Louisiana

Louisiana Sheriff Doesn't Like Critical Blogger, Raids Home In Search of Him

"If you're gonna lie about me...I'm gonna come after you," says Sheriff Jerry Larpenter.

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I'm gonna come after you
Fedecandoniphoto/Dreamstime.com

Terrebonne Parish (La.)'s Sheriff Jerry Larpenter does not appreciate the anonymous blogging of ExposeDAT, a self-described local "Underground Watchdog." Larpenter told WWL-TV, "If you're gonna lie about me and make it under a fictitious name, I'm gonna come after you."

And come after the blogger he did, or at least he thinks he found the blogger, when he raided the home of Houma Police Officer Wayne Anderson and seized his computers. Anderson, it should be noted, denies he is behind the mysterious blogger behind ExposeDAT.

Now, Larpenter faces backlash from members of his community who believe he has wildly exceeded his authority, violated the First Amendment, and lost the public's trust.

Here's what happened. ExposeDAT, a WordPress-powered blog, ran a number of posts alleging unethical business relationships among a number of senior parish officials, including the sheriff and a man named Tony Alford, who is the parish's insurance agent and also a public official himself by virtue of his current position as acting President of the Terrebonne Parish Levee and Conservation District Board of Commissioners. Among the controversial posts were ones which questioned Alford's insurance agreement with the city, which was set up without a public bidding process. Larpenter's wife's employment with Alford's company was also scrutinized.

Larpenter believed the blogger was engaging in criminal defamation under Louisiana's RS 14:47 statute, and obtained three search warrants — one for a computer, another for ExposeDat's Facebook account, and another for Anderson's home.

Anderson's home was raided by Larpenter's deputies, who seized two computers (one of which reportedly belonged to Anderson's children, according to WWL-TV) and five mobile phones. Anderson was suspended from his job on the police force for conduct unbecoming of an officer, and while he is on paid leave, his lawyer claims he has not received any official paperwork regarding his suspension.

But even assuming Larpenter's premise — that ExposeDAT's suspicions regarding his business relationships while serving as a public official have no merit — at least one lawyer, Mary Ellen Roy, told WWL-TV that Louisiana's defamation statute was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court when authorities rely on it "to punish public expression and publication concerning public officials, public figures, and private individuals who are engaged in public affairs." Loyola Law Professor Dane Ciolino added that criticizing public officials "is constitutionally protected speech of the highest order, and prosecutions for that sort of public comment are extraordinary."

Ciolino also told WWL-TV:

Those contracts should be examined. And the notion that search warrants are issued and the house of a media commentator is being searched for the content of speech posted on a public website is absolutely extraordinary… It's amazing we're having this conversation in Louisiana rather than in Iran.

The judge who issued the search warrants, Randall Bethancourt, told WWL-TV that the Louisiana defamation law is "pretty broad" and he had no issue with allowing police to "take a look-see at these computers that might have defamatory statements on them."

But at a parish council meeting earlier this week, a number of angry residents came to express their belief that the sheriff's actions have "squashed" freedom of expression. One resident said "I wholeheartedly support First Amendment rights and everyone's right to free speech and the freedom to talk openly about public officials without fear of retaliation." Another was quoted by WWL-TV as saying "I am so, pardon my French, pissed off" about the no-bid process which allowed Alford to become the parish's insurance agent.

The parish's District Attorney — who was also criticized by ExposeDAT — has passed the case to the state's Attorney General's office, and Anderson has filed for an injunction in federal court, asking for the search warrant to be declared unconstitutional and for all searches of his computers to be stopped immediately.

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  1. If the sheriff or any other public figure has been slandered or libeled, they should be free to sue.

    If they can’t identify the blogger by getting a warrant and going to the blogging service and/or the ISP, then they’re out of luck.

    1. Seriously? No sarc/?

    2. They are free not only to sue, but to prosecute and incarcerate the perpetrator as well, despite the foolish United Nations and European Human Rights court rulings that say harm to reputation should never be punished by jail. We know better than that in the United States. Louisiana is perfectly justified in outlawing defamation, whether of a police officer, a professor, or anyone else, and the sheriff did the right thing. Even New York’s highest court has recognized that trolling around and engaging in excessively deadpan, electronically conveyed “parody” with the intent to damage a reputation is criminal conduct that doesn’t raise any First Amendment issue at all. See the documentation of America’s leading criminal “satire” case at:

      http://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

      1. “Louisiana is perfectly justified in outlawing defamation, whether of a police officer, a professor, or anyone else, and the sheriff did the right thing.” No, he didn’t do the right thing. The right thing would be to report it to another law enforcement agency and let them do an investigation. But instead of that, he used his own agency/influence to bypass proper procedure.

