75006108_2556257764427900_1346277835601346560_n.jpg

Arden Wells

The former Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff candidate arrested Monday on unauthorized entry to a parish facility said the “bogus” count stems from him trying to gather discarded campaign signs during election season.

Arden Wells, 64, was arrested by Attorney General’s Office investigators and booked on a count of unauthorized entry.

The agency has been vague about its arresting details other than saying Wells went onsite to a parish public works facility, which was closed at the time, by entering through a gap in the fencing. Wells said the incident happened weeks ago, prior to the Oct. 12 election, when he was gathering campaign signs.

He admitted to entering the parking lot when the gate was closed and locked.

“There was never any criminal intent on my part. I didn’t steal anything, I didn’t damage anything, I simply thought it was an inconvenience and they’ve made it into a felony,” Wells said Wednesday.

Wells was one of two challengers, the other being Cameron Crockett, running against incumbent and longtime Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff Daniel Edwards, the brother of Gov. John Bel Edwards.

Daniel Edwards, a Democrat, won the Oct. 12 primary with 58 percent of the vote, avoiding a runoff. Crockett and Wells, both Republicans, got 27 percent and 15 percent respectively.

Wells has run for public office numerous times over the years, including the Oct. 24, 2015, primary in which he came in last among the five candidates for sheriff, with 5 percent of the vote. Edwards won election outright in that primary with 65 percent of the vote.

Wells, who has been particularly critical of both Sheriff Edwards and Gov. Edwards, said he believes his arrest this week was an attempt to humiliate him.

TPSO posted about Wells’ arrest on its Facebook page Tuesday, saying that though it was not their arrest, they were confirming Wells had been arrested “in response to multiple inquiries.” The post went on to say that Wells was not housed at Tangipahoa Parish Jail but he was relocated soon after arrest “due to safety and security concerns.”

A TPSO spokeswoman deferred all information about the case to the Attorney General’s Office and did not outline what the security concern was or where Wells was taken. Wells said he was taken to Thibodaux but was released later that day Monday when he posted bond.

Wells said the incident took place at the parish’s public works facility on North Pleasant Ridge Road, a well-known site where code enforcement or other agencies discard confiscated signs that have been improperly placed, like those in a right-of-way, for example.

Candidates will often pick up their discarded signs there and Wells said he himself — as someone who has run for public office multiple times — has done so before.

This time, he said, the gate was locked even though it was early afternoon and workers were still inside the main building, so he assumed it was a mistake.

He said he gained access under a fence to the parking lot where the pile of campaign signs was discarded and began looking for his own campaign signs and Eddie Rispone signs he had placed in the community while campaigning against Gov. Edwards.

The Attorney General’s Office said in a brief statement Tuesday that it had received a complaint from the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Office about the unauthorized entry. Wells, however, said one of the workers came out and spoke to him while he searched through the pile but he was never told to leave. 

“It’s somebody looking in a garbage pile in a parking lot, not somebody breaking into a building or anything, so to put me in shackles and a waist chain and drive me three hours to a different jail is bogus,” Wells said.

Wells is set to appear in court on the count Dec. 22.

Email Emma Kennedy at ekennedy@theadvocate.com.