June 19, 2017 09:52 AM

Effort underway to boot the embattled city marshal from office as his felony trial looms.

Organizers of the Pope recall effort collected signatures Sunday at a public park in central Lafayette.
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“You have a city marshal who is sitting in office who has been charged with seven felonies, who is enforcing but not following the law; he is stealing taxpayer money and to me that is a no-brainer,” says Aimee Boyd Robinson, one of the organizers of a bipartisan effort to recall Lafayette City Marshal Brian Pope, the most mugshotted elected official in Lafayette history who awaits trial on multiple felony charges and has already spent a week on house arrest and shelled out hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees, fines and penalties — all of which he paid for with public funds from his office — in his long-running public records dispute with The Independent.

What began in mid-May as a Facebook page that spread to other social media platforms, “Recall BRIAN POPE" became a state-sanctioned recall effort last week with the acceptance of paperwork by the Louisiana secretary of state.

The group will need to average about 150 signatures per day for the six-month term of the effort — a tall but not impossible order. Robinson says that in addition to sending canvassers into neighborhoods, the committee is seeking office space in a central location where the public can stop by to sign the petition. The group also plans to collect signatures at public events like ArtWalk.

Recall leaders Steven Wilkerson and Aimee Boyd Robinson
Photo by Robin May

“We are going to be planning several public events where people will be able to get their signatures on record,” she tells The Independent. “We’re hoping to have some office space secured so people can come by any time to do that.”

One third of registered voters within the city limits of Lafayette must sign the petition, about 27,500, by mid-December to force a recall election, which would likely be held next spring. Pope may well be a convicted felon by then — he’s set for trial on the seven felony counts in September — but he would likely appeal any felony conviction and could conceivably run out the clock on his term in office before being forced out by a state law preventing convicted felons from holding public office. A successful recall would ensure he vacates the office in a timely manner.

“We’ve followed this saga throughout, but the last stories about him [personally] collecting fees was really the last straw for me,” Robinson adds. “Where it really resonated was, we talk about how our law enforcement often doesn’t make a living wage — they can’t support their families — and to think of Brian Pope’s wife driving a Land Rover, he’s making over $200,000 a year, and he is a law enforcement officer while some of our law enforcement officers don’t make enough to support their families and a good portion of that $200,000 he’s making he’s illegally obtaining.

“I don’t think I have to explain that. I don’t think I have to go any further than that," Robinson continues. "You are enforcing the laws that you do not follow, and that’s the bottom line.”

Over the weekend, canvassers began going door-to-door. On Sunday, petitions were at the ready at Chargois Park awaiting registered voters in the city of Lafayette, who elected Pope to a six-year term in the fall of 2014 — a term he began serving in January 2015 following the three-decade tenure of former City Marshal Nickey Picard.

Brian Pope
Photo by Robin May

Pope’s reign as the most-embattled public official in Lafayette (his attorney was also indicted for perjury) began about 11 months later when The Independent filed a public records request seeking details about an October 2015 press conference Pope conducted at his office, flanked by deputy marshals, during which he accused then-sheriff candidate Mark Garber of having promoted illegal immigration for the personal benefit of his private law practice. Pope beat a bogus drum on illegal immigration in his remarks, claiming that Lafayette was flooded with undocumented migrants and accusing the sheriff's department of obstructing the work of federal immigration officers. Pope would later claim his "investigation" into this issue as a shield from The IND's records request.

In an ensuing court battle over the records, the presser turned out to be a ruse organized by the campaign of Garber’s top opponent in the sheriff's race, Pope crony Chad Leger, the elected police chief of Scott, whom Garber ultimately beat handily in a November 2015 runoff. Pope’s tenure as city marshal began to unravel at about that time, notably in depositions that appear to show him lying under oath and in the courtroom of 15th Judicial District Judge Jules Edwards, who proved a capable and impatient arbiter of Pope’s arrogance and indifference to the rule of law. (The Advertiser has a handy distillation of Pope’s troubling tenure as city marshal at the bottom of this story.)

Pope's deposition testimony in the public records case revealed his immigration investigation to be baseless and couched largely on racial profiling. Records eventually obtained by The IND showed that Leger's campaign manager, Joe Castille, scripted the October press conference top-to-bottom. Pope had used his public office as a political mouthpiece for an ally and paid with public dollars to defend and cover up his crimes, a gross abuse of his power and office.

“When we as citizens witness an attack on our community, it becomes our duty to hold accountable those who would cause us harm. It means standing up for what’s right and now is the time to do that,” says Steve Wilkerson, vice chairman of the recall. “Never is this more true than when someone we entrust to safeguard our community becomes the one who takes advantage of it.”

A former sheriff’s deputy and UL Lafayette police officer, Wilkerson says in a statement issued to The Independent that his motivation for joining the bipartisan effort to force Pope from office is based on his former line of work:

Law enforcement officers are by and large a dedicated group of amazing people, performing selfless service in an often thankless job. They literally risk their lives every single day in service to our community, and I respect them a great deal. ...So when you have a head law enforcement officer, in an elevated position of power and trust, who abuses that position and trust, it erodes the public’s confidence in law enforcement as a whole. That in turn makes it harder for all of those good officers to do their jobs. It makes their already dangerous job even more unsafe, which is why it is my belief that the informed resident cannot rightfully be both pro-Brian Pope as city marshal and pro-law enforcement at the same time.
Leslie Turk and Christiaan Mader contributed this story.