ST. TAMMANY PARISH, La. — The Louisiana Attorney General declined to prosecute a federal agent for criminal defamation Friday saying the St Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office arrested him using an unconstitutional law.
Jerry Rogers, a federal agent for the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, was arrested by three St Tammany Parish Sheriff's deputies at his home on Sept. 16, 2019, and booked on a criminal defamation charge.
He had communicated with the family of high-profile homicide victim Nanette Krentel via anonymous emails that criticized the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office investigation of the 2017 crime.
"Because the alleged conduct under these specific facts involve statements aimed at a public official performing public duties, this office is precluded by law from moving forward with any criminal action," wrote Assistant Attorney General Joseph LeBeau in a letter to Rogers.
Louisiana's Criminal Defamation statute has been held unconstitutional by several courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court as it pertains to public officials.
The case was turned over to the state Attorney General's Office for prosecution after 22nd Judicial District Attorney Warren Montgomery recused his office because Rogers' wife works there.
RELATED: Who killed Nanette Krentel?
In their recusal letter, the Chief of the Criminal Division for Montgomery, Collin Sims noted the problems with the law and, therefore the arrest.
"Rogers' was arrested after a warrant was signed by Judge Raymond Childress, in which he found there was probable cause. While we are certainly disappointed with the Attorney General’s Office decision not to move forward with criminal action in this case, we accept their decision as well as the process," said STPSO spokesman Cpt. Scott Lee.
But the Rogers case has drawn the attention of the FBI’s Civil Rights Division, sources with knowledge of the case say.
Sources say that FBI agents are conducting interviews about the matter. In a letter that Trainor sent to this newspaper and WWL in late October, he said that Rogers “will continue to work with the FBI to assist in uncovering the wrongdoing(s) at the hands of Sheriff Smith.”
When Rogers was arrested, the Sheriff’s Office said he sent false and defamatory information about the Krentel case to her family, causing them to lose faith in the investigation.
Rogers, 47, says that three deputies showed up at his house, handcuffed him and put him in a squad car, but refused to tell him why he was being arrested. He said he was shocked and fearful.
“They said they had a warrant for my arrest, and I asked what it was for, and they said they’ll tell me later,” he said.
He didn’t learn he was being accused of defamation until the booking agent at the jail read him a press release issued by the Sheriff’s Office.
“I never even knew that defamation was a criminal charge, and I’ve been doing this (law enforcement) for 20 years,” said Rogers, who worked in the Sheriff’s Office years ago.
Under Louisiana law, criminal defamation is a misdemeanor. But while it remains on the books, it has come under fire. The state Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional in most cases in 1973, and the U.S. Supreme Court in 1964 found the law's wording unconstitutional.
Katie Schwartzmann, legal director for the ACLU of Louisiana, said in an earlier interview that the law is rarely used and “unfortunately it seems to be used as a tool to squelch political opposition.”
Smith said that neither he nor any other employee at the Sheriff’s office has been contacted by the FBI and that the arrest of Rogers is an ongoing investigation with additional arrests possible.
"I am skeptical of your sources, as it would be unheard of for the FBI to investigate the investigation of a Sheriff's Office warrant arrest,” he said in an email last Fall.