GRAND ISLE, La. – The Jefferson Parish Sheriff seized evidence, guns, police reports and computers from the Grand Isle Police Department as his deputies began an investigation into alleged improprieties in how the small-town department has been operating.
It comes on the heels of a two-year sweeping drug investigation by the JPSO that led to the arrest of 83 people on charges ranging from illegal possession of firearms and drug distribution to misdemeanor drug possession.
In a press conference Wednesday, Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand announced a special prosecutor assigned by the Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s Office had secured 18 indictments in the drug investigation, with deputies making seven additional arrests when they went looking for the indicted subjects Tuesday.
“We were able to infiltrate the island with undercover agents which was not a simple task. The island is, kind of, the end of the world, one way on, one way off. Everybody knows everybody. Everybody is related to everybody,” Normand said.
Normand said he and his deputies had been receiving reports of “problematic things” happening when Grand Isle Police had been making arrests in recent years. While unrelated to the drug probe, Normand’s officers executed the search warrant of Grand Isle Police Headquarters early Tuesday, as they were also searching for the people indicted on drug charges.
"We were made aware of a number of improprieties within the Grand Isle Police Department during the investigation," said Normand.
The search warrant at the Grand Isle Police headquarters at 170 Ludwig Lane resulted in the seizure of police reports, guns, and other evidence, but no arrests were made and the investigation is ongoing, according to the JPSO.
During the investigation, the JPSO found evidence bags at the Grand Isle PD that used to have marijuana in them were ripped open and drugs gone, Normand said. "There was no destruction ordered by the court, but the marijuana was gone," he said.
Euris Dubois is the outgoing Police Chief of Grand Isle. He decided not to run for re-election last fall, and a residents elected a new chief, Laine Landry, who is set to take over the department in July.
When asked whether Dubois ever conducted an inventory of the department’s evidence storage box, he said, “Every now and then we open it up and we look, we eyeball it and we know from the top what they should have on the top and everything was there all the time, yeah.”
Sheriff’s deputies found $4,000 cash missing from a separate police lockbox when they executed their search warrant Tuesday. It was grant money that the police department secured to conduct drug buys.
“I don't need that $4,000. Busted my rectum to get grants to get that money in that box. I'm not surely gonna go take it,” Dubois said.
Normand said when questioned Dubois said he kept the keys to the lockbox in a BBQ pit and that other members of the police department knew where Dubois hid them.
“My office key is in that BBQ pit. The reason I leave it there is I've got a modem for the computers in my office. Now, once a week, maybe twice a week, that modem goes out and you've gotta go in my office and reprogram everything. So, that's why I leave my key there,” Dubois said.
At the press conference Wednesday, Normand also held up a handgun that he said deputies found in Dubois’ desk, but Dubois told them he didn’t know whose gun it was or why it was in there.
Dubois said the gun was in his desk when he was elected police chief 12 years ago and he never moved it.
“I'm not suggesting that the chief did anything criminal. I don't know. What we have is a bunch of unanswered questions relative to missing evidence, missing money, don't know who the owners of guns are, keys to the cash box for money being in the BBQ pit and everybody knowing it's there,” Normand said.
The initial results of the police department probe came as Normand’s deputies were wrapping up the third phase of a massive drug investigation on Grand Isle. In all, at least 83 people have been arrested in connection with the investigation that began in 2014.
The former fire chief, Aubrey Chaisson, was arrested in connection with the drug sweep at that time. Chaisson pleaded guilty to possession of marijuana in 2015 and was sentenced to 6 months of intensive probation. Chaisson's ex-wife, Gina Bradberry Cheramie, was one of those arrested Tuesday. She was booked on two counts of dealing methamphetamine.
Tuesday’s sweep also led to the arrest of a former firefighter, Patrick Santiny, 52, on a distribution of meth charge.
Normand said three of the arrests announced were "primary distributors" of methamphetamine on Grand Isle, including Kenny Lopinto, 32, Klabert Guilliot, 24, and Neil Richoux, 43.
Richard Brouillette, Klabert Guilliot, Justin Hebert and Trevor Parr remain at large and are wanted by the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office for a variety of illegal narcotics violations.
Tyler Smith, Jane Freeman, Kate Crosby, Louis Dassau, Donny Dodson, Jacob Ellard, Randall Rigaurd, Angela Ledet, Matthew Madere, and Timothy Stevens were also arrested by the JPSO Tuesday on various drug distribution counts.
The JPSO began undercover operations on Grand Isle in July 2014, Normand said, with investigators formulating a "strategy to infiltrate" Grand Isle.
But undercover JPSO officers were pulled out of the area in the same year for fears for their safety after Normand said he thought Grand Isle officers were trying to "intimidate” them.