St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff Mike Tregre faces a trio of challengers Saturday seeking to unseat the former career deputy who won election to the post in 2011 as a political newcomer.
Tregre faces off against retired Monsanto manager and former parish Public Works Director Clifford Bailey, of Edgard; recently retired St. John Sheriff’s Office Capt. Michael Hoover, of Garyville; and juvenile probation Officer Samantha Burl Wilson, of Mount Airy.
All are Democrats.
The St. John sheriff provides law enforcement in the parish while also overseeing a 300-bed jail.
Tregre, 49, credits better deputy training, a boost in street patrols and other strategies for strides in reducing violent crime in the parish. He also touts a state-funded inmate re-entry program that he runs as a way to get released convicts employed and reduce recidivism.
His opponents argue that Tregre has lost trust with the public and within the agency of about 250 employees.
Tregre, of LaPlace, roundly bested his former boss, Wayne Jones, to win the sheriff’s post in 2012. He was riding high on a dearth of homicides in the parish — there were none in the first half of this year — before a recent spate of three killings.
However, robberies and assaults in the parish rose sharply from 2012 to 2014, according to Sheriff’s Office figures. Overall, the office reported a 9 percent increase in crime in the first half of this year, although Tregre points to declines in five of seven categories, including homicide and rape. He blames the overall rise largely on shoplifting, burglary and theft reports.
He sees juvenile crime as the biggest public safety threat facing the parish, noting the shuttering of the local bowling alley and a skating rink, along with a movie theater closure. Tregre said he hopes for closer partnerships with the School Board and local organizations to give young people more positive things to do.
“Our efforts have been working: more manpower, visibility as a deterrent. I have a bicycle patrol now,” Tregre said. “The No. 1 problem was the homicides. I think we have a better grip on that. The bad guys know we have a different approach. We walk the streets. We canvass. We’ve got more crime cameras. We haven’t had this kind of partnership and cooperation from citizens in a long time.”
Tregre’s opponents cast a jaundiced eye at his positive outlook while focusing on recent criticisms of the sheriff’s handling of some high-profile matters.
Among them, Tregre came under fire in connection with cross-allegations by a trio of narcotics deputies over the bloodying of a suspect during a search for drugs and guns in Edgard. The trouble in the narcotics unit has prompted a lawsuit against the sheriff from one deputy who resigned, and questions have been raised about the impact of the dispute on scores of pending drug cases.
Tregre also faces criticism over the arrest of a man in a double murder on Oct. 5 who, according to his attorney, has an ironclad alibi from a Harrah’s New Orleans Casino video.
Tregre repeatedly has declined to comment on Derrence Greenup’s alibi, while denying a public-records request for the arrest warrant.
For his part, Tregre gives himself a grade of B-minus for his first term, acknowledging troubles with some deputies under his watch. In April, one deputy was charged and another fired for perjured testimony last year in a drug case.
“I got some officers (who have) done some things that are embarrassing, illegal,” he said. “They’re grown men and women. They do make mistakes. I don’t think you can ever stop that. I try my best to motivate, train,” he said.
Among his biggest challenges, he said, is officer retention, despite pay raises and increased benefits.
Tregre shook up the department when he took office. Among the deputies he demoted was Hoover, who said he resigned this year after 25 years to run against his former colleague.
Financially, Hoover presents the biggest challenge to Tregre, having raised $67,000 to Tregre’s $87,000 this year, according to the latest state filings.
Hoover, 50, touts his lengthy career working under three St. John sheriffs, beginning as a patrol officer in 1990. Like Tregre four years ago, he also touts a lack of political sheen.
Hoover cited Greenup’s recent arrest and the tumult in the narcotics section as examples of shaky leadership. Tregre also has failed to deliver, he said, on a promised West Bank substation.
“We’re not heading in the right direction as an agency and a community organization,” he said.
Hoover boasts a résumé that includes supervision of crisis intervention, DARE, honor guard, crime prevention and youth programs. A police academy training instructor who also led rape defense classes, Hoover said a run for sheriff has “always been in the back of my mind.”
“I’m a very proactive person. I always teach. I would teach the rookies at the academy that when this becomes your job, it’s time to step away. It has to be your passion,” he said. “The way things were going, it started being a job.”
Hoover said he also hopes to build a West Bank substation but wasn’t ready to promise one. He describes himself as “always the guy, when they needed something done, they would call me.”
Hoover argued that the Sheriff’s Office isn’t doing enough on crime prevention programs under Tregre.
Bailey, 62, is making his first run for public office with no law enforcement bona fides and no money to campaign. But he said he’s armed with decades of management experience at Monsanto and in operating coffee shops and clubs in the parish.
Bailey said he would press for closer ties between the Sheriff’s Office and pastors.
“I’m an outsider. I’m a businessman. I have the pulse of people, young voters. They believe in me; they trust me,” he said. “It takes a person who can reach across the aisle and talk to others. It takes pastors, talking to individuals, talking to the neighbors to get the youth back on track.”
Bailey was a mechanical maintenance training coordinator at Monsanto’s Luling plant, working more than three decades for the company. He also served as the parish’s public works director from 2008 to 2012.
Among his campaign planks is forming a special domestic violence unit and forging partnerships with community organizations to work with youth. He also aims to build a satellite office on the West Bank, his home.
“The sheriff enforces the law. That’s his duty: Keep the citizens safe. His deputies carry out the duties, and the sheriff manages. I’m a manager. I’m a born leader,” he said.
As sheriff, Bailey said, he’d maintain an open-door policy, with ready accessibility by phone.
“Who do you want to answer the phone at 2 in the morning? Clifford Bailey,” he said. “You won’t get a recording. It’ll be me.”
Wilson could not be reached by phone or Facebook.
A runoff, if needed, will take place Nov. 21.
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.