News Briefs

Guama's owners files suit, signs of the times, rooster ruckus and more


Almost one month after a victory in city court, Guamas Restaurant owners Rubens Mesa and Julieta Tarazona are taking their story of alleged abuse by Lafayette police officers to federal court.

The married couple jointly filed a civil rights suit last Friday against five city police officers, as well as Lafayette Police Chief Randy Hundley and Lafayette Consolidated Government.

Mesa and Tarazona claim the city police officers arrested them without proper cause and beat Mesa on the sidewalk outside their restaurant on the night of April 9, 2005 ("Street Fight," April 20, 2005). The officers have claimed Mesa provoked the altercation.

The couple is seeking restitution for punitive as well as actual damages resulting from the incident, including attorneys' fees, medical bills and defamation. The suit cites across-the-board negligence from city officials that "did nothing to investigate the incident, did not reprimand the officers involved and prosecuted petitioners in Lafayette City Court on the false charges that were leveled against them." In addition, the suit aims to reprimand the city for failing to adequately screen and monitor its police officers with psychological evaluations and drug tests.

Last month, Judge Doug Saloom cleared Mesa and Tarazona in city court of all six criminal charges police brought against them from the night of their arrest ("On Trial, Feb. 15). The civil suit, filed in U.S. District Court, is the sixth case alleging wrongful arrest and excessive force by the Lafayette Police Department to be filed since the start of 2005. The case is expected to be tried within the next two years. ' Nathan Stubbs


A proposed new zoning ordinance seeks to reverse the trend of towering business signs along city streets. The Zoning Commission is gathering public feedback on the ordinance before voting on a recommendation to send to the city-parish council. As it is now written, the regulations would require all new businesses to adopt monument signs no taller than 10 feet high. Existing businesses would have seven years to bring their signs into compliance. Exceptions would be made for signs within 500 feet of the interstate (which would be limited to 30 feet high) and "landmark" signs deemed to have a cultural or historical value. ' NS


Last week, KLFY-TV10 reported that two students were recommended for expulsion because one brought a toy gun and another had brought a "cockfighting rooster" to J. Wallace James Elementary. Justine Sutley, director of public relations for the Lafayette Parish School System, says two second-grade students did bring a toy gun and a rooster to school, both concealed in their backpacks, on March 8, to trade the items with one another. After a March 16 hearing, it was determined the students did not intend any harm, and neither was expelled.

But whether the chicken in question was raised for fighting in a cockpit remains unclear. "I don't know where the cockfighting thing came in," Sutley says, "unless that's what the students reported. I really don't know." Sutley adds that according to Principal Dana Schmersahl, "This was a rooster from the kid's grandmother's yard." ' R. Reese Fuller


As far as who has officially announced, it's not Republican Congressman Bobby Jindal, or even former Democratic U.S. Sen. John Breaux. The only declared candidate for governor thus far ' besides reigning Queen Bee Democrat Kathleen Blanco ' is Anthony "Tony G" Gentile. A recently converted Independent and "everyday person like you," Tony G is a refinery supervisor at ExxonMobil in Chalmette and has launched a Web site at His site states that he doesn't have a campaign budget, but he promises to canvas the state with his reform message. ' Jeremy Alford


A piece of legislation passed during last month's special session with no opposing votes throughout the entire process could end up costing coastal parishes millions of dollars, according to local tax officials. Act 34 by Rep. John Alario, a Westwego Democrat, expands an existing law exempting certain ships, vessels and barges from state and local sales and use taxes. Specifically, it added barges and drilling ships operating in foreign or interstate commerce to that tax-free column. Alario pushed the legislation as a simple "clarification" and was out of town when contacted for comment. Late last month, tax officials in St. Charles Parish reported that they expect to lose about $500,000 annually from the change, and that the coastal parish region could incur a $20 million collective hit as well. Other coastal parishes contacted don't know what to expect yet, but Lafourche Parish, for example, is anticipating a $300,000 to $500,000 annual loss due to taxes that can no longer be levied on supplies, services and repairs of barges in association with drilling vessels. ' JA


Even though Hurricane Katrina remains front page news and President Bush recently made his 10th visit to the devastated area, more than $1 billion designated for hurricane relief has gone unused by state governments, according to a report from the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit policy group. According to report author Jenni Bergal, Congress passed an emergency bill that gave states access to $2 billion to help low-income hurricane victims scattered across the country, but only a dozen states ' including Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama ' have taken the feds up on the offer. Some large states, such as California, New York, Illinois and Pennsylvania, never requested any of the "Temporary Assistance for Needy Families" money for evacuees. Meanwhile, elected officials and alarmed advocates for the poor keep arguing that low-income Katrina evacuees need all the help they can get. ' JA