I am writing in response to James Gill's column concerning alleged criminal acts by members of the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office. At the outset, I want to communicate my appreciation, respect, and thanks to The Advocate and WWL-TV for bringing these allegations to my attention. No one is above the law, and everyone is entitled to a fair trial. At the same time, the public needs to have a more complete understanding of what my office is actually doing regarding this matter and why.
First, I am in fact investigating and prosecuting alleged criminal acts by members of the law enforcement community. Two matters are presently set for trial this spring, State vs. Szalajeski and State vs. Hollenbeck, involving people indicted by my office months before any media inquiry. We will continue to prosecute public corruption.
Gill is mistaken when he criticizes my support of the decision to refer the Steinert matter and others to the Louisiana attorney general for investigation. The citizens are entitled to have allegations of criminal behavior thoroughly investigated. In some cases, like this one, it helps to increase public trust when the investigation is handled by an independent agency. This does not “stick” the taxpayer with extra expenses, but gives the taxpayer extra confidence that the investigation will not be compromised.
Further, Gill overlooks a principle in the American criminal justice system. Traditionally, the sheriff investigates, and the district attorney prosecutes crime. The sheriff can’t prosecute, and although the district attorney may investigate, he has limited resources, and prosecution is his primary responsibility. Indeed, the district attorney should not normally initiate investigation of a criminal offense. Otherwise, he runs the risk of improperly charging an accused, which Gill himself so eloquently opined on in a Feb. 10, 2015, article entitled “Cambre Case Shows Prosecution Gone Wild,” concerning my predecessor.
For the reasons outlined in part in Gill's earlier opinion piece, referring the Steinert case to the state attorney general was appropriate, prudent, and fair. After the attorney general conducts his investigation, the matters will be returned to my office for prosecution, if warranted. My actions have and will speak for themselves.
22nd Judicial District Attorney