Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand said Wednesday his office has taken the unusual step of raiding another law enforcement agency in the parish, citing missing evidence and “sloppy” practices at the Grand Isle Police Department.
No police officers were arrested after the execution of a search warrant at Grand Isle police headquarters on Tuesday, and Normand stopped short of saying he would bring criminal charges. But the sheriff hinted at broader potential misconduct among officials in the small barrier-island town.
He said his agency’s undercover drug investigations in the area over the past few years, which have resulted in dozens of arrests, have been hampered by interference from the Grand Isle force.
“The island is kind of the end of the world,” Normand said. “Everybody knows everybody; everyone’s related to everybody.”
Normand spoke about the probe at the same time he unveiled the news that deputies had arrested 14 people in the small town as the result of a separate narcotics investigation. Left unsaid was what — if any — connection there is between the drug cases and the Police Department. Eighteen people in all were indicted in the sting, including some of the island’s biggest methamphetamine dealers, officials said.
Grand Isle Police Chief Euris DuBois said he was shocked when deputies wielding long guns appeared at his office on Tuesday, and he rejected the sheriff’s allegations of sloppy evidence storage. He also questioned why the Sheriff’s Office, instead of an agency outside the parish, was leading the investigation.
“I just don’t know why the sheriff’s after me. For what reason I don’t know. I never did the man nothing. Always supported him,” DuBois said. “We’re all sick about it, the way Jefferson Parish treated us yesterday.”
The inquiry into Grand Isle police, meanwhile, could create headaches for the office of Jefferson Parish District Attorney Paul Connick Jr. Normand said defense attorneys seize upon issues like poor evidence and record-keeping on behalf of clients who have been arrested or convicted based on cases made by sloppy police work.
Connick’s office declined to comment on whether prosecutors are reviewing cases generated by the Grand Isle Police Department.
Normand said his agency’s inquiry into police practices in Grand Isle started in the latter half of 2014 after another narcotics operation resulted in 58 arrests and made headlines because two volunteer firefighters were among the suspects. Defendants in that case told deputies there were improprieties in the town’s Police Department, he said.
On Tuesday, while some Jefferson deputies were arresting drug suspects, others surrounded the Grand Isle Police Department, then entered and searched the office.
Deputies found an evidence bag missing 87 grams of marijuana, a department cash box missing $4,000 and a gun in DuBois’ desk, according to Normand.
When investigators asked DuBois who owned the gun, he responded, “I don’t know.”
“It’s just not the way that business should be conducted,” Normand said. “I’m not suggesting that the chief did anything criminal. I don’t know. What we have is a bunch of missing evidence.”
In all, deputies seized 32 guns, items held in the department’s evidence room and police reports.
Normand said DuBois told deputies he kept the key to the cash box in his barbecue pit. DuBois at first could not find the keys, Normand said, and the money — which was supposed to be used in controlled purchases of narcotics — has yet to be found.
DuBois acknowledged that the Police Department’s evidence room is cluttered, but he said evidence is still properly tagged. “We put stuff where we can,” he said. “We don’t have the money that the sheriff’s got to build new buildings.”
But he disputed most of Normand’s other claims. He said he found the handgun in the department’s offices when he was elected 12 years ago and had simply been keeping it in storage until whoever owned the weapon came back to retrieve it.
The chief said he has not looked at the department cash box in months and did not take the missing money. As for the missing marijuana, DuBois said he did not see why an officer would bother to steal “about three joints” when the evidence room had pounds more of weed, thousands of dollars in cash and other drugs.
Grand Isle voters this month elected Laine Landry Sr. to replace DuBois starting July 1. Normand said he hopes the new chief will provide the Police Department with a fresh start.
Normand said that among the 18 suspects named in the latest drug investigation, the “primary distributors” were Kenny Lopinto, 32; Klabert Guilliot, 24; and Neil Richoux, 33.
Lopinto has been booked on counts of distribution of a Schedule I controlled dangerous substance, marijuana possession, distribution of heroin and two counts of distribution of methamphetamine. His bail has been set at $600,000.
Richoux has been booked on three counts of distribution of methamphetamine. His bail is set at $300,000.
Guilliot is at large. He is wanted on three counts of distribution of methamphetamine. His bail will be set at $300,000.