        1. Tut-tut, welcome to reality. When vicious trolls go around spewing criminal libel, they should be careful not to pick on the wrong person. In the New York case I linked above, someone also picked on the wrong person ? a distinguished member of the academic community, who happened to have contacts at the FBI. As explained in the New York Times, those contacts appropriately arranged to give the victim of unwanted “parody” special treatment, referring him to their friend at the District Attorney’s office. I don’t see the “First Amendment community” (ha-ha-ha) complaining about this kind of efficiency. That’s just how the law works in the United States, and we should be thankful when it does work.

      2. Except that public officials are not private citizens – the law of the land doesn’t allow them to avoid criticism of activities in office even if untrue. And then It’s not clear at all that what was in the blog was inaccurate.

        Have you ever seen a political ad on TV?

        What’s is patently clear is that a public official used the force of the state to punish speech critical of government. First Amendment violation through and through.

        1. Come now, let’s not be silly, would you really believe the “accurate information” provided by an Internet blogger? By a troll? And do you really think the American courts give a hoot about some old case dating from the “civil rights” era, before the Internet even existed? Politicians are entitled not to have their reputations damaged, just like anybody else, and the New York Court of Appeals did not draw any such distinction in its major decision in this regard.

          On top of it, the purported criterion of the “First Amendment community” (ha-ha-ha) isn’t whether you’re a “public official,” but whether the “criticism” concerns a matter of public concern. It is at least good to see that you are suggesting that unseemly allegations of plagiarism against a distinguished academic department chairman are not a matter of public concern, which is something I would certainly agree with you about.

  2. I’m starting think I should set up a civil rights law firm, hire some freshly minted law grads, and go after cases that I see here at H&R. I’d probably be a millionaire within a year.

    1. H&R Law. I would work there.

      1. Careful, when he wants you to do pro bono work, it’s not what you think.

        1. It’s where you defend ignorant, arrogant rock stars who want to run the world isn’t it?

      2. A lot of time would be wasted explaining to people that you don’t cover hit and run cases.

    2. Except that the system is so badly rigged in favor of the state, we’d end up finding your body anchored by cement shoes at the bottom of a lake…

      It’s going to take people fighting from outside the system, like Wikileaks and Guccifer 2.0 doing massive email dumps, to upend the powers that be. Show the world stuff so bad that even their co-conspirators have to denounce them and run for cover.

  3. criminal defamation

    How has anyone charged with this not gotten the law overturned?

    Lousiana, where the law is whatever corrupt overweight sheriff says it is.

    1. The law cannot be “overturned,” because criminal libel is constitutional. Ask Eugene Volokh, our nation’s greatest “First Amendment” expert, he will explain it to you. Only the United Nations and “human rights” courts in Europe and Africa (what a joke) have held that “no one should ever be jailed for damage to reputation.” New York’s highest court has held exactly the opposite: “here, we believe the legislator intended to reach damage to reputation,” etc.

      As I have argued elsewhere, the crucial “First Amendment” issue facing this country is, how soon will we reenact criminal libel laws wherever we foolishly dropped them from the books, so we can really crack down on these libel-spewing trolls once and for all.

      1. Your defense of this law misses the point. Criminal libel is a thing, but the law is written so broadly that protected speech is also swept up. It’s like having a law that can call run of the mill football tackles criminal assault.

        1. That’s what people always say when they don’t like a law.

          That’s what they’ve been saying about the New York criminal impersonation and forgery statutes for the past seven years, but as anyone can see, the argument isn’t working.

          The New York Court of Appeals specifically stated that the legislature intended to reach “damage to reputation” for inappropriately deadpan Gmail mimicry, and that for forgery it’s enough to show that the defendant intended to “deceive” people. Even without any harm or benefit at all. And I don’t see the “First Amendment community” (ha-ha-ha) complaining about that.

          I can point to all kinds of written “parody” that deceives people, and thank heavens it’s now been made clear all of this is criminal. Remember that outrageous URL in President Bush’s name? It deceives people long enough for them to be sent to the website outrageously mocking him. That falls under the plain language of the forgery law, and there is absolutely no problem with criminalizing it, according to New York’s highest court. Peruse the list of criminal “speech” at:

          http://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpr…..rsonation/

        2. His “defense” of the law is itself satire. He consistently does exactly what he appears to condemn in an earlier comment here – “trolling around and engaging in excessively deadpan, electronically conveyed “parody””. Always making reference to that Rafael Golb case.

