Possible grand jury probe into DeSoto Parish LACE program placed on hold

DeSoto grand jury proceedings at center of court fight

MANSFIELD, LA (KSLA) - A possible grand jury probe into how DeSoto Parish officials ran a ticket-writing program has been placed on hold, for now. Desoto Parish District Attorney Gary Evans planned to call a grand jury to investigate matters related to possible criminal misconduct related to the LACE program in the DeSoto Parish Sheriff’s Office.

District Attorney Gary Evans, 42nd Judicial District
District Attorney Gary Evans, 42nd Judicial District (Louisiana District Attorneys Association)

According to sources on background, two former department employees were subpoenaed to testify Monday morning. But Friday afternoon, Sheriff Jayson Richardson through a New Orleans-based attorney filed a motion in district court to get Gary Evans recused from overseeing the investigation - at least temporarily suspending any inquiry.

The hearing on that motion was suspended until Friday, October 12 as Richardson’s lawyers are filing a subpoena to have Evans testify Friday at 1:00 pm. According to Richardson’s motion, Evans is conducting the grand jury in order to influence the sheriff election.

DeSoto Parish Sheriff Jayson Richardson
DeSoto Parish Sheriff Jayson Richardson (DeSoto Parish Sheriff's Office)

Former Sheriff Rodney Arbuckle was also in the courtroom Monday, along with at least another dozen sheriff’s office employees, deputies and high ranking officials. When asked whether he believes he’s a target of Evans' investigation, Arbuckle said, ”That’s what we are hear to see. Hopefully we will learn something about what’s going on. I don’t trust Gary Evans. I think he’s trying to influence the election for sheriff. We know who his guy is in the race.”

Arbuckle, who had served as DeSoto Parish’s sheriff for more than 17 years, abruptly retired in March 2018.

As reported in an exclusive KSLA News 12 investigation, Arbuckle’s department came under scrutiny in regard to a controversial overtime ticket-writing program in which several deputies possibly abused the detail and committed payroll fraud.

However, Arbuckle denied his retirement was spurred by a still on-going audit by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor. Instead, Arbuckle said he stepped down to focus on his family.

Former DeSoto Parish Sheriff Rodney Arbuckle
Former DeSoto Parish Sheriff Rodney Arbuckle (KSLA)

At last check, the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s report on the DeSoto Parish Sheriff’s Office is still pending. However, the LLA did release its findings on the district attorney’s role in the Local Agency Compensated Enforcement, or LACE, program in July.

At the end of the hearing Richardson’s attorney told the judge he believed investigators with the district attorney’s office were possibly recording the proceedings or taking pictures and wanted that possible evidence preserved. The judge then seized two cell phones.

In an emailed statement, Sheriff Jayson Richardson said:

“After enduring months of the District Attorney’s baseless allegations intended to disrupt the sheriff’s election and to defame me personally, we took appropriate legal action to prevent his continued political stunts and to defend the DeSoto Parish Sheriff’s Office. It is a shame that civility and respectful debate are not the norm anymore in political campaigns. Just as we have seen in Washington recently, the politics of personal destruction is the only path for those who are desperate and have nothing positive to stand for. I implore the citizens of DeSoto Parish to disregard these dirty political games and instead support the professionalism, character, and integrity of the DPSO."

Richardson is running for election on November 6. His opponent is current Mansfield Police Chief Gary Hobbs.

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