To his credit, City Marshal Brian Pope has finally complied with our original records request, submitted Oct. 8. That said, it took about two months and a court injunction from a Dec. 14 hearing to cajole him into his duty as custodian of those records. And, in any case, he's not responded to any of the subsequent requests we've sent.
Just in time for the holiday season, and within the court-ordered three-day window following the hearing, Pope’s office produced a stack of documents responsive to our records request. Had this happened on or before Oct. 13 — i.e. within the statutory limit of five days from our original request — this would not be noteworthy. But through alternating denials, attempted legal evasions and an odd turn of testimony at the hearing, this stack of several hundred pages has become very interesting indeed.
There is no obvious smoking gun, no letters to Chad Leger or his campaign manager, Hilary “Joe” Castille, or communiques proving that he collaborated with the Leger campaign to smear Leger’s opponent in 2015’s sheriff election, now Sheriff-elect Mark Garber. We're still left with educated guesses as to the depths of their canoodling.
But what we did find directly contradicts his hearing testimony that he was unaware of an email advertising this bizarre press conference and distributed by the mailing list service Campaigner, and raises further speculation about what else he could be hiding or even thinking.
A thorough review of the court transcript of his testimony reveals an elected law enforcement official at the very least ignorant of his duties and the law, and at worst flagrant in his flaunting of the same.
To wit, this courtroom parlay with our attorney, Gary McGoffin, wherein Pope says that he performed a search pursuant to our request (we asked for words like Garber, Campaigner, immigration, Neustrom, Leger, Castille) and came up with zilch:
McGoffin: Could you tell us what steps you utilized to determine if there were any documents in your office bearing your email address either going out or coming back that had the search terms in it?
Pope: I just searched the names and the terms that was in it.
McGoffin: And how, exactly, did you do that?
Pope: Through the...however you do it in Outlook. You just put it at the top and if it doesn’t come back it won’t come up.
McGoffin: Okay. So there’s a search field for Outlook, you put each of the search terms in and it didn’t generate any responses?
Pope: Yes, sir.
It was perhaps this not-so-adroit exposition of his webmail acumen that gave presiding District Judge Jules Edwards III the cause to suggest to Pope that he contract outside help to perform a second, more exhaustive search.
"I'm going to suggest the marshal employ some person who is technically competent in electronic management information," Edwards said in his ruling. "The marshal has testified in such a way that I am not convinced that he is terribly proficient in the operation of Microsoft Outlook."
That search, conducted by Enterprise Data Concepts, dredged several messages responsive to our request. They were so responsive, in fact, they showed up several times over in a stack of files organized by search term. These responses were all replies to a Campaigner-produced mailing blast titled “Press Conference - Lafayette City Marshal.”
In three cases, Pope replied to the replies, a point which severely undermines his claim that he had no clue where the email came from. To wit this exchange between Pope and an account executive at TV station KADN.
Pope replied to email replies from two media sources, the above KADN exchange and another follow-up inquiry from Acadiana Advocate reporter Lanie Lee Cook, all within message threads collected under the "re: Press Conference - Lafayette City Marshal" subject line. Existence of those email exchanges also contradicts his testimony that his office advises the media of press conferences only by telephone.
In total, the records request produce eight replies to Pope's emailed press advisory. Two were to media and six to private citizens.
One reply was an auto-response from David Vitter's gubernatorial campaign manager.
Two other replies were auto-response messages. Two others were simple responses. Yet another came from a Crowley-based attorney who took umbrage with Pope's hypocritical piety on LinkedIn and responded to the release in a new thread. It's not clear if he was in receipt of the press advisory in question, though that seems to be the likely scenario. See below:
We have also confirmed the press advisory was emailed to The Daily Advertiser and KATC, but those emails were not included in records from Pope's outbox. This corroborates Pope's alleged use or authorization of the use of a third-party mailing system.
Local media outlets also tell The IND they did not receive media advisory phone calls from Pope's chief deputy/public information officer, Phil Conrad, as Pope claimed in court.
At the very least we can now say from the above that he was 1) aware of the email 2) not surprised by the method of distribution and 3) totally excited by the prospect of his anti-immigration stunt gaining traction. Yet from his testimony, delivered in a direct examination by his attorney Charles Middleton, we get this:
Middleton: Have you ever contracted with Campaigner to distribute your emails?
Pope: No, sir.
Middleton: Or press releases?
Pope: No, sir.
Middleton: So, as you sit here today, you have no idea why it says “Delivered by Campaigner?”
Pope: I don’t know who that is or who uses that.
And then further on down the line with IND attorney McGoffin:
McGoffin: But for the notice to the media the day before about the press conference, do you recall sending this advisory out?
Pope: I didn’t...I didn’t send it out by email.
McGoffin: Did you authorize anyone besides your public information officer to send out this press advisory?
Pope: No, sir.
McGoffin: So if it was sent out by someone else it was without your permission?
Pope: Yes. I don’t know who sent it out. Like I said, before the press conference started I was getting phone calls from all over the country. I don’t...I didn’t know what these people were calling me for. You know, they were asking me if it was going to be a press conference and I said yes, but I didn’t know who they were.
Pope’s “beats me” defense doesn’t stand up given the record shows that he wasn’t the least bit alarmed by these replies. Furthermore, his testimony that he was surprised when he started receiving “phone calls from all over the country” is contradicted by the above exchange with KADN. Clearly, Pope was at least aware that a Campaigner-based advisory co-opting his email address was going around.
He’s a police officer. It defies reason that he would learn that his work address had been "spoofed" and not investigate it.
Besides all that, we'd be remiss to not rehash the following excerpt from Middleton's Oct. 16 letter to The IND:
Addressing the original records request, it is my client’s response that there are no emails either to or from my client’s email address of [email protected] containing any of the “key words” requested to be searched by your client with one exception. Mr. Pope advised me this morning by telephone that the only emails that might contain one or more key words are email replies he received in reply to the subject “press conference notice” he had sent out via mass distribution via third party vendor across the country, that might contain one or more key phrases, particularly “Garber, immigration, workers compensation, illegal alien,” would likely be contained in a reply by a third-party to the instant press conference notice distribution. The responsiveness here would be due to the nature and subject of his press conference.
While none of this proves our initial suspicions outright, it does further demonstrate Pope's on again, off again relationship with the truth. He's evaded it at almost every turn, and despite his best efforts, has not cleaned up his tracks.
We've said it before and we'll say it again: If Pope has nothing to hide, why were these emails not produced two months ago? Why did he first deny our public records request by claiming the emails we sought would be part of pending investigation into Sheriff Mike Neustrom — an investigation that never occurred and was spurious at best? Why did he then say some existed, and then none existed?
Even if what we suspect — that our new city marshal abused the power of his office on behalf of a candidate for sheriff — turns out to be false, he has demonstrated a profound disregard for the public records laws that exist for the very purpose of checking abuses.
The Independent will depose Pope Dec. 28 in advance of the next hearing in this matter, set for Jan. 4 in Lafayette, which will take up the matter of our additional records requests. For now we're left unraveling a tangle of contradictions.