SOREENTO, LA (THECREOLE.COM) — Sorrento Police Chief Earl Theriot invited our news partners at The Creole to his office on Thursday mid-morning to respond to the numerous questions being asked with regard to his plans for the police department.
“I have to get my side out,” Theriot said as he extended the invitation “because there is a total vendetta against the police department, and I am sick of being bashed by certain officials. I’m fed up and I really don’t care anymore.”
As this reporter waited outside of town hall for the appointed time, Officer James Bell emerged from police headquarters and initiated a discussion concerning certain unflattering articles published in The Creole. The discussion turned animated and Assistant Police Chief Ricky Smith intervened. Chief Theriot described the mood pervading throughout the department by way of explanation for Officer Bell’s disposition.
“All of my officers are going to lose their jobs as of November 19,” Theriot said. “They are very frustrated and angry. How would you feel in their shoes? As of that date it will only be me and Ricky Smith left.”
Theriot was referring to the fact that, as of November 19, Sorrento PD will be without liability insurance coverage. He was informed that the insurance will be terminated by insurance provider, Risk Management, at a Monday, October 21 meeting. The Chief believes the decision to terminate his department’s coverage is the result of an orchestrated effort involving Sorrento’s recently installed mayor, Mike Lambert, who did campaign on a platform that included the elimination of the police department.
“The mayor sat right where you’re sitting across from my desk about a month ago and said to me, ‘Why don’t you let me do away with the PD and then you can sit back and collect your pay check without all the headaches,’” Earl Theriot claimed. “I know that Mike Lambert met with Risk Management sometime in August to discuss Sorrento PD. Why wasn’t I invited to that meeting? What did they talk about? Did they decide back in August to take this action? Why take the action now when everyone has known for a while that I’m having surgery on November 4 and will be out two months?”
A tale that is simply untrue according to Risk Management’s Jerry Cronin to Theriot’s assertion that Sorrento PD’s insurance coverage was terminated as a product of the mayor’s behind the scenes machinations.
“It was a business decision and nothing more. We did have a meeting at which we instructed the new administration in policies and procedures and nothing more. Insurance coverage is included in that presentation. The only time I met directly with Mayor Lambert to specifically address this issue was 20 minutes before I met with the police chief on Monday,” he said. “I provided the mayor and police chief with Risk Management’s letter terminating insurance coverage. The police chief received the letter only as a courtesy since I deal only with the mayor as the party who has the authority to contract on behalf of the town.”
Earl Theriot insists that Mayor Lambert’s motives are less than pure.
“Now he’s (Mike Lambert) claiming that he’s out looking for insurance quotes,” Chief Theriot continued. “That’s bull. He already told me it’s completely on me. They set it up to go like this.”
Theriot stated that the department awaits receipt of five quotes from various insurance providers in the effort to replace that which will be terminated.
“We’ve even been approached by certain citizens who have researched the issue and tried to obtain insurance quotes,” according to Assistant Chief Smith. “The town wants us here because they know our officers are only a few minutes away when they need us.”
“But it doesn’t matter,” he lamented. “Even if we receive a quote for the same price that would provide the same coverage the council has to approve it. And the council will refuse to approve anything that would allow the department to continue. It’s the mayor and four of the five councilmen lined up against me,” Chief Theriot claimed. “There have been acts by certain council members that violated our ordinances and the state code of ethics, but I have been discouraged from writing citations.”
Theriot believes that to be evidence of a political alliance acting in concert against him.
Mayor Lambert insists that he has never conspired with Risk Management, or anyone else, to effectuate the termination of Sorrento PD’s liability insurance.
“LMA and Risk Management briefed the incoming administration on all relevant matters in Sorrento’s operation,” he said “and that included insurance coverage for the town. There may very well have been concerns expressed about various parts of the coverage. Yes, I have talked to Chief Theriot about stepping aside because I believe it to be best for Sorrento,” Lambert went on. “As I’ve said before, if he’s going to dig in I’ll do what I can to make the best of the situation, and that includes reviewing alternate insurance. I have made calls and I’m waiting on a quote. I have discussed the matter with Risk Management, and I’ve been told that it is highly unlikely that any provider will quote an affordable rate.”
Theriot went on to claim that each administration since 2001 has tried to thwart him.
“They all have attempted to discredit the police department of Sorrento,” he said. ”Councilman Anny, when he was the acting Mayor, things were beginning to move forward. We had conversations with a hotel chain and other businesses about locating in Sorrento. Anny got the Levee Board to donate equipment to the town and there weren’t all the disruptions and adverse media coverage,” he said. “Then, Mayor Longanecker returned.”
“Maybe that is indicative of a problem in Earl Theriot’s leadership if every administration and mayor has tried to discredit him,” Mike Lambert responded.
According to Theriot, Risk Management’s Jerry Cronin informed him that it is terminating Sorrento PD’s liability insurance because two current officers were hired without following psychological testing protocol in the form of Matrix testing. Chief Theriot and Assistant Chief Ricky Smith both claimed that they have heard from other sources that the reason for Risk Management’s action was “an excessive number of claims against the department.” Smith cited a representative of the Louisiana Association of Chiefs of Police as one source.
They addressed both issues.
“Through communications with our insurance carrier, we understood that all we needed was a passing personality matrix test,” Ricky Smith said. “We hired officers who had passed the test during the hiring process at other police departments.”
Sorrento ordinance 42-26(7) requires that prospective officers pass the matrix or other psychological test that is acceptable to the chief of police and the liability insurer.
“The Chief made the decision to hire the officers in question because they had passed a test administered by another department. We understood that the decision was up to Chief Theriot when the officer candidate had passed a test. We have never hired an officer without a passing score,” Smith continued while conceding that Risk Management was not consulted before hiring the officers in question.
As to the allegations that there have been excessive claims against Sorrento PD, Earl Theriot responded.
“There have only been six claims against the department since I became chief in 2001, and all six were settled by Risk Management,” he said. “We pay Risk Management. Aren’t they supposed to represent the town against lawsuits? Risk Management has never gone to trial on any claim. They are always too eager to settle claims even when I insist on going to trial. I wouldn’t have settled most of those claims, but it was my name on the line. Risk Management has never cared about Earl Theriot’s reputation.”
The sexual discrimination claim made against Earl Theriot by Officer Cathy Gil is the one that most sticks in Theriot’s craw. Gil asserted that she received an obscene text which had been transmitted from Theriot’s phone.
“A lot of it I can’t talk about, but I assure you that I did not want that claim settled,” he insisted as he protested his innocence. “I had lost my phone at the time the text was supposedly sent. She initially claimed that the text had been sent from Assistant Chief Smith’s phone. That claim could never have been proven, but I had no chance to clear my name.”
Chief Earl Theriot then became introspective.
“In the end we must protect the people of Sorrento, and that’s what I’m most interested in,” he said. “Whatever happens I want to thank Sheriff Jeff Wiley and make sure he knows how much I appreciate what he’s doing to protect Sorrento and its citizens. I look forward, and would appreciate the opportunity, to work with him to resolve all these issues.”