A local sheriff is apologizing and promising to change departmental policy when it comes to target practice.
The developments came after FOX 8 uncovered chilling evidence his deputies may have been unhappy with a recent Lee Zurik investigation.
Last November, that investigation uncovered a long list of people who voted in the October 22nd election in St. Bernard Parish, even though they haven't lived there since Hurricane Katrina. Dozens on the list work for the Sheriff's office. Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler told us at the time, if those voters had homestead exemptions in other parishes, voting in St. Bernard Parish would be against the law.
Schedler launched his own investigation. By that time, the Sheriff's race was down to two candidates, Wayne Landry and Chief Deputy Jimmy Pohlman.
Landry was outraged by the alleged voter fraud. He said, "We go to war in foreign countries to make sure elections are fair and free and right here in the U.S. we have voter fraud like this taking place." Pohlman downplayed the allegations. Before the runoff election in November, he said, "I don't think people are going to be scared off by the ridiculous accusations of voter fraud."
In the end, the vote challenges came too late, so everyone in question was allowed to cast a ballot. Pohlman won the Sheriff's race with 60 percent of the vote.
That race may have gotten downright ugly, but it's what happened at the Sheriff's Office shooting range in the days and weeks that followed, that led FOX 8 to dig even more. We wanted to know who's been targeting the messenger.
At most shooting ranges, paper targets come in all shapes and sizes. There are silhouettes, unidentifiable people, animals, or bulls-eyes. Most come from a company that specializes in law enforcement targets. But FOX 8 found St. Bernard Deputies using a black and white photo of Lee Zurik's face instead.
"Sometimes when you reach celebrity status, people take shots at you. Of course in this case it was literal, not figurative," says longtime outgoing Sheriff Jack Stephens. He admits it happened more than once, but he says ill-will was not the intent.
"I don't think there was anything sinister about it. I don't think it was meant to be a threat," says Stephens during a recent interview at the Sheriff's Office. He goes on to say, "But it points out the responsibility of people in this line of work and how their actions affect other people. It's one thing for a civilian to be doing something like that, but it's totally different for a commissioned officer to be doing something like that."
Tulane Criminologist Peter Scharf says it's insulting and it undermines the department's credibility. "It raises all kinds of issues about professionalism, organizational control and decorum," says Scharf. "If they target Lee Zurik, what are they doing to other citizens?"
Records show on two of the days when Lee's picture was used in target practice, some of the officers at the firearms training class were the same ones at the center of the voting controversy. Stephens claims he never sensed any hostility among deputies. He also claims this is the first time in his 28 years as sheriff, something like this has happened.
"I'm sure there's no violation of the law, it doesn't appear to violate the canon of ethics, and there's no department policy that addresses it, but it is in poor taste," says Stephens. "With regards to how we handle these things in the future, there are deputies who have already been admonished never to use celebrity portraits again as target practice."
FOX 8 Legal Analyst Joe Raspanti explains why it's not illegal. Raspanti says, "It would fall into the category of flag burning and things like that. Not in g