The ongoing saga that has forever tainted the name of one of the most prominent families in Lafayette’s oilfield industry has landed in federal court via a June 3 civil suit filed by 56-year-old Bryan Knight against his older brother, Mark Knight, former Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Deputy Jason Kinch, former State Trooper Corey Jackson and ex-Knight Oil Tools employee Russell Manuel. Bryan Knight claims the four men worked together, under the direction of Mark Knight, to plant illegal drugs on him last summer and have him falsely arrested.
In what may come as a surprise to some in the legal community, Knight Oil Tools, the massive oilfield service company for which Mark Knight served as president and CEO until he was fired late last year, is not named in the suit. Nor is the Lafayette Parish Sheriff's Department or Louisiana State Police. All four of the alleged co-conspirators were arrested in April, at which time Kinch and Jackson were fired by their respective law enforcement agencies. Manuel was fired from Knight Oil Tools the month before he was arrested.
Mark Knight was removed as chairman of the oilfield service company’s board of directors shortly after his arrest.
Mark Knight and the two law enforcement officials face a state charge of racketeering, which carries a sentence of up to 50 years and a fine of up to $1 million.
Manuel, Knight Oil Tools' ex-property manager, faces charges of criminal conspiracy, possession of cocaine, possession of Lortab, possession of methadone, extortion and intimidating a witness.
The June 3 federal lawsuit sheds very little new light on the family drama but does confirm what ABiz has reported: that 57-year-old Mark Knight allegedly set his brother up for a drug bust due to a dispute involving ownership interest in the family company and Mark’s supposed out-of-control spending.
In the suit, Bryan Knight claims his brother and the alleged co-conspirators violated his civil rights by concocting a scheme to plant illegal drugs on Bryan and have him arrested — all in an effort for Mark to remain the top executive of the family company and get his hands on Bryan’s ownership interest.
The suit states that Bryan, Mark and their sister, Kelley Knight Sobiesk, own an equal share in the business started by their father, Eddy Knight. Shortly after their father’s death in 2002, Mark became president and later, in 2012, CEO was added to his title. According to Bryan’s lawsuit, “Mark Knight began engaging in a course of lavish and uncontrolled spending for his personal benefit. Plaintiff Bryan Knight voiced his objections and concerns over the excessive spending and waste.”
The suit claims Mark retaliated by attempting to gain the majority of Bryan’s interest in the family business, and when Bryan refused to hand over his ownership, Mark and the co-defendants concocted what they referred to as the “operation,” a scheme to silence Bryan by having him arrested and thereby forcing him to give up his interest in the company.
The suit asserts that the “operation” initially was just a surveillance program, using a GPS device planted under Bryan’s car to catch him committing an unlawful act and use their police power to stop and arrest him. When that didn’t work, they needed a Plan B.
The suit also discusses what ABiz has been unable to confirm until now — that the alleged scheme was thwarted at least once when the co-conspirators tried to get Bryan out of his house so he could be arrested. In a strange twist of fate, the suit states that one of the defendants (ABiz has confirmed it was Manuel, though he was not named in the suit) accidentally shocked himself while trying to cut the electrical line to the air conditioner at Bryan’s house while Deputy Kinch lay in wait nearby.
After several weeks of illegal surveillance that was unfruitful, according to the suit, the defendants decided to accelerate the timetable by obtaining illegal drugs and planting them in a magnetic box underneath Bryan’s vehicle. When Bryan was driving his vehicle, the suit states, defendant Jason Kinch, who was a member of the Lafayette Metro Narcotics Task Force, would be notified so he could help ensure the unlawful arrest of Bryan for felony narcotics possession.
While Bryan was in mediation with his attorney on June 4, 2014, discussing control and ownership of the family company, and again after the mediation ended, his older brother was in ongoing communication with trooper Jackson and Manuel while they drove around together waiting for Bryan to leave the mediation in his vehicle, according to the suit. The suit also claims that prior to planting the drugs, defendant Jackson commented that they should wait until Bryan enters St. Martin Parish because he would likely receive a longer jail sentence if arrested in that parish.
And while Bryan’s attorneys don’t elaborate on this particular statement, they leave little to the imagination: “Upon information and belief, Defendant Trooper Jackson also commented that Plaintiff frequently goes to New Orleans and that ‘maybe he just won’t come back one day.’”
The suit says Bryan was initially unable to prove to law enforcement that he’d been set up, and when he was fighting criminal charges for drug possession, his brother Mark told him he could take care of the charges if Bryan would cooperate with him. The suit does not elaborate on what Mark allegedly asked for.
In January the district attorney’s office declined to pursue the charges against Bryan citing lack of evidence, and a witness came forward in March and identified the alleged co-conspirators.
Bryan, who is represented by attorneys Joseph Joy III and Gordon Schoeffler (Lafayette City Prosecutor Gary Haynes is co-counsel), also is suing for malicious prosecution, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of mental anguish and conspiracy.
Read more about the case here.