The police chief of a Louisiana town that has been struggling to find liability insurance for its police department abruptly retired on Feb. 7 after federal charges were filed in a bill of information accusing him of lying to an FBI agent about an alleged sexual assault of a heavily intoxicated woman last year.
The Advocate reports Sorrento, La., Police Chief Earl Theriot Jr. quit two days after the bill of information was filed in U.S. District Court in Baton Rouge.
The alleged charges were first made public in a federal civil damages lawsuit filed Jan. 17. The charge of lying to an FBI agent is a felony that can bring up to a five-year prison term with conviction.
Theriot has been at the center of controversy since his police department lost insurance this past fall and more recently as he became the subject of a criminal investigation into the sexual assault allegations that are now the basis of the federal criminal charge.
Ascension Parish Sheriff Jeff Wiley, along with state district and federal prosecutors, opened the criminal investigation last month. District Attorney Ricky Babin said that state investigation is expected to conclude next week. He declined further comment.
But even before the criminal probe began, town officials discussed whether the town should dissolve the police department and let Wiley take over.
In an open letter Jan. 13, the mayor and four of five council members called for Theriot’s resignation, prompting the then-chief’s “they can stick it” comment. By law, town officials couldn’t force out the chief.
Mayor Mike Lambert said he saw Theriot packing up his office but did not speak with him.
“We had our differences. I’m a little numb about it right now. I know the chief made a decision based on what he thought was best for himself, his family and the town of Sorrento,” Lambert said.
Theriot, who started his fourth four-year term as chief July 1, presented a notarized letter to the town informing them of “my notice of retirement, which will become effective Feb. 7, 2014.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office released a copy of the bill of information shortly before 10:30 a.m. Friday, about an hour after news of Theriot’s retirement became public.
The retirement letter also was delivered to the Louisiana Secretary of State’s Office.
Brandee Patrick, a spokeswoman for the Secretary of State, said the town must appoint an interim chief within 20 days of Theriot’s retirement and call a special election to fill the remainder of Theriot’s term. An election would be set for the fall, she said.
If the town does not appoint an interim chief, Gov. Bobby Jindal will appoint one, Patrick said.
The town of Sorrento has been in turmoil over how to handle its law enforcement services since the police department and its vehicles lost insurance coverage in November.
Theriot and assistant police chief Ricky Smith have been patrolling during daytime hours on weekdays while the town pays the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office to patrol at night and on weekends. Wiley said his office would continue to honor its patrol agreement with the town but also will respond to calls during the daytime.