When Clay Higgins made the leap into celebrity and announced his resignation from the St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Office from the steps of the parish courthouse in Opelousas on Feb. 29 of this year — Leap Day, coincidentally or not — he proclaimed with his now-familiar bluster, “I will die before I will sacrifice my principles. I will die and leave my wife without a husband, my children without a daddy, rather than kneel to the very forces of evil that I have so long stood against. So I will sacrifice my life for my principles. Surely you understand, I must sacrifice my job.”
Fifteen minutes before that announcement, Higgins had tendered his resignation to Sheriff Bobby Guidroz. At the courthouse announcement, Higgins would say of his now-former boss, “Although I’d take a bullet for my sheriff, although I’d stand with him against any peril, I cannot abide by his current orders. I’m sorry — I just can’t.”
Guidroz’s current orders? Tone it down in the Crime Stoppers videos and follow department procedure when appearing as the “Cajun John Wayne” away from the office.
Higgins’ exit is stuck in Guidroz’s craw.
“What upset me the most was he led the public to believe that I wanted him to do something which was maybe, I don’t know, illegal,” the sheriff says, a dazzling autumn Jefferson Street streaming through Venetian blinds into the conference room at The Independent.
The IND had been talking to Guidroz in recent days, seeking Higgins' email records from his office, and Guidroz has stopped in to take a photo after having lunch Downtown on Sept. 30. Small talk while photographer Robin May snaps pictures turns into a 30-minute conversation. The sheriff does all the talking. An imposing man, tan with meaty hands and the confident, calm demeanor of a country lawman who suffers no damn fools, Guidroz is having none of Higgins’ show and sell.
“He insinuated that he was doing something against his principles that the sheriff wanted him to say or not say or do or not do — something,” Guidroz continues. “That’s what he left with the public. It upset me because he didn’t correct that. He didn’t say why he left.”
Guidroz says prior to the infamous “Gremlins” Crime Stoppers video that aired on KATC in December — the one in which an animated Higgins, toting an assault rifle and wearing body armor, says into the camera to an alleged gang member somewhere out in TV land, “Young man, I’ll meet you on solid ground any time-anywhere, light or heavy — makes no difference to me. You won’t walk away!” — Higgins had been called in two or three times and warned to tone down the rhetoric due to concerns from department lawyers as well as Crime Stoppers’ attorney. (It's worth noting that Guidroz insists he personally had no issues with the Gremlins video.)
Guidroz had also put the kibosh on a TV commercial Higgins shot for a local burglar-alarm company when Higgins appeared in the commercial in his SLPSO uniform, which Guidroz says is against the law.
“Clay Higgins came into my office after the Gremlins video and requested extra body armor and an AR-15 and to take the decals off of his car,” Guidroz recalls. “And I said, ‘Why?’ And he said, ‘My wife is home alone a lot. I don’t want these Gremlin guys that are making threats, I don’t want them to see that I’m a policeman living in this area with the decals on my car.’
“And my response to him was, ‘No, and I’ll tell you why: You put a target on 55 other deputies in this parish that have marked units. By calling these guys out on the street, claiming to be a bad ass — I’m sorry [for using the word “ass”].’ And I said, ‘You know what, you put that target on them. Why should I grant you that request to unmark your car?’”
Guidroz maintains that while he gave Higgins permission to sell T-shirts, mugs and other gewgaws as his fame burgeoned over the course of 2015, he was unaware that Higgins was meticulously plotting his launch into America’s tawdry reality-TV stratosphere long before he resigned at the end of February.
“Now, we’re talking about Feb. 29, 2016. In March and April of 2015 — 11 months before that — you start reading the emails he was sending. He was hiring an agent. He was hiring an attorney. He was contracting with people to take care of his speaking engagements,” Guidroz notes. “So, he was preparing his departure way before — 10 months, 11 months before — he actually left, and I didn’t know that.”
Shortly after Higgins’ departure, Guidroz sent a memo to department personnel. “In order to control the rumors and the false information, I put that letter out to say this is what happened,” Guidroz says. “He would not comply with policy — he just could not. And it’s a shame because I think he could’ve gone far in our department if he’d have taken the time to follow the law, the policies and procedures. Was it that much that your head got that big that you couldn’t and would not comply? I regret that because I did like him.”
