WAFB-TV 9 is reporting that former Sorrento, LA Police Chief Earl Theriot Jr., who plead guilty to lying to the FBI during a federal investigation into allegations that he sexually assaulted a 42-year-old woman while on the job, was sentenced by Chief US District Judge Brian Jackson last Thursday to 24 months probation and a $2,500 fine. He was also forced to step down from his position as a condition of his plea deal. During the trial, Theriot admitted that, while on the job, he encountered the alleged victim, who was found unresponsive and heavily inebriated during a 911 call, and took her back to his office, where he admitted to performing what he described as inappropriate sexual relations with her.
According to local news outlet The Advocate, Theriot claims the sexual relations were consensual, but the victim claims otherwise, characterizing the incident, which took place on November 1, 2013, as a sexual assault. She says that she was heavily intoxicated and that Theriot, upon taking her into custody and reviving her, said that he would not take her to jail if she performed oral sex on him. Then, she alleges that Theriot fed her vodka, left her handcuffed and tied under his desk with a belt for a four-hour period, and forced her to perform oral sex on him multiple times.
Theriot apologized for the incident in court, saying, “It’s a matter that cost me my law enforcement career and brought embarrassment to my family and town of Sorrento.” However, he did not apologize to the alleged victim, who has filed a lawsuit against him in civil court.
Assistant US Attorney Alan Stevens said, “This was a very, very serious crime. It’s more than an embarrassing situation… It’s unfortunate. [It] all took place under the color of law.” In exchange for the plea deal, federal prosecutors agreed not to press charges against Theriot for the alleged sexual assault. According to WBRZ, Chief US District Judge Brian Jackson cited the facts that Theriot is helping the FBI with an ongoing investigation, suffers from poor health, and once served in the military as his rationale for handing out the lenient 24-month probation sentence rather than six months in jail.
State-level sexual battery charges could still be filed against Theriot. District Attorney Ricky Babin indicated that his office was waiting for the conclusion of the federal case, at which time he could gain access to evidence collected by the FBI, before making the decision whether or not to file charges. The Advocate notes that Babin contested the idea that the victim in this case could have consented to the sexual encounter, saying that, if Theriot used his position of power to threaten the alleged victim with jail time in an effort to coerce her into sexual relations, the incident would not be considered consensual.
As a part of his plea deal, Theriot stepped down from his position as Police Chief back in February. His replacement will be chosen in a special election on November 4. On the same ballot, voters will also consider a proposition to abolish the Sorrento Police Department and the Police Chief position entirely, due to widespread accusations of harassment and officer misconduct throughout the organization. The Sorrento Police Department was recently largely defunded by the Town Council, lost its insurance, and currently only employs a single officer. Shortly after the department lost its insurance due to its ongoing scandals, at a point when Theriot was still chief and continued ordering patrols despite the lack of insurance, critics called for his resignation, to which he replied, according to The Advocate, “They can stick it.” If the town police force were to be abolished, the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office would take over responsibility for police coverage in Sorrento.
During Theriot’s federal trial, Chief US District Judge Brian Jackson blamed the Sorrento Police Department’s woes on Theriot’s flawed and corrupt leadership. Another local couple also filed suit against Theriot back in November of 2013 for an alleged warrantless search, which they believe was conducted on the basis of a personal vendetta, as the couple were supporters of another officer who filed sexual harassment charges against Theriot.