Lafayette

Mar 27, 2012 7:27 PM by Maddie Garrett

DWI Case Could Shed Light on FBI's Investigation in DA's Office

An FBI investigation into the Lafayette District Attorney's Office could be taking shape, as several indicators point to the handling of DWI and OWI cases.

KATC first reported about the FBI executing a search warrant earlier this month. District Attorney Mike Harson confirmed that search took place on February 27, 2012, and that the FBI's probe carried over into the traffic division, overseen by Assistant DA Gregory Williams.

Harson also said that the search warrant included one of his employees, but wouldn't say who it was.

But new information on a DWI case could shed some light onto what the FBI is investigating.

On August 12, 2011, State Police arrested former Lafayette Parish Sheriff Deputy Robert A. Lawrence for drunk driving, hit and run and careless operation.

Fast forward one month, Lawrence plead no contest to a misdemeanor first offence DWI under Article 894, a state law that allows the court to suspend someone's sentence and place them on probation following an DWI or OWI arrest. Once the program is complete, charges can be dismissed.

But court records show that Lawrence's probation ended before it even began, under a special condition called "immediate 894."

That was allowed, in part, because Lawrence submitted community service hours that had already been completed at Acadiana Outreach Center. But current Director Jill Meaux said those hours appear to be fraudulent because the person who signed off on them, Elaine Crump, was not employed by Acadiana Outreach at the time. Also, some of those service hours were said to be completed on Aug. 6, 2011, six days before the arrest took place.

Another issue is that the court allowed the "immediate 894" under the provision that Lawrence's blood alcohol level was below .15, when in fact, the citation states it was .153, almost twice the legal limit.

But when "The Advocate" asked Harson for Lawrence's case files, Harson replied his office didn't have them. The paper reported that Harson said "they could have been taken in the (FBI) search," but he could "neither confirm nor deny that."

It's the Article 894 provision that continues to surface. At the same time of the FBI's search, Harson's secretary and office manager Barna Haynes was placed on unpaid leave. Haynes is said to handle Article 894 cases and pre-trial diversions for OWI and DWI.

The FBI case is ongoing, and therefore the FBI cannot comment on the investigation. Harson was not available for comment Tuesday.

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