It was less than a year ago when former police officer Bobby Simmons sent an email to a local newspaper in Louisiana inquiring why they had not reported on allegations of improper conduct committed by Mamou Police Chief Greg Dupuis.
Two days later, Chief Dupuis – who is a convicted felon – had Simmons arrested for criminal defamation.
Now Simmons is suing the City of Mamou with the help of the ACLU on the basis that his First Amendment rights were violated. And it looks as if he has an extremely strong case.
The lawsuit was filed Wednesday and details are scarce, but the entire episode reeks of typical Louisiana backwood corruption.
In May 2008, Simmons sent the email to The Ville Platte Gazzette, but it is unclear if the newspaper ever published the email or if it was even intended for publication. So much for source confidentiality.
Meanwhile, Dupuis, an elected chief, knew there had been rumors going around about him getting arrested for drunk driving and for having a confrontation with Louisiana State Police. So he offered a $500 reward for information leading to the source of the rumor.
This is how he somehow learned that Simmons had sent the email to the newspaper.
The Ville Platte Gazette claims that Dupuis used money from his own pocket to front the reward. But they don’t say whether they were the ones who had given up Simmons’ identity. From what I see, it seems that they are rolling around in bed with Dupuis.
Managing editor Carissa Hebert said she was unable to comment because of a gag order. How convenient.
Here is an excerpt from the Ville Platte Gazzette article on May 27, 2008 about the incident:
Dupuis said he has been in law enforcement the majority of his life and he is sworn to uphold and enforce the ordinances of the Town of Mamou and the laws of the state. In no way, he said, would he ever break the laws he is sworn to enforce.
“I will be actively searching for the person or persons involved in this defamatory campaign against me and my family. My family and I have endured much criticism, unfounded remarks and allegations and now it will come to an end. I am no stranger to personal attacks from individuals with political agendas; however I will address those rumors which tend to deprive me of the public’s confidence and trust,” Dupuis said prior to Simmons’ arrest.
But here is an excerpt from an article in the Baton Rouge-based Advocate that ran on June 26, 1997 after Dupuis pleaded guilty to a felony (I dug up the article through my library database, so I am unable to link it).
The Mamou police chief pleaded guilty Wednesday to a felony charge of one count of malfeasance in office shortly after an Evangeline Parish grand jury indicted him on the charge, Evangeline Parish District Attorney Brent Coreil said Wednesday.
Greg Dupuis also turned in his resignation to town officials. He was serving his first term as police chief.
Thirteenth Judicial District Judge Preston Aucoin gave Dupuis a two-year suspended sentence, followed by two years of supervised probation, and ordered him to pay $3,000 in fines and court costs, Coreil said.
The indictment said that the chief “intentionally failed to perform a duty lawfully required of him as chief of police in Mamou in his handling of public funds under his control by his failure to maintain proper records, receipts and accounting of said public funds.”
The grand jury indicted Dupuis after reviewing a Louisiana State Police investigation into the Mamou Police Department.
Dupuis’ resignation was part of the plea agreement, Coreil said.
The State Police was called in at Coreil’s request to head an independent investigation into the theft of crack cocaine and $800 in cash from an evidence safe at the police station last January.
The State Police submitted its report to the district attorney last Friday. The findings were reported to the grand jury Wednesday afternoon.
The indictment, sentencing and resignation came a year after the state Legislative Auditor’s Office began investigating the disappearance of more than $13,000 in fines he Mamou Police Department collected in 1995.
The missing $13,808 represented 20 percent of the $69,250 in fines collected during 1995, town auditor Michael Johnson said.
He was eventually voted back into office even though he was a convicted felon.
Simmons, who served as a police officer in Abbeville and Franklin, La., still has the criminal defamation charge hanging over him.
The former officer, who has a lung ailment that requires breathing treatments every four hours, was jailed for ten hours until he started having chest pains and difficulty breathing.
According to a Louisiana lawyer, criminal defamation is an extremely rare charge.
Dane Ciolino, a law professor at Loyola University in New Orleans, said it’s “exceptionally rare” for somebody to be
charged with criminal defamation.
“That’s astonishing,” he said. “I knew it was on the books, but I’ve never heard of anybody being charged with it.”
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