[Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify that Glenda Garber is 100 percent positive that the T-shirt worn by Maxine Trahan during their encounter at Saturday's Boudin Festival did not belong to Chad Leger's campaign for sheriff. The shirt instead belonged to a non-profit Trahan was representing during last weekend's event.]
When Mike Neustrom became sheriff in 2000, he was wildly ahead of his time — more scholar than law enforcer, the candidate who wasn’t supposed to win. But Neustrom proved brains could be more effective than brawn, and after 15 years and four terms, he’s preparing to leave behind one of the most progressive sheriff’s offices in the state and likely the region.
Neustrom’s departure also puts the future of Lafayette Parish’s law enforcement system at a crossroads: Who will be his successor? Will we elect a candidate to continue his progressive, reform-minded approach? Or will we elect someone with outdated ideas?
Parish voters have a little under six months to wrap their heads around who’s running, what they stand for and what a vote for them would mean if elected. But in what’s becoming a hotly contested race to succeed Neustrom, the candidates are quickly showing their colors, giving us a good idea of what to expect if they’re picked to take over the sheriff’s office next year.
All of which brings us to Chad Leger — chief of the Scott Police Department and the first to announce his bid to replace Neustrom. He’s also the guy who made this public Facebook comment last October, which was eventually pulled down but not until after we’d shed a little light on this future candidate:
Since announcing his sheriff’s campaign in January, Leger has changed his act, keeping himself in check and on his best behavior.
At least that had been the case until last weekend's annual Boudin Festival in Scott — a three-day extravaganza featuring all-things boudin, live music and, as the tradition goes in Louisiana during an election year, all the local politicians and their supporters.
Festivals in Louisiana are (and have always been) sacred ground for candidates to shake hands, pass out stickers, buttons, pamphlets and of course to be seen smiling and kissing babies. And that tradition was again upheld at the Scott festival, at least for most of the candidates seen over the weekend, like Dee Stanley and Joel Robideaux (both wearing their campaign T-shirts for city-parish president), or Scott Angelle decked out in “Angelle for Governor” apparel.
And, of course, Scott Police Chief Chad Leger was joining in on the opportunity to spread the good news of his campaign, too, complete with the home-field advantages presented by having a festival going on right outside his office at the city’s PD, offering an unofficial weekend campaign headquarters for all the chief’s supporters (a sizeable and easily spotted bunch, all wearing the Leger campaign’s signature royal blue T-shirts).
And the only difference between that campaign and the others in attendance during last weekend’s festival is who it belonged to: the Scott Police chief’s competition in the upcoming race for sheriff. Coincidence?
Like Robideaux, Stanley, Angelle and Leger, Mark Garber was also trying to make his case to the people of Lafayette Parish about why he’s the most qualified person to take the mantle from Neustrom.
But the presence of Garber’s campaign on Leger’s home turf last weekend caused tensions to stir, and by the weekend’s end, Leger had once again revealed his hand, giving a peak into the type of sheriff we should expect if he gets elected in October.
Our story starts just a short walk away from the site of last weekend’s Boudin Festival, in the driveway of Velma McBride’s home in Scott where she’s lived since 1966. Several weeks earlier, McBride had attended a meet-and-greet with sheriff’s candidate Garber and says she was blown away by his extensive law enforcement credentials: a sheriff’s deputy at age 19, a police sergeant for the Arlington Police Department, a law degree from Southern Methodist University, a special investigator and chief of narcotics investigations with the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations, a special agent in the U.S. Secret Service and six years as an assistant district attorney in the 15th Judicial District.
So McBride decided to enlist in the Garber campaign, and last Wednesday, in preparation for the city’s big three-day festival, a giant banner bearing Mark Garber’s name was hung from her carport, visible to all passersby. And within 10 minutes of the banner going up, McBride’s phone started ringing.
“It was Chad [Leger],” McBride tells The Independent. “The first thing he said is, ‘What are you doing?’ That he’d just passed in front of the house and saw the banner. But he was lying, Chad didn’t pass in front of my house. When we were hanging the banner, I spotted one of his officers watching from a stop sign right on the corner from my house. I know he went straight to the station and told the chief.”
What’s telling about McBride’s support for Garber is the fact she’s known Leger nearly his entire life.