          1. It’s really quite outrageous to insinuate that I’m a troll, when my entire campaign is devoted to condemning trolls. Everyone knows it’s not parody unless you explicitly say it’s a “parody.” As one of the Golb decisions explains, it has to be “known” to be parody, otherwise it doesn’t qualify for this mysterious “protection” that the “First Amendment community” (ha-ha-ha) keeps talking about. The decisions also make it clear that the use of a pseudonym to “deceive” readers can be criminalized, because the forgery statute forbids signing communications with “fictitious” names. This is why the trial judge told the defendant, right in the sentencing transcript, that he was not allowed to use any pseudonym other than the word “Anonymous.” Everyone knows this is the law, but no one likes to talk about it, because there’s a lot of enticing criminal “speech” out there and it’s better not to encourage crimes, right?

  4. Ahhh, corruption at its finest. The state of Louisiana can give even the Clintons a run for their (dirty) money for depth of sleaze. And LA has been doing it since the day it became a state.

    1. Probably before statehood, if one were willing to dig through the muck deep enough.

    2. “The state of Louisiana can give even the Clintons a run for their (dirty) money”

      Arkansas’s just over the state line; who learned from whom?

  5. When it’s not enough to merely rule something I constitutional, the courts ‘rile’ it unconstitutional.

    1. *unconstitutional no I constitutional. Fucking iPhones.

      1. So it’s the phone’s fault that you were typing on it with sausages?

  6. Taking a “look-see” for something that “might” be there is highly unconstitutional and any judge should know that!

    1. That’s one hell of a dignified stately ruling isn’t it? Have a “look-see”. Is the good judge 12 years old?

  7. I got my very first crooked (and first) ticket in Louisiana. No fucking way was I going faster than 65 – POS car was overheating and I had to slow down several minutes prior.

  8. The woodchippers need to be fired up…

  9. Louisiana is perfectly justified in outlawing defamation, whether of a police officer, a professor, or anyone else, and the sheriff did the right thing. Even New York’s highest court has recognized that trolling around and engaging in excessively deadpan, electronically conveyed “parody” with the intent to damage a reputation is criminal conduct that doesn’t raise any First Amendment issue at all. See the documentation of America’s leading criminal “satire” case at:

    http://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

    1. ^one trick pony

      1. And, apparently, illiterate. If we’re feeling charitable.

    2. Not sarc????

    3. please go away. no one likes you.

      1. Tut-tut, you just don’t like hearing the truth. Criminal libel is constitutional, “damage to reputation” can be criminalized, even sending an inappropriately deadpan “Gmail parody” with the intent to damage a reputation, retroactively determined by an appellate court, is a crime in New York, and so there was nothing wrong with this arrest in Louisiana. Stop complaining about normal things. Even the “First Amendment community” (ha-ha-ha) isn’t complaining about it, because they know it’s constitutional. We are not in Europe here, this is the United States, and we don’t give a hoot about silly declarations by the United Nations “human rights commission.” So they don’t like criminal libel laws? Let them come to America and we will show them the law.

  10. Hell hath no fury like a LEO scorned

  11. “Now, Larpenter faces backlash from members of his community who believe he has wildly exceeded his authority, violated the First Amendment, and lost the public’s trust.”

    There’s scant doubt about the first two, and we can only hope for the third.
    This is what the HS hall monitor turned into after he failed to grow up.

    1. I think backlashing is interpreted literally in Louisiana.

    2. High school? Grade school.

  12. Larpenter?

    Isn’t that when you dress up in funny costumes and walk around the forest doing pretend joinery?

  13. The judge who issued the search warrants, Randall Bethancourt, told WWL-TV that the Louisiana defamation law is “pretty broad” and he had no issue with allowing police to “take a look-see at these computers that might have defamatory statements on them.”

    I’m sure he had no issue, but doesn’t he have certain duties under the Fourth Amendment when it comes to issuing warrants? Something about probable clause?

    1. Come now, everyone knows that criminal court judges have all the flexibility they need when exercising these “duties.” New York’s “criminal impersonation” and “forgery” laws are “pretty broad” too, and they have appropriately been used to clamp down on some of that-there trolling around, sending out inappropriately deadpan “parody” speech that nobody likes with the intent to “damage a reputation.” See, again, the documentation at: http://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

  14. So the judge knew the law was broad, and yet somehow he forget other laws, including the US constitution, that could be limits on how broadly the law can be applied.

    If there was ever an example of the cozy relationships between police and judges, this one is it.

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