If it seems as if there’s a relatively low turnout of stories involving bad law enforcement agents paying for the crimes they commit, it’s because that’s the reality. But according to Tech Dirt, a story fresh from Louisiana may give us all some hope that, sometimes, bad cops get caught.
During summer 2016, Sheriff Jerry Larpenter decided to go after a local blogger who had been critical of the sheriff’s parish and its insurance company. Since Larpenter’s wife was an employee of said company, the man got fed up with the blogger’s investigation and subsequent publishing of very public reports concerning the town’s sheriff and how he conducted his professional relationships.
Using an arcane criminal libel law that has long been considered unconstitutional but that is still on the books, the sheriff found an opportunity to seek a warrant against said blogger. But instead of going to the on-duty judge, he went to an off-duty judge, proving he might as well have another very close relationship with a high-ranking member of the local judicial community.
With the warrant in hands, Larpenter knocked on the blogger’s door and confiscated her and her children’s computers as well as five phones. “Sweet revenge,” he may have thought to himself.
Fast-forward to July 2017.
After having the warrant declared unconstitutional by a Louisiana appeals court, the blogger then took the case to a federal court in Louisiana. In his decision, federal Judge Lance M. Africk explained that the law that Larpenter had used to frame the blogger was not only arcane but also toothless. Better yet, the judge decided to strip Larpenter of his immunity.
In his decision, the judge said that the message the sheriff was sending was that “if you speak ill of the sheriff of your parish, then the sheriff will direct his law enforcement resources toward forcibly entering your home and taking your belongings under the guise of a criminal investigation.” And that message, Africk continued, would “certainly chill anyone of ordinary firmness from engaging in similar constitutionally protected speech in the future.”
Thanks to this ruling, the sheriff is no longer protected from being the target of a civil liability case. Additionally, the ruling also put Larpenter in greater trouble as he will have to respond to First Amendment retaliation claims.
As the blogger is now free to seek damages, the sheriff is cornered and with only one way out: Settle now or watch the bills start piling up. After all, the case against the Louisiana sheriff is pretty strong.
While we cannot hope that all cases involving crony capitalism and legal retaliation over negative media reports will have similar endings, it’s good for the soul to know that, sometimes, the bad guy gets what he deserves, too.