“Chad is an old of friend of my son, they grew up together, he’s spent many a nights sleeping over at my house,” she explains. “I know Chad. He was raised to be polite, good manners. But somewhere along the way he lost those manners and became a very vindictive person. For one, he’s always called me by my first name, Velma, and I can tell you, my daughter, she’s 50 years old now, but she wouldn’t dare call his parents by their first name. Well, he said, ‘Velma, this is Chad Leger, and I just passed in front of your house.’ I said: ‘Stop right there. I’m not Velma to you, I’m not on the same page as you.’ Then he said, ‘Well, you realize every time you’d go visit your daughters in Alabama, we always looked out for your house.’ And I told him, ‘Excuse me, but isn’t that your job to protect and serve the people?’ I think Chad Leger intimidates people. I’m 70 years old, nothing to prove to nobody. I can’t be intimidated and yes, I feel very strongly towards Mark’s campaign. The only qualification Chad has in my opinion is he’s been a police chief, but we’re a little bitty city, not parishwide. I just don’t think he’s capable of handling the entire parish.”
After a few minutes their phone conversation ended, but it wouldn’t be McBride’s last encounter with the Leger campaign that weekend.
On Saturday, McBride met up with Mark Garber’s mother, Glenda Garber, for a day at the Boudin Fest and a chance to spread the word on Mark’s campaign for sheriff. They entered the festival, each holding a stack of political push cards listing Garber’s credentials.
They got in without a hitch and made a few rounds of the festival grounds, talking with folks, spreading the word on Garber’s campaign. After a while, the two ladies had run out of push cards and needed a break, so they left the festival and went back to McBride’s house down the street for a quick refresher and to restock their supply of campaign material.
The ladies then headed back for the festival, and upon their re-entry is when they say things started getting strange. Immediately they were approached by Scott city council members Jan-Scott Richard and Tonya Carola. And it wasn’t to say hi or make small talk, but to deliver a message that they wouldn’t be allowed back inside as long as they were in possession of Mark Garber’s campaign paraphernalia.
“They were just very ugly about it all,” says McBride. “They said we weren’t allowed back in because of a city ordinance forbidding political literature from the festival. They told me to take it all back to my house. Well, I told them ‘No,’ that I would put ’em in my back pocket, but they said, ‘How do we know you won’t hand them out?’ I responded, ‘You don’t, but I know I’m not going back home.’”
After a few minutes of going back-and-forth on the issue, Glenda Garber put an end to the confrontation, took the push cards and returned them to McBride’s house.
We then reached out to Councilman Jan-Scott Richard, who also serves as chairman of the Boudin Fest. Richard, however, refused to talk, only saying, “I’ll ask you to address the city attorney if you like.”
So we reached out to attorney Bill Babin.
Babin represents the city but not the Boudin Festival. Although the public event is sponsored by city government, the Boudin Festival operates as a nonprofit entity.
When we reached Babin Tuesday, he immediately knew the reason for our call, saying, “I know where this is going, but the city was trying to treat everyone equally, and I know some people weren’t allowed into the festival.”
We also asked about the city’s role in the festival and the supposed ordinance forbidding political materials from the event. “It’s on city property; the city sponsors the festival,” Babin explains. “To my knowledge, at the last Boudin Festival meeting, there was a discussion of the political aspects, and the board decided it had no problem with political apparel, but because it was a family event, they didn’t want to favor any one candidate over the other, so political brochures wouldn’t be allowed.”
C’est what? How in the world could a political brochure be seen as a threat to the festival’s family vibe?
“Well, the idea was to treat everyone the same; shirts, buttons, no problem,” says Babin. “But not political literature. They didn’t want it to look like the festival was endorsing one particular candidate over the other.”
Babin, it’s worth repeating, does not represent the Boudin Festival board. He also was not present at the meeting where this "rule" was handed down, so it's perplexing why the board chairman referred our inquiry to him.
One big question left lingering by the festival board’s alleged political literature ban is whether the decision was advertised or posted in a publicly visible location. The answer: No, it wasn’t. All Babin could provide was that word of the rule was disseminated on a “case-by-case basis.”
In other words, only for the Mark Garber campaign.
The story doesn’t end with Velma McBride and Glenda Garber being told they couldn’t enter the event while in possession of their political literature. In fact, as the event continued through the day on Saturday, the situation only grew more bizarre and contentious with another encounter, this time from a Chad Leger supporter who also happens to be the official spokeswoman for the Acadia Parish Sheriff’s Office, Maxine Trahan.
Here’s Glenda Garber recounting the encounter with Trahan in a written statement to The Independent:
On Saturday, April 11, 2015, I went to Scott, La. in order to attend the Boudin Festival. I arrived there a little after 11 a.m. We were standing in an open area across from a row of booths, tickets, soft drinks, beer and the Home Bank booth. I spoke to various people asking them if they lived in Lafayette Parish and could I tell them about Mark Garber for Sheriff. People were friendly and very receptive.Before we go any further into the remaining events that unfolded during Saturday’s festival, let’s deal with the accusations hurled by Maxine Trahan at Glenda Garber regarding her son’s past. For one, Trahan’s claims aren’t much of a secret; they've been mysteriously showing up in email inboxes throughout the parish for months now.
