Louisiana Digital News

A young, energetic reporter could make a good living just writing about all the shenanigans in St. Tammany Parish


A young, energetic reporter could make a good living just writing about all the shenanigans in St. Tammany Parish

It’s really disturbing when a sitting judge relies on the word of the sheriff’s department in determining whether or not an arrest warrant is constitutional.

And when the judge’s obliviousness results in a federal investigation, things can really get nasty.

But that’s exactly what has happened to what began as a strictly local matter that now has literally turned into a federal case.

When St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Randy Smith had critic Jerry Rogers arrested in 2019, the sheriff’s office neglected to tell Judge Raymond Childress, who signed the arrest warrant, that the district attorney’s office had warned that the arrest might be unconstitutional.

Actually, there was no “might” to the whole episode. The state’s Criminal Defamation Statute was ruled UNCONSTITUTONAL more than half-a-century ago (1964, to be precise). And a prudent judge, if unaware of the law, could have done some cursory research to learn that a SIMILAR ACTION in Terrebonne Parish had resulted in a $250,000 settlement by then-Sheriff Jerry Larpenter.

You’d a-thunk a judge would be cognizant of that ruling. That might be something to consider at reelection time. You might also reasonably think the high sheriff would pull the reins in on seeking a warrant after being so-advised by the local DA.

So, after having been arrested, Rogers filed a lawsuit against the sheriff who sniffed that the suit was a “POLITICALLY-CHARGED STUNT” (as if the arrest itself was not).

So, what brought about all this legal bickering?

Well, for openers, it all goes back to the sheriff’s department’s rumbling, stumbling, bumbling investigation of the July 2017 murder of Nanette Krentel, wife of St. Tammany Fire Chief Steve Krentel.

Nanette Krentel was found in the burned wreckage of the couple’s Lacombe residence. It was later determined that she had died from a gunshot wound to the head.

Rogers had sent emails to her family critical of the failure of the sheriff’s department in general and Chief Deputy Danny Culpepper and Sgt. Keith Canizaro in particular to arrest a suspect in her murder. He said the lead detective in the case was “clueless” and a “stone-cold rookie.”

Smith took umbrage at any criticism of his department or his deputies and promptly had a warrant issued for Rogers’ arrest despite having been advised by the district attorney’s office that it would be unconstitutional to arrest anyone for the exercising of free speech, protected in the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

Now, recent court documents filed by Rogers (not to be confused with the Mr. Rogers of kids’ TV fame) argue that the sheriff’s actions are not protected by the qualified immunity used with increasing frequency by law enforcement, prosecutors and judges as protection against legal liability for their actions.

Moreover, the court documents indicate that Rogers’ arrest led to a call for an INVESTIGATION by an FBI agent who believes there may be a case for criminal conspiracy on the part of Sheriff Smith and some of his deputies. The agent made the call for the investigation after he interviewed Judge Childress.

Just another day in the life of residents of St. Tammany Parish, easily the most interesting parish in the gret stet of Looziana in terms of public scoundrels being given free housing by the courts.

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