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Three Acadiana media outlets file suit to open Howard case

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Posted at 2:41 PM, Dec 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-01 18:12:37-05

Three Lafayette news organizations have asked the court to unseal the file of Ian Howard, who stands accused of fatally shooting Lafayette Police Cpl. Michael Middlebrook and injuring three others at a convenience store on Oct. 1, 2017.

Howard has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. His trial on the attempted murder of the three individuals is scheduled for April. A trial date for the murder of Middlebrook has not been set.

Capital City Press, doing business as The Acadiana Advocate, and KATC Communications on Wednesday filed a motion to join Gannett River States Publishing, doing business as The Daily Advertiser, in a Nov. 23 motion to vacate an order by 15th Judicial District Judge Valerie Gotch Garrett sealing the entire Howard file.

Our media partners at the Acadiana Advocate report that they discovered on Nov. 18 that the Howard file had been removed in the previous 24 hours from an online system operated by the Lafayette Parish Clerk of Court Office because, according to Clerk of Court staff and Garrett's staff, the file was sealed.

Prior to that date, most of the file was available to the public, including the charges against Howard and court dates. In July, Garrett signed an order sealing expert testimony like mental health evaluations and discovery. But on Nov. 18, a search for Howard's name turned up no record, as if Howard is not being prosecuted.

Requests Nov. 18-19 by The Acadiana Advocate to the Clerk of Court Office and Garrett's office for a copy of the order sealing the entire file were denied.

"A blanket sealing order is always going to raise a red flag," Scott Sternberg, The Acadiana Advocate's attorney, said Wednesday.