Posted: Feb 3, 2012 6:28 PM by Elizabeth Hill
Updated: Feb 3, 2012 6:39 PM
Sex offenders and those accused of sex crimes have sealed records in st. landry parish.
That means you can't find out if they've been convicted, if charges have been dropped or even an upcoming court date. It's all been sealed and no one can tell us why.
This is all started over a routine follow-up call by our desk. We were checking up on a suspect accused of rape and were told we couldn't be helped.
Eunice police arrested Dustin Heinen on aggravated rape and domestic violence charges in June.
Then in October he was jailed for allegedly stalking the victim and intimidating her.
He was due in court Thursday, so we called to see what happened. On the stalking charge bond was set at $50,000. On the intimidation of a witness bond was set at $25,000 and he has to wear an ankle bracelet among other restrictions.
On the rape charge we were told St. Landry Parish does not give out any information on sex crimes.
If you are a victim you can find out updates when you go to court.
So Friday morning we began making calls trying to get answers on why St. Landry Parish is the only parish in Acadiana that doesn't release information on sex crimes.
After waiting for callbacks we hit the road showing up at the courthouse asking why records wouldn't be released.
We were given several different explanations. First, that a judge could order cases to be sealed, but we weren't given any order.
Then we were told they were acting on a state law that no one else seemed to know about.
When we researched the law we found it had to do with suspects contacting their victims, not about the release of information.
Progress was made after calling the Louisiana Clerks of Court Association. The executive director contacted St. Landry Parish who told her they were acting on a judge's order. She says Judge Alonzo Harris gave the clerk of court's office a verbal order that all cases falling under statue 15:541 were to be sealed. Examples of crimes listed in this section are rape, kidnapping, prostitution and molestation.
We did reach out to Judge Harris this evening to confirm the order or get an explanation, but didn't get a response as of news time. To his defense, because it took so long to get to the bottom of the restrictions we weren't able to even try to reach him until 3:30 this afternoon.
The clerk's office says they've been withholding this information for years, but we at KATC can't remember ever being restricted before.
We aren't the only ones. Eunice Today has reported facing the same challenges when trying to get information about sex crimes from St. Landry Parish. Click here for the story.