Pope keeps convicted felon on reserve roster

by Leslie Turk

When will this error of an administration end?

Sept. 15, 1982, The Advocate

It's probably safe to say there is only one city marshal in the state — heck, the country — who would knowingly retain a convicted felon on his roster of reserve deputies.

It's just another in a long line of examples of Brian Pope doing whatever the hell he wants to do with his office with no regard for the public's best interest.

The embattled Lafayette city marshal is facing a seven-count felony indictment charging him with perjury and malfeasance in office. The charges largely stem from lies Pope told under oath about the role the Chad Leger for Sheriff campaign played in a 2015 press conference and Pope's use of public resources to smear Leger's opponent, all of which was revealed after The Independent sued the marshal for public records related to the presser. He is set to go to trial in September.

More recently, The IND revealed that Pope is making more than $220,000 a year in large part by personally collecting — illegally, it seems — fees from city court and a percentage of garnishments administered by his office (and he is now asking the council for more money after spending hundreds of thousands of dollars of public money on his and The IND's legal fees in the public records lawsuit). That hasn't gone over well with voters.

For a story early last year, The Independent requested from Pope a list of all of the men and women he had commissioned as deputies, full-time and reserve, since taking office. What the list revealed was that he had been doling out badges and commission cards to an extraordinary number of reserve deputies, more than 60 at last count. “That’s 10 times what I had,” his predecessor, Nickey Picard, told The IND at the time. Reserves are unpaid volunteers who serve as support staff to full-time deputies, supposedly undergoing the same training as full-time officers. In Pope’s case, however, many of the reserves are nothing more than honorary deputies who have recorded zero training and log little or no hours assisting the department, the marshal’s own records show.

Missing from what Pope provided — it soon became evident that he had commissioned so many reserves that he lost track of them — was the name Ricky Williams. A parallel public records request for all deputies’ names to the Lafayette Parish Clerk of Court and the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office, which as a courtesy once processed and printed the cards for the marshal’s office, turned up the name of Williams and eight other reserves whose names Pope had not supplied. Williams was commissioned in June 2015.

As The IND pointed out in the original story about his penchant for deputizing, "Pope & his posse," some of Pope's reserves had questionable pasts. But the problem with Williams is that he is a convicted felon, having been found guilty of “attempted aggravated crime against nature” in April 1982 after a woman testified that he forced her to perform a sexual act on him the previous December. Williams was given a two-year sentence in the parish jail.

Williams was a police officer with the Lafayette Police Department at the time of the crime and was fired shortly after refusing to take a polygraph, according to local media reports.

Mike Harson, then an assistant district attorney, prosecuted the case, in which Williams was initially indicted for aggravated crime against nature, a charge that mandated a sentence of three to 15 years. Harson argued that Williams used his job as a policeman to obtain sexual favors from the woman. Another man, a bail bondsman named Irving Reed, was indicted on a charge of false imprisonment in connection with the incident.

According to an April 9, 1982, account from The Advocate, which covered the jury trial:

Williams took the stand Thursday and claimed the alleged sex act never occurred and that the victim was the aggressor who tried to bribe him with sex to help with drug charges.
He told the jury that he was present when the woman was booked and bonded out of jail on drug possession charges.

He testified the next time he saw her he was off duty and at the Guillory Bonding Co. Williams said it was during that second meeting that she began to tell him of her troubles after moving from Houston to Lafayette.

Williams said he suggested they go into another room out of the presence of others for her to tell about her problems. While in the room, he said, she began to cry and laid her head on his shoulder.
He told the jury that he consoled her and the woman persisted in asking for help with her drug charges, even though he insisted he could provide no assistance.

Eventually, he said, she offered to perform a sexual favor in return for his help with the drug charges. He recalled she said “I don’t even like sex. I just want to get out of Lafayette.”

While making a phone call in the room, Williams said, the woman began taking off her clothes and later unzipped her pants, but he denied his pants were lowered as the victim claimed Wednesday.

If his pants had been lowered, he said, his off-duty pistol would have fallen out of his back pocket.

He said he refused to allow the woman to proceed, then left the room without engaging in any sexual activity.

April 8, 1982, The Advocate

It was the victim’s testimony, however, and that of a key witness that swayed the jurors. Testifying the day before Williams took the stand, the woman explained that the incident took place her first night on the job at the bonding company.

According to The Advocate:

The woman said she followed Williams into a room at the bonding company office after he seemed sympathetic about rude behavior by another man at the office.

Once in the room, she said, Williams “made threats that I would never see my children again” and that he could obtain revocation of her bond set for her on drug possession charges.
She said she submitted to Williams’ demand after he told her he could kill her and suffer no consequences.

