July 21, 2016 02:40 PM

Potential criminal charges stem from city marshal’s actions in ongoing public records litigation with The Independent.

For his contempt of court hearing in March, Marshal Brian Pope entered the Lafayette Parish Courthouse with his weapon, a violation of state law for law enforcement officials who are a party to any court proceeding.
Photo by Robin May

A grand jury began hearing evidence and testimony from 15th Judicial District Attorney Keith Stutes’ office Wednesday regarding potential criminal conduct by Lafayette City Marshal Brian Pope.

KATC-TV3 broke the story on the secretive proceedings late Wednesday, noting that the grand jury will reconvene next month to hear additional testimony as part of its investigation into whether criminal charges should be brought against the city marshal.

Pope is likely facing a number of possible criminal charges, including malfeasance in office, perjury, carrying a firearm into court when he was a party to the proceeding and misuse of public funds — all stemming from his actions in the 10-month-long public records dispute with The Independent.

In November, this newspaper filed suit against the city marshal after he refused to turn over emails related to a bizarre Oct. 7 press conference in which Pope, who supported Scott Police Chief Chad Leger in the race for Lafayette Parish sheriff, was critical of Leger’s then-opponent and eventual winner, Mark Garber. Pope delivered the attack on Garber from a podium in his office carrying the marshal’s seal and flanked by four deputies who, records show, were on the clock. It is illegal for an elected official to use the authority of his office or his position to support or oppose the election of a candidate for political office. Pope would eventually go on to give conflicting testimony about numerous aspects of the press conference, all of which did not sit well with District Judge Jules Edwards.

In March Edwards held Pope in contempt of court for defying his earlier order to turn over the public records, sentencing the marshal to 30 days in jail (with all but seven suspended) and ordering him to pay upwards of $100,000 in attorneys fees, court costs and penalties. In late June the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal denied a writ filed by Pope seeking a review of Edwards' judgment.

Public records later obtained by The IND also appear to point to further misconduct by the city marshal, another possible area of investigation for the grand jury. Read more on that matter here and here.

Marshal Pope and The IND are due back in court on the civil litigation on Aug. 22.

KATC reported that Pope was seen leaving the courthouse Wednesday while the grand jury was still in session but noted that it is unknown whether he testified.