HOUMA, La. — The Terrebonne Parish Sheriff vowed to continue investigating who is behind anti-corruption blog ‘Exposedat’, despite the potential conflict raised because the sheriff is featured in a number of the blogger’s posts.
Six sheriff’s deputies executed a search warrant at the home of a Houma Police Officer Tuesday, seizing two computers and five cell phones after two previous warrants revealed some sort of electronic connection between the home and the blog.
The officer, Wayne Anderson, has denied any involvement in Exposedat through his attorney.
Sheriff Jerry Larpenter issued a statement Thursday saying his office is investigating a complaint filed by Tony Alford, an insurance agent whose company, Anthony J. Alford Insurance, was recently awarded a no-bid professional services contract with Terrebonne Parish Government.
“The complaint is based on LRS 14:47 Defamation. The complaint conforms to the statue [sic] in question and is a criminal issue, not a freedom of speech,” Larpenter said in his statement.
The Louisiana Supreme Court ruled the criminal defamation law unconstitutional when its use attempts “to punish public expression and publication concerning public officials, public figures, and private individuals who are engaged in public affairs.”
In addition to holding public contracts, Tony Alford is also the acting President of the Terrebonne Parish Levee and Conservation District Board of Commissioners, a public position that requires him to file annual personal financial disclosures with the Louisiana Board of Ethics.
“We don't have all the facts. We certainly don't have all the facts that the sheriff has. But it looks to us like there is the possibility that the blogger was exercising his or her First Amendment rights and someone in power has reacted, or perhaps overreacted to that person exercising his or her First Amendment rights,” said WWL-TV Legal Analyst Donald “Chick” Foret.
Exposedat has posted about Alford’s connections to current Terrebonne Parish President Gordon Dove and an outside business the two own together.
The blog’s latest post, published less than a week ago, featured a picture of Alford and Sheriff Larpenter together. Larpenter’s wife Priscilla works for Anthony J. Alford Insurance.
Christian D. Lapeyre Insurance has a contract with the Sheriff’s Office as a broker for the office's insurance services. Lapeyre and Alford are partners in a third insurance agency, called Alford, Staples, Lapeyre & Robichaux, and they both use that firm's name on official documents relating to their public work.
The blog’s posts outline connections between Terrebonne’s top politicians: President Dove, Sheriff Larpenter and District Attorney Joseph Waitz, Jr.
Wednesday, in Larpenter told WWL-TV, “If you're gonna lie about me and make it under a fictitious name, I'm gonna come after you.” Thursday’s statement emphasized the investigation stemmed from a complaint made by Alford, not because of the Sheriff’s involvement.
“If I was advising the sheriff, I would say, Sheriff, listen, at some point, you can't be so aggressive that the FBI gets notified of a possible civil rights violation,” Foret said. “You can't conduct the business of the sheriff's office in such a way that you are moving forward a personal agenda.”
Thursday DA Waitz said he was handing off any possible prosecution of the blogging case to the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office.
According to Waitz, an Assistant Attorney General will represent the Sheriff’s Office in court Friday when Judge Randy Bethancourt is expected to hear arguments aimed at quashing the search warrant executed Tuesday.
Until that hearing is decided, the evidence seized has been held at the Terrebonne Parish Clerk of Court’s Office.