I am estimating that at about or around 1:30 p.m., it could have been somewhat later, a woman approached me. She was wearing one of the blue shirts that all the women at the Home Bank booth were wearing. She said something like — ‘OK tell me about Mark Garber.’ I started to talk, did not get many words out when she cut me off and started criticizing what I was saying. She countered everything I tried to say. She said that she was from Crowley, knew Mark Garber and what I was saying was not true.
She said that she did her research. Her tone of voice was very rough and aggressive. She said that he had not been in law enforcement for 20 years because she knew him. I was stunned. I tried to speak again and was again cut off. She said she knew about the shooting in Arlington and that he was responsible for it, letting a man be killed while he was in charge. I managed to tell her that tragically, training accidents happen. She cut me off, saying that training accidents do not happen in police trainings and that she knows all about it because she did her research. She said that Mark Garber is responsible. Then she said that she knows that Mark Garber filed a lawsuit against the police chief of Arlington Police Force “because he is ‘black.’” I could not get a word in about this.
Then she started in on his Bronze Star and his time in Iraq. She said something about it all being fabricated and that he never did serve his country and never did anything to earn the Bronze Star, that it was all made up. This is not a quote; rather it is the essence of her words. I kept trying to talk and she continued to cut me off. I think that it was after she was through with this slander that she turned and walked away. At some time during this conversation, I asked her what her name is and she refused to tell me.
This slander happened in a public place, out in the open where anyone nearby could easily hear her rant. Mrs. Velma McBride was next to me the entire time and witnessed the event.
Ms Velma said that she thought this woman worked in Crowley and was connected to the Chad Leger campaign. I wanted to know her name. I later saw her standing in the Home Bank Booth. So I walked over, asked her what her name was and she said Maxine Trahan. I said thank you very much and walked away.
Candidate Garber himself has been addressing them at every opportunity. Just last month, during a meeting with The Independent's editorial board, the sheriff’s candidate laid it all out on the table. We didn’t even have to ask, but we certainly had already heard about the incident.
Here’s Garber giving his side of it all during that meeting last month:
I want to tell y’all about the skeleton in my closet so to say. I told the Concerned Citizens Group recently that everyone’s got something.
So I was a supervisor over the full-time SWAT Team in Arlington, Texas. I was tasked in 2001 ... with conducting an active shooter training. Back then, homicide in progress was a new concept. We just started having these school shootings throughout the country and were learning that the typical police response of contain and isolate doesn’t work when kids are getting killed. It was a very foreign concept at that time for police to run after a shooter. So, we were teaching our first responders how to do that.
It’s a very upscale department in Arlington. They require a four-year degree. For that training, I had a lesson plan in place, and on the sixth day of training, I was called away at lunch time to go and conduct a narcotics operation. The span of control for a sergeant in Arlington is more like lieutenant here and at other agencies. It’s a really big span of control and the chain of command there is sparse. It’s a really efficient, good government there. So, I leave for the narcotics operation, and as was policy, one of my senior guys was put in charge as the acting sergeant. I go conduct the drug-op and this person in charge changes the protocol and one of my instructors shot and killed another one of the instructors. It was completely unnecessary. These are highly trained, hand-picked guys, and it’s so hard to get on full-time with SWAT. That’s what made this such a tragic mistake. The acting sergeant allowed instructors to retain their weapons while in the demonstration area, but you’re never supposed to demonstrate on a person. Before shooting at a person, you go to the second floor, that’s where the we conducted simulations. But on that day, they decide on the fly to use one of the face masks. The instructor decided ‘I’ll wear the mask and you shoot at me.’ The other instructor shoots and it missed. He puts down his firearm, and another instructor decided to finish the demonstration. He had a 'simunition' [a non-lethal training ammunition] pistol in his hand. He put it down, started talking to the class, and as they’re all standing there he accidentally pulls his side holster and shot Joey Cushman and killed him.
The protocol for these trainings is that before a person shoots at another person, you had to be in the special sanitized area. But they changed protocol for person-on-person shooting thinking they were using a simunition pistol. The whole reason for having a sanitized area is so what happened doesn’t happen.
Well, the entire chain of command was disciplined by the chief. My superior and his superior both retired. I couldn’t retire. I was given the choice of a 20-day suspension or a demotion in rank. To take the 20-day suspension meant I had to agree to the charges. So I was disciplined for failing to anticipate that that could have occurred. At that time I didn’t want to sign off on that so I was demoted. And I told the chief, who was African American, and had been telling the press we violated policy when there was no policy on this, just a lesson plan that had been broken. So I said to the chief, 'I’ll finish law school, resign and I’ll sue you.’ Well, when I finished law school and resigned, I followed suit. I knew he had immunity and the lawsuit didn’t stand a chance, but I did what I said I was going to do, called B.S. on B.S. and went on with my life.
