A White Castle police officer hopes to become the next sheriff of Iberville Parish but faces steep competition in two-term incumbent Brett Stassi. Both say combating drug abuse is a top priority.
Stassi, a Democrat who became sheriff in 2012, faces Democratic challenger Darren "D-man" Bourgeois. Both men say Iberville Parish is suffering with fallout from the opioid epidemic, including a rise in both legal and illegal drug abuse.
"What we need to improve is the thirst for drugs in Iberville Parish," Stassi said, adding that his office makes 400 to 500 drug-related arrests each year.
Bourgeois, a 28-year-old Plaquemine native, touted his background as a patrolman to counter the growing number of drug cases.
Election day is Oct. 12. The early voting period opens Saturday and runs through Oct. 5.
The incumbent, also a parish native, worked as a detective for the District Attorney's Office for more than three decades before running for sheriff. He was unopposed in 2015 and won with 54% of the vote in 2011.
Stassi, 58, said he's observed a sharp increase in drug-related arrests in recent years, some of which stem from people prescribed to powerful painkillers. He said it's led to a rise in medical calls but has also led to more illegal drug use.
"While we've been doing that, we saw it opened the back door for heroin to slip in," Stassi said.
The Parish Council this year joined thousands of other local governments by filing a lawsuit against several pharmaceutical companies, alleging they over-distributed prescription opioid drugs that doctors prescribed beyond their patients' medical needs. The result has been an enormous strain on the sheriff's office and its budget, the lawsuit alleges.
Iberville Parish has become the latest in a long line of local governments filing suit against doctors and pharmaceutical companies claiming t…
Stassi said if he's reelected, he plans to continue his work on giving inmates a path to sobriety when they arrive at the parish jail on drug charges.
He touted a program that recently launched that allows inmates to enroll in treatment programs while their cases are pending in court. About 100 people have so far gone through the program, and it's helped address their addictions before they leave jail, Stassi said.
"Instead of sitting in jail, they can enroll in this program," Stassi said, adding that the classes also address things like anger management and other treatment courses.
Bourgeois agrees with the sheriff's approach in the jail but expressed a need to do more drug and crime enforcement on the street, as well as finding ways to improve community relations.
He said that if he's elected, he wants to create a task force dedicated specifically to drugs and to employ the use of street cameras.
He said an important first step in taking any aggressive actions with drug enforcement would be to improve relations between the community and law officers.
"I feel the community and law enforcement officers really don't get along in the parish," he said. "I want to change that."
He said among his priorities would be to boost diversity on the force and increase patrols in areas with high crime levels.
The latest U.S. Census figures show the parish is roughly 50 percent white and 50 percent black. But Bourgeois said the sheriff's office employees don't represent that demographic makeup and that encouraging more people of color to apply for jobs would be a start to bridging stronger community ties.
NAME: Darren "D-Man" Bourgeois Sr.
EDUCATION: Graduated Plaquemine High School 2009; attended Southern University for two years.
OCCUPATION: Sergeant with the White Castle Police Department
NAME: Brett M. Stassi
EDUCATION: Graduated from St. John High School. Associate's Degree in criminal justice at Nicholls State University.
PROFESSION: Iberville Parish Sheriff. Previously detective for the District Attorney's Office.