SORRENTO — The closing of the town’s Police Department, its legacy tarnished by lawsuits, federal charges and poor leadership, appears imminent.
The Town Council on Tuesday introduced an ordinance officially abolishing the department and will likely vote on the matter after a public hearing at its May 19 meeting.
Voters agreed in the fall to abolish the department and the position of elected police chief, but by state law, the Town Council must adopt an ordinance officially shutting down the department, town attorney Matthew Percy said Tuesday.
Police Chief Fern Barnett’s resignation last month left the position vacant and, in accordance with state law, thereby automatically abolished the position, Percy said.
Abolishing the department has been a long-time goal of Mayor Mike Lambert, who vowed as part of his 2013 mayoral campaign to shut down the department after several scandals.
Council members present Tuesday voted unanimously to introduce the ordinance. Councilman Randy Anny did not attend the meeting.
Council members also moved forward with selling surplus Police Department items, including $500 worth of Tasers to the French Settlement Police Department.
The Town Council also voted to donate a .22-caliber rifle to the Gonzales Police Department.
Councilman Don Schexnaydre asked Lambert if the Town Council could set a date to donate any unwanted items leftover from the Police Department.
“We need to be done with this,” Schexnaydre said.
Lambert said the sale of surplus Police Department items had netted the town about $12,000 but any leftover weapons, some of which are probably obsolete, are in the custody of the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office.
The town contracts with the Sheriff’s Office for police protection.
Lambert said he would prefer to sell or donate the weapons to a police force to keep them off the streets but set no deadline to get rid of any other surplus items.
The money raised from the sale of surplus items will go toward the town’s general fund, Lambert said.
Several Police Department scandals over recent years have embarrassed the town, including the termination of an officer after he used a Taser on a community college student because the student requested it, as well as the termination of an officer whose patrol car tracking device showed he exceeded 75 mph in the vehicle 720 times in a two-month period.
Last year, former Police Chief Earl Theriot Jr., who had served as chief for 12 years, resigned as part of a federal plea agreement. He admitted to lying to FBI agents about his role in picking up a drunk woman in his police cruiser and engaging in inappropriate sexual behavior with her in 2013.
The woman has sued Theriot in federal court, accusing him of violating her constitutional rights.
Former town police clerk Fern Barnett ran to fill Theriot’s police term and became chief after her two opponents dropped out of the race.