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KATC Investigates looks at Metro Narcotics

Posted: 11:52 AM, Jul 19, 2018
Updated: 2018-08-08 12:06:52-04

Yesterday, Police Chief Toby Aguillard apologized to the City-Parish Council for blind-siding them with the news that he wants to withdraw from the decades-old Metro Narcotics squad. 

He gave councilmen several reasons for his decision, including disputes over how the unit will be run; increased costs and geography. 

KATC’s Investigative Team has done some digging into some of these issues, and sent a lengthy public records request to the Sheriff.  Today the Sheriff responded with several documents. 

This is what we’ve uncovered: 

Suspicious death investigations

In May 2017, Sheriff Mark Garber sent a four-page letter to the Chief, laying out the legal and procedural problems with the Police Department’s efforts to involve Metro Narcotics agents in all suspicious deaths which might be an overdose. 

That was fine with Garber, but as he laid out in his letter, problems arose in the implementation. Metro agents – who are narcotics investigators, not homicide investigators – were being placed in charge of suspicious death investigations, even before it was established the death was an overdose. 

They also were being charged with collecting and logging evidence, which creates chain of evidence issues, the sheriff wrote. 

Garber outlined other issues, but said they were worked out in a private meeting with a Lafayette Police Major, who agreed that homicide investigations should be conducted by certified investigators with Metro support if needed. 

But later the same day, Garber wrote, he was informed that "the directives of the earlier meeting were countermanded by Assistant Chief Reginald Thomas. His directive was for Metro agents to continue responding to calls in such cases, collect and submit evidence, and also serve as the affiant on affidavits for search warrants." 

Garber ends the letter by telling the chief that he had directed his employees to support homicide investigators in death investigations, but they are not to serve as lead investigators in suspicious death investigations. All warrants are to be signed by homicide investigators, and all evidence is to be logged by homicide investigators, he wrote. Metro agents will not be doing witness interviews or family interactions in these investigations, and the homicide investigation takes precedence over any narcotics investigation or recovery, he wrote. He specifically prohibited any Metro agent who works for him from serving as a lead investigator on a death case, and from signing search warrants in a death case. 

Garber went on to note that, over the history of the unit, when there was an increase in narcotics-related deaths, agents still weren’t pressed into service as homicide investigators. Instead, he wrote, Metro agents did what they are trained to do – gather intelligence on possible narcotics involvement. 

Our public records request asked that the sheriff provide us with the chief’s response to this letter – and the sheriff told us he did not receive a response. 

History of the agreement 

In the May letter, Garber also noted that, at that time, he did not have a Metro Narcotics agreement signed by Mayor Joel Robideaux, even though he and the chief had signed it following a meeting of Garber, the chief and Thomas. 

We made a public records request to the sheriff for the most recent, properly executed agreement, and he sent us one that was executed under the previous administrations in 2012. He also sent us the newer one, which was required after a new mayor and sheriff were elected; it was signed by the sheriff and chief, but never signed by Robideaux. 

Metro Narcotics was formed in 1989. After the first year, then-Police Chief Gary Copes and then-Sheriff Don Breaux held a press conference to provide a status report. During that year, the unit initiated 1,361 investigations which resulted in 583 arrests, with 53 warrants still outstanding. Those arrests had resulted in 311 convictions so far, with no acquittals. More than $3 million in drugs were seized, along with 18 vehicles, guns, jewelry and more than $57,000 in cash. Because of the seizures, the unit had used only $18,000 in operation funds. 

Currently, 10 Lafayette Police officers are assigned, and eight LPSO deputies are assigned.

Finances 

Yesterday, Aguillard said one of his reasons for wanting to leave the unit is cost. He said that under the last sheriff, he only had to contribute about $35,000 to fund operations of the unit. Now, he said, the cost is around $130,000 annually.

Our public records request to the sheriff included a request for the finances of the unit for the past several years, and associated correspondence between the agencies regarding finances. 

The records show the reason for the difference in cost is forfeitures. As they have since the unit was formed, forfeitures of seized cash and assets have partially funded the unit’s operation.

In 2009 and 2010, each agency put up $40,000 each to run the unit. In 2011 and 2012, that dropped to $35,000 because of an increase in forfeitures. in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016, the agencies didn’t put up any money because forfeitures covered operational costs. In 2017, each agency put up $80,000 for operations of the unit. 

In response to our request, the sheriff also provided us with emails between Chief Deputy Carlos Stout and Thomas, in which this was explained to Thomas at length in March 2018. 

Geographic break-down of cases 

Yesterday, the chief also said that his Metro officers are spending half of their time outside the city limits. 

We asked the sheriff for a breakdown of the cases Metro has worked over the past 12 months. 

They tell us that the Street Team has generated 471 reports since July 2017. Of those, 414, or 88 percent, were within the city of Lafayette. The remaining 57 cases, or 12 percent, were outside the city limits.