Guidroz says he now sees a correlation between Higgins’ demeanor becoming more outlandish in the Crime Stoppers videos and his settling on the crime-busting caricature he was trying to sell to television producers in California.
The Guidroz memo as well as a hoard of emails Higgins sent and received through his official SLPSO email account in the year leading up to his departure from the sheriff’s office have become news since several local and national news outlets, including The Independent, requested them from Guidroz’s office. In the emails, Higgins corresponds with potential reality-TV producers, chats with his agent and financial planner and negotiates deals to speak and/or appear at corporate functions. At least once he asks to be paid in cash — a request that should be considered against the fact that at the time the IRS was garnishing Higgins' sheriff’s paycheck as he caught up on thousands of dollars in back taxes.
The reality TV deal never came through, but Clay Higgins’ profile had gone national, and he wasn’t going to let it go to waste. On May 18 he announced his bid to run for the 3rd Congressional District seat opening up as Rep. Charles Boustany seeks to move up to the Senate.
“Clay Higgins does not belong in Congress, in my mind, because he’s doing it for the wrong reasons,” Guidroz says. “If he were a public servant and seeking a position where he could make a difference, I’d say go for it. But he has no experience with dealing with the public, no tolerance, no patience and no understanding of what it takes to follow the law or the general policies and guidelines of an organization.
“If you think you’re gonna get elected to Congress because everybody in Wyoming and California and Wisconsin and North Carolina say they love you and they’re gonna send you a hundred bucks for your campaign, they’re not gonna elect you to Congress in the 3rd District in Louisiana.”
But the financial windfall and fame that spring from Higgins’ national profile as a crime-fighting Louisiana cop are surely helping; by most accounts he’s polling second in the race behind Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle and may very well get into a December runoff.
In campaign mode, Higgins frequently dons a cowboy hat, boots and jeans, and he wears a badge and sidearm on his belt as he glad-hands the public.
“It upsets me. And I think he’s trying to convince people that he’s a street cop. And you know what? He’s not,” Guidroz says as he slips into addressing Higgins directly: “You were a policeman in Port Barre for two years. You got run off from Opelousas PD after a year and a half, two years [Higgins worked for OPD from November 2004 to May 2007; read more about his departure here]. I took you in at the sheriff’s office and promoted you — it didn’t mean you had leadership abilities; it meant you needed to be promoted to do the job — for four years? That’s not the definition [of a street cop].
“These policemen in Lafayette and all through this country should see. They should be upset with him for prancing around with a badge on his belt and a gun on his hip. What the heck is that? He’s no longer the ward constable in Port Barre; he resigned that May 22, 2016.”
That observation has Guidroz pivoting to another: “I notice that the badge on his belt is not the [Lafayette] city marshal badge. And if it’s a St. Landry Parish sheriff's badge, he’s gonna get arrested for impersonating a police officer, a sheriff’s deputy. Now that’s strong words from a strong man that can tell you, I don’t play. And he’s not gonna parade around with a St. Landry Parish sheriff’s badge on his belt convincing people he’s a street cop or law enforcement officer when he’s not.
“Let me tell you, if I get confirmation, I’m gonna tell you again, I’m gonna say it loud and clear: If I get confirmation that that man is parading around with a St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s badge on his belt, he’s gonna get arrested,” Guidroz continues. “I mean it. I don’t play. That’s an insult to these policemen who go home at 6 o’clock in the morning after fighting all night long, and he’s going to prance around saying ‘I’m a street cop’? No, you’re not a street cop.”
Higgins was sworn in as a reserve deputy marshal by Lafayette City Marshal Brian Pope this spring; Pope has since been indicted on multiple felony counts.
A longtime former state trooper, Guidroz is now in his third term as St. Landry Parish sheriff. He was first elected to the office in 2007, getting 60 percent of the vote in a four-candidate runoff. He ran unopposed the last two times he faced re-election.
It’s not lost on Guidroz that if Higgins’ bid for Congress is unsuccessful, a run for St. Landry sheriff might be in the cards.
“Straight from me — this is what he is: He’s got people fooled,” Guidroz says. “And if he wants to run for sheriff in three years — and you can record this — if he wants to run for sheriff against me in three years, I say put your big boy pants on and come and get it, because you’re gonna lose quick and you’re gonna have to show the people who you are, what you got.
“I’ve been there and done that. I walk the walk — I don’t just talk the talk. He talks it, I’ve walked it, and I welcome that challenge.”