KSLA Investigates | DeSoto Parish D.A. barred from investigating possibility of law enforcement misconduct

KSLA Investigates | DeSoto Parish D.A. barred from investigating possibility of law enforcement misconduct
(Source: KSLA)

DESOTO PARISH, LA (KSLA) - At one point in time, the top two law-enforcement officials in DeSoto Parish, former Sheriff Rodney Arbuckle and District Attorney Gary Evans, believed members of the DeSoto Parish Sheriff’s Office committed crimes.

That revelation coming earlier Friday, Oct. 12, during arguments and testimony before 42nd Judicial District Court Chief Judge Charles Adams.

But the suspected crimes will not be investigated in the parish, after Adams barred Evans from investigating the matter.

The criminal activity is related to a controversial overtime ticket writing program called LACE.

Earlier this year, KSLA reportedly exclusively about DPSO deputies possibly committing widespread payroll fraud and the alleged misappropriation of parish funds.

According to court records, on October 8, 2018, Evans planned to launch an investigation, by calling witnesses before a grand jury, to determine if deputies working the LACE detail committed crimes while former Sheriff Arbuckle headed the agency.

On background, sources tell KSLA Investigates two former high-ranking DPSO employees were subpoenaed and prepared to appear before the grand jury.

However, when current DeSoto Sheriff Jason Richardson got wind of the proceedings, his office hired New Orleans law firm Jones Walker and filed a motion with Judge Adams to get Evans recused from the investigation.

Richardson claims Evans is attempting to use the grand jury to influence the upcoming election for Sheriff in DeSoto Parish, arguing the district attorney favors Richardson’s opponent, Gary Hobbs, the Mansfield Chief of Police.

This afternoon, after a marathon five-and-a-half-hour hearing, Adams ruled in favor of Richardson and the Sheriff’s Office, effectively barring Evans from going any further with his planned investigation.

In the courtroom gallery for the second time in a week, was Arbuckle, along with dozens of deputies and other high-ranking DPSO officials.

When asked Monday if he believed he was a target of a criminal investigation, Arbuckle told KSLA Investigates “I do not trust Gary Evans. He’s doing this to try and influence the election for Sheriff.”

Operation of the LACE program in DeSoto Parish is currently the subject of an ongoing investigative audit by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor.

However, the final report in that investigation has yet to be released.

During testimony, Kem Jones an investigator with Evan’s office, claimed Sheriff Richardson contacted the Legislative Auditor’s office, asking them to hold the report until after the election.

Richardson categorically denied that claim to KSLA investigates saying, “I have not spoken with the auditor’s office at any length about the investigation since this began.”

At the beginning of the hearing, through his lawyer Lee Hall, Evans actually filed a motion, withdrawing from any investigation involving Richardson or the Sheriff’s Department as an entity, in an effort to end any argument over whether his office was acting politically in investigating the LACE program.

However, Evans attorneys argued he should be allowed to go forward with investigating potential criminal conduct by individual deputies.

But Judge Adams disagreed, ruling any investigation conducted by Evans into the LACE program would look politically motivated in the eyes of the public and barred Evan from moving forward with his grand jury.

“Well, we will obviously file an appeal with the 2nd Circuit,” said Evans after the hearing. “It’s my Constitutional duty to investigate criminal activity in this parish, and that’s what I am going to continue to do.”

At multiple times during the hearing, lawyers for Evans’ office asked that the proceedings be stayed, while they sought emergency relief with the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeal.

A motion was also filed by Evans office, asking Chief Judge Adams to recuse himself from the proceedings.

Chief Judge Adams refused to stay matters or withdraw from hearing the motions. However, after ruling that Evans should be recused from all LACE investigations, Adams said he would refer the possibility of a criminal probe to the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office.

Following the hearing, Sheriff Richardson said he was pleased with the judge’s ruling, but said he wished he had not gone this far.

“At no point have we ever tried to hinder an investigation, or to make this political,” said Richardson. “I hope an outside agency, one that can look at matters objectively, does take a look at things and conducts a proper investigation.”

Earlier during the proceeding, Adams found two of Evans employees, Jones, and Assistant District Attorney Cloyce Clark in contempt of court for allegedly recording hearings in the judge’s courtroom on Monday.

Sentencing on those charges is set for Monday, but that finding is also being appealed to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeal.

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