Posted: Feb 6, 2012 6:26 PM by Shawn Kline
Updated: Feb 6, 2012 6:36 PM
After his office denied KATC information on sex crimes, St. Landry Parish Clerk of Court Charles Jagneaux says he was "misinformed."
"I want to thank KATC for bringing it to my attention," Jagneaux said on Monday. "This is the first time I've heard of it."
Jagneaux's office said it had been withholding information pertaining to sex crimes for years.
On Friday, KATC content managers were doing some routine check-ups on the status of criminal cases in St. Landry Parish Court. Specifically asking Jagneaux's office about the status of Dustin Heinen, a man Eunice Police arrested on aggravated rape charges last June.
They were told St. Landry Parish does not give out any information on sex crimes (that would make it the only parish in Acadiana with such a policy). Jagneaux's office first claimed it was a state law.
We began looking deeper into Louisiana laws regarding this censorship of court documents. Check out this article, our initial investigation.
Jagneaux's office then changed the explanation. They said the case was sealed on a judge's order. We asked for proof but the parish didn't provide a copy of that order, saying it was "verbal."
On Monday, KATC's Shawn Kline sat down with Clerk Charles Jagneaux to set the record straight, and the court documents? They're now open to the public.
"46:1844." Jagneaux read, "in order to protect the identity and provide for the safety and welfare of crime victims of sex offenses... it prohibits us from giving out that information in regard to their name."
That's the statute his office was reading when it was asked for information on those sex crimes. We just wanted to know the status of a case, not the victim's name, address, phone number, social security number, etc. That information is protected by Louisiana RS 46:1844 Basic Rights for Victim and Witness.
That statute however, only protects the identity of a victim and his/her rights.
"Everything else is public?" KATC asked Jagneaux.
"Correct, yeah," he answered.
All other information that would not lead to the identity of a victim is public information according to Louisiana's Public Records Act (RS 44:1):
A.(1) ...the phrase "public body" means any branch... Office... Or governing authority.
(2)(a) All books, records... performed under the authority of the this state... are "public records."
Jagneaux says he discussed the issue with district judges and on Monday, laid it all out in front of us. The cases we requested, now unsealed and public. Only the victims' names were censored.
"The reason that that information was withheld, or at least my office staff was hesitant to give it, was in an overabundance of caution to protect the victim's identity," Jagneaux said about Friday's misunderstanding.
The Clerk of Court says he didn't read the statute (46:1844) correctly, but he's now revising office guidelines to avoid any future misunderstandings.