So my response, my evidence, to all the claims that I have these skeletons in my closet, is that when OSI [the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations] hires you, for one, there’s guys lined up to get these jobs. Well, they go everywhere into your past, and these agents physically went to Arlington and interviewed everyone. They talked to everyone who I used to work with, went to high school with, and then later when I went into the Secret Service, they repeated that entire process. I assure you, I wouldn’t have been picked for either of those positions if they’d have found something in my past.
Returning to the events of last weekend, as Glenda Garber and Velma McBride were being denied entrance into the festival due to their possession of political push cards, Chad Leger and his campaign supporters were having the run of the place. Near the festival’s bandstand, Leger and his crew were enjoying the home field advantage, complete with a gated-off VIP section containing the police chief and his supporters — easily spotted by their blue T-shirts with Leger’s campaign insignia.
The Independent spoke Wednesday with Leger, starting with the encounter between his campaign supporter, Maxine Trahan, and Mark Garber’s mother. Leger says Trahan wasn’t wearing one of his campaign shirts at the time of the exchange, and he also says he wasn’t aware that it happened until after the fact.
He's right, the shirt — though similar in color — wasn't for Chad Leger's campaign.
The Scott police chief also denies using his position with the city as an advantage for his campaign getting the word out during the city-sponsored event, saying he played by the same rules as every other candidate who made an appearance at the event.
We also asked if he was aware of any of his campaign supporters who were passing out yard signs during the event, or whether the police station was being used as a de-facto headquarters for his campaign for sheriff.
"No yard signs or push cards were given out to my knowledge at all because that would’ve been against the rules of the association,” Leger insists. “If someone did bring it I was not aware. No signs were even allowed on the premises. It would’ve been just like the push cards, so I have no knowledge of where that would’ve come from, unless this lady had it in her vehicle and brought it to somebody that I’m not aware of.” Leger also denies using the police station for his campaign operations.
But a series of covert photographs provided to The Independent tells another story.
And from those photos, it appears the Leger campaign did indeed have full access to the police station. From a close examination of the submitted photos, the police station appears to have been transformed for the weekend into an unofficial headquarters for the Leger campaign, where people sporting the chief’s blue T-shirts were seen going in and out throughout the weekend.
One of Leger's supporters is seen (see the photo series posted below) walking around the festival grounds with what's clearly one of Leger's campaign signs in hand. Despite being zoomed in and fuzzy, the photos (taken from an iPhone) show what's clearly one of Leger's campaign signs in the right hand of an unidentified woman wearing one of Leger's T-shirts as she makes her way from the sound tent, passes the port-o-lets and stops for a chat with a couple seated in lawn chairs along a sidewalk facing the festival action.
She briefly chats with the couple while still holding the Leger sign under her right arm. When their visit ends, however, the campaign supporter is no longer carrying the Leger sign, and before heading back to the VIP area with Leger and the rest of the campaign's supporters, she instead enters the police station. Within minutes of her entrance into the building, Leger apparently either spots or is tipped off that someone is snapping photos (as pictured in the last photo below) and he and several supporters look over in the camera's direction, bringing a quick end to this series of covert snapshots.
The use of a public building, like the police station, as an official or unofficial HQ for a political campaign is a violation of the Louisiana Code of Ethics. And for the campaign supporter in the above pictures, where did she obtain the political sign and what was her reason for entering the police station after having given it away? Was she going back into the station to replenish her supply of campaign materials?
Also, why was it OK for candidates to distribute political T-shirts, buttons and stickers but not literature? The answer is probably much simpler than you’d think: When put on paper, the hometown candidate for sheriff just doesn't match up.
And so our theory goes: By forbidding political literature, the hometown candidate was given the advantage he’ll need — and that's not counting the photos appearing to show the police station being used as a campaign supply depot.
While Leger may not be the most qualified candidate in this race, he still stands a great chance of becoming Mike Neustrom's successor.
Do we want someone who does not play by the rules?
Do we want the type of sheriff who has no qualms with publicly stating his dislike for non-English speakers, one of Cajun descent no less whose ancestors' native language was nearly wiped out by the same "mainstreaming" xenophobia he exhibits?
We should ask ourselves if by promoting Chief Leger to Sheriff Leger, will we be turning back the clock and erasing all the progressive-minded developments enacted over the last 16 years that have made the LPSO one of the premiere sheriff’s offices in the state?
There is a lot at stake here. A whole lot.