Lee Zurik Investigation: Man charged in SDT dumping case exonerated

A still from the 2009 video of the SDT truck at the center of the St. Bernard Sheriff's Office investigation
A still from the 2009 video of the SDT truck at the center of the St. Bernard Sheriff's Office investigation
Phillip Barbarin
Phillip Barbarin

A judge has dismissed charges against a Gretna man accused of stealing a truck owned by the garbage company SDT. It's a case that dates back to 2009, and it had SDT owner Sidney Torres offering a $10,000 reward for the person who did it.

Surveillance video of the incident prompted the sheriff's department in St. Bernard Parish to arrest Phillip Barbarin for allegedly stealing an SDT truck and illegally dumping sewage into a New Orleans storm drain.

"I was set up from the beginning," says Barbarin. "I always said I was innocent. The DA always wanted me to take a deal. I refused to take deals. I am an innocent man that got framed."

The St. Bernard Sheriff's Office arrested Barbarin three and a half years ago, at the time saying they had proof he was the man who stole the truck from SDT and owner Sidney Torres. But this week, the St. Bernard DA's office dismissed the charges against Barbarin.

"This is one of the worst cases I've ever seen," says Barbarin's attorney, John Fuller. "And I've handled 10,000 cases in my career."

Fuller says the DA had no evidence his client stole the truck. "Ultimately the St. Bernard District Attorney's office did the right thing," Fuller tells us. "When you have garbage, you put out the trash and they did that finally."

From the beginning, Barbarin told St. Bernard deputies that, at the time of the theft and dumping, he was at a New Orleans hospital, visiting a friend.

Barbarin recalls, "I told the detectives, 'Why don't you stop worrying about the video at SDT yard and go to University Hospital. That's where I was at.' They said they had they had no jurisdiction to go to New Orleans to get that."

Barbarin says St. Bernard deputies never listened to his story, and even before he was arrested he thinks they treated him unfairly.

"They came and got me from my job illegally," Barbarin tells us. "They didn't have a warrant. They just came and crossed the river in Harvey and handcuffed me and said they wanted to have a talk with me at their precinct."

Barbarin's attorney says the case had many holes. "My client, who is an African-American male, was accused of stealing a truck in St. Bernard Parish," says Fuller. "The same truck was seen later that night in New Orleans and the guy seen was clearly not an African-American. It was clearly not my client."

The St. Bernard Sheriff's Department and DA also said they had a witness, but they never brought that witness to court.

"We subpoenaed the guy to come to court and said he never talked to the detectives," Barbarin

says. "The detectives said they had fingerprints, a witness and video, and all along they didn't have anything."

Barbarin says he was set up by SDT employees because he was a witness for the federal government in its investigation of SDT illegally dumping sewage in City Park.

"I think I got framed because the federal investigation they had going on with the City Park incident," Barbarin tells us. "They were trying to discredit me from that investigation."

Barbarin says now he can clear his name, almost four years after the St. Bernard sheriff said this video was enough to make an arrest. "Four years I've been dealing with this and it's finally over," Barbarin says. "It's put a strain on my life. Every time I find a job they find out and think I did this. I can finally get my life back in order."

St. Bernard Sheriff Jimmy Pohlmann is out of town and unavailable for comment. We reached out to former SDT owner Sidney Torres -- he did not get in touch with us.