GONZALES — Owen Ockman Jr., a former Sorrento police officer and reserve Gonzales police officer, was sentenced Monday to five years in prison for molesting his niece during her teenage years.
At the sentencing hearing in the Parish Courthouse Annex in Gonzales, state District Judge Jessie LeBlanc, who presided over Ockman’s two-day trial last year, called his behavior an “egregious breach of trust” because of the position of respect he held with his niece and because he was in law enforcement.
At the time of the abuse, Ockman, who will now have to register as a sex offender, was a Sorrento police officer who served on a state Attorney General’s Office task force dedicated to rooting out child abusers.
J. Rodney Baum, Ockman’s attorney, sought bail for his client while he appeals the sentence, which the judge approved, setting it at $125,000.
Last year, the victim, Bria Herron, who is now 21 and plans to graduate from college in May, testified that Ockman molested her during her high school years and that much of the abuse happened during family sleep-overs when many people would stay at his house.
Ockman, 36, 4216 Causeway Road, Gonzales, testified that his home was a gathering place for relatives and friends and their children and that horseplay such as slapping or grabbing others on the buttocks and being poked in the testicles, were part of his family’s sense of humor.
An Ascension Parish jury found Ockman guilty of indecent behavior with a juvenile Aug. 20 after about two hours of deliberation.
Herron, who lives in Springfield, said it was “terrifying” to be in court with him again on Monday, which was seven months after the trial. She said she suffered anxiety waiting for this day to pass.
His prison sentence, she said, is bittersweet because she didn’t want revenge but doesn’t want him to do what he did to her to anyone else.
“I still love him, but I just want him to change. I want him to get better. I want him to learn from this and not do it to anybody else and become a better person,” said Herron, who chose not to speak in court Monday.
Herron said that when she heard the judge grant Ockman bail, she immediately thought of his two children, her cousins.
Under newspaper policy, The Advocate does not identify victims of sex crimes, but Herron said she was speaking out because she believes victims should come forward even if the accused is a family member.
Herron, who said she has known Ockman all of her life, said when she came forward, she had been sick and anxious and went to several doctors because she didn’t know what was wrong with her.
“I kept thinking about it, and it just kind of came out,” Herron said.
Ockman faced up to seven years in prison and up to a $5,000 fine. LeBlanc said he will get credit for the time he served in jail but would get no “good time” reductions in his sentence.
Baum objected to LeBlanc’s sentence, calling it excessive and notified LeBlanc that Ockman would appeal.
“We had a good case for probation,” Baum said later.
Assistant District Attorney Joni Buquoi, who prosecuted Ockman, asked LeBlanc to set the bail as high as possible because she believed him to be a danger to society and also noted that Ockman has two children at home.
Baum countered that Ockman has been out on bail for three to four years, abided by the terms of the court and has faced no other allegations of misconduct with children, though he does have a pending driving while intoxicated charge from 2015 in Ascension.
“I think there are reasons for that,” Baum told LeBlanc.
Until the hearing Monday, Ockman had been free on $75,000 bail.
Deputies took Ockman into custody after Monday’s hearing, but Baum, who asked for special conditions for Ockman’s imprisonment because he is a former police officer, said he believed Ockman would be able to make bail.
Outside the courthouse, Herron’s family members embraced and told one another that the sentence offered closure.
The molestation occurred between May 2009 and August 2011 when Herron was between 14 and 16 years old.
Besides being a Sorrento police officer and serving on the attorney general’s task force, Ockman joined the Gonzales Police Department in fall 2012 as a reserve officer and was with the department for about a year.
Ockman testified last year that he left the department after the allegations against him arose and has been working in landscaping.
Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.