After the incident, the woman testified, she cowered in the corner of a room and cried, but did not go to the police.

“After having an incident like that with a policeman, another officer was the last person I wanted to see,” she said under intense cross-examination by defense attorney Max Jordan. ...

She said Reed told her if she told anyone about the incident “my body would be found in the morgue chewed up by alligators.” ...

The last witness of the day was Joseph Comeaux, a janitor at the bonding office.

Comeaux corroborated much of the woman’s testimony and said he heard her crying and noticed she was upset when she came out of the room.

“She was so scared, she was scared of me,” he said.

Comeaux said he also overheard Williams tell the woman to shut up in a violent tone of voice.

When The IND learned of Williams’ criminal record in the fall, we reached out to Pope with questions about why he would commission a convicted sex offender. Through his attorney, Joy Rabalais, Pope offered the following:

The Marshal conducts background checks on all persons who are considered to become a commissioned deputy marshal (both full-time or reserve).

It is the Marshal’s policy that if any unexpunged felony conviction is noted on the background check, then the person is not eligible to become a deputy marshal. There was nothing to indicate that Ricky Williams was a convicted felon. In fact, Reserve Deputy Marshal Williams has over 30 years of licensed private investigation experience, holding licenses in multiple states (a feat which could not occur if a felony conviction existed in the first instance).

The IND has since been unable to determine whether Williams had his record expunged (there is no documentation in the parish courthouse records) or was pardoned by a governor, but Pope is not the only source to confirm that Williams’ record has been wiped clean.

Mike DiBenedetto, also a reserve deputy who runs a private security company in Lafayette, had been employing Williams until DiBenedetto was notified of the criminal conviction by one of Debenedetto’s clients, River Ranch, last fall. DiBenedetto, a Lafayette police officer from 1980 to 2005, was with the department at the time of the conviction but insists he did not recall it when he, too, ran a background check on Williams. “I just forgot all about it. It was like 36 years ago,” DiBenedetto tells The IND. “I’ve got high-end neighborhoods. I would not jeopardize my contracts.”

DiBenedetto says Williams has his own security company now and acknowledges that while Williams was terminated as an employee, he “does some contract work for us offsite,” offering that Williams helps with events like weddings and receptions.

Until April of this year, Williams was licensed by Louisiana’s Board of Private Investigator Examiners. That’s when his license expired, and he did not renew it, leaving him with six months from the date of the lapse to pay the annual renewal fee or reapply, a board representative tells The IND.

On his 1992 application for licensure, obtained via a public records request, Williams answers "Yes" on a question about whether he had ever been “discharged or asked to resign from any position,” but when asked if he had ever left a position under circumstances he wanted to explain, he writes, “No.” On a separate page he signs an "affidavit of truthfulness" swearing that he has not been convicted of a felony.

Portions of Williams’ application were not provided to The IND, along with an accompanying privilege log, as is required by law when public records are withheld. Among the documents not made available were a June 16, 1993, letter from the board chairman to the board attorney and attachments to the letter; the subject was “Request for attorney advise on licensure issue.” Also withheld was a letter to the board from Lafayette criminal defense attorney Thomas Guilbeau with the subject listed as “Information regarding licensure background.”

Ricky Williams was commissioned by Marshal Pope in 2015

It appears that Williams’ application was approved some time in early 1993. The minutes of the board's April 27, 1993, meeting in which he is listed as having complied with all the board's requirements and was awaiting board approval do not indicate that his pending license was discussed in executive session at that time. Telling from the minutes, however, is denial of another applicant’s license because he was a convicted felon who “has not been pardoned by the Governor of Louisiana.”

Other than provide the redacted application, the board representative did not answer additional questions about Williams.

The IND checked back in with Pope this month to see if Williams remains a reserve deputy marshal — and Pope confirmed that he does. Records Pope supplied to this news organization last year showed that Williams was not given a badge, which means he likely only carries a commission card. Records provided by Pope last year indicated Williams had not undergone any training or put in any volunteer hours. Before posting this story, we were not able to determine whether that has changed. We will update the story after Pope responds.

On his application to become a private detective, Williams answered that he had never been convicted of a felony.

Reached by phone, Williams, 60, declined to comment — albeit politely — about his past.

Ricky Williams paid for his crime and deserves the freedom he has earned. But he should never be able to represent a law enforcement agency, and it's unlikely neighborhood organizations would want him providing their security.

For Brian Pope, however, there are no rules and no accountability. He's proven that time and time again.

But he will have to answer to his actions in court come September, not to mention the possibility of a recall election that could finally put an end to this error in Lafayette law enforcement.