolonging something that’s going to happen anyway?”
Carruth said he had not seen the body camera footage and would not base his opinion of whether Hurst had done anything wrong or illegal on other people’s opinions.
“Too many people hate too many people in Greensburg and want to see bad things happen,” he said. “I’m not going to say he did right. I’m not going to say he did wrong. Because I don’t know the facts of what happened that night. That’s for the DA or whoever to decide, and whatever they decide is fine with me. But I don’t think the police chief or the town should be involved with it because that’s just a conflict of interest all the way around.”
Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter, @HeidiRKinchen, and call her at (225) 336-6981.