TIMELINE: A review of the Jefferson Parish sheriff race

Source: NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
Source: NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
Published: Mar. 20, 2018 at 12:50 PM CDT|Updated: Mar. 22, 2018 at 6:30 AM CDT
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JEFFERSON PARISH, LA (WVUE) - The election for the next Jefferson Parish sheriff has been pugnacious as two well-known figures in the parish vie for a title they both believe they have earned.

MOBILE USERS: Click here to view the Interactive Timeline of the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's race. 

Joseph Lopinto and John Fortunato qualified for the contest in January, officially beginning the race's rocky road.

Below is a timeline of the events that unfolded leading up to election night.

July 25th Sheriff Newell Normand retiring from office, moving to radio

Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand announced his retirement from office at a press conference on July 25th.

The sudden announcement came as a shock to parish residents.

Normand appointed former Louisiana lawmaker and JPSO Deputy Joe Lopinto as his interim successor, boasting his confidence in Lopinto.

"Good leaders know when it's time to leave. New leaders know when to evaluate opportunities," Normand said.

Normand took a job at WWL Radio to take over for Garland Robinette, a former television anchorman and radio personality in New Orleans.

"This allows me to lead in a different way," said Normand.  "These are volatile times.  People don't know what to believe, who to trust, where to turn.  I'd like to help cut through the confusion and fog."

Normand was first elected Sheriff of Jefferson Parish in November of 2007. He had previously served in various command positions during his 36 years with the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office such as Chief Criminal Deputy, Chief Financial Officer, and Chief of the Louis Armstrong Airport Law Enforcement Detachment.

Prior to joining the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office, he started his law enforcement career in the Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff's Office serving high risk warrants and court capias.

"It was a tough decision because I love my work, my officers and the people of Jefferson parish, but this is an opportunity I couldn't pass up," Normand said.

Aug. 31 Lopinto takes over as Interim Jefferson Parish Sheriff

Moments after he was sworn in as Jefferson Parish sheriff on August 31, 2017, Joe Lopinto seemed eager to get to work.

The former Jefferson Parish sheriff's deputy turned attorney spent the past decade in the Louisiana Legislature, including a four-year stint as chair of the House of Representatives' criminal-justice committee.

"Nine years in the Legislature was enough for me," Lopinto said in a NOLA.com report. "Although that's where I guess I made my mark, with my criminal-justice career, the reality of it is, this was always home for me."

September 18, 2017 Well-known face in JPSO to run for sheriff

Sources in Jefferson Parish told FOX 8 News that Chief Public Information Officer Col. John Fortunato would retire and enter the race to replace Newell Normand.

Fortunato started working for the JPSO in 1971. In 1977 he was shot in the line of duty and has handled public information for almost 30 years, doing interviews from crime scenes.

September 19, 2017 Col. John Fortunato leaves JPSO, confirms run for sheriff

Col. John Fortunato officially retired from his position as public information officer for the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office to run for Jefferson Parish Sheriff.

The move was initially announced as a "resignation" in an email from Interim Sheriff Joseph Lopinto.

Fortunato said he did not resign his position, but retired from the JPSO, noting the distinction.

Fortunato confirmed his intention to run as he was cleaning out his desk and saying goodbye to long-time colleagues at the JPSO headquarters.

Fortunato said it was a tough decision to retire and run for sheriff.

"Basically I'm here to visit with family and friends that's what I'm here to do and remove nearly 46 years worth of things that I have accumulated. Is this tough? It's bittersweet," Fortunato said.

October 19: John Fortunato kicks off campaign for Jefferson Parish sheriff

Fortunato officially announced his intention to run for sheriff at a kick-off party on October 19.

October 19: UNO poll shows Fortunato has large lead in JP sheriff's race

The same day Fortunato made his run for sheriff official, University of New Orleans released a poll that showed he had a "large lead" over Lopinto in the race for Jefferson Parish Sheriff.

The poll surveyed 426 random registered voters in Jefferson Parish about the sheriff's race.

According to the poll, 44 percent of those surveyed said they would vote for Fortunato if the election were today. Nineteen percent said they would vote for Lopinto, and 37 percent were undecided.

"One of the reasons why I think I am the best candidate for the job is first of all I don't think that we have to accept a politician's hand-picked sheriff. I truly believe the people of Jefferson Parish need to decide who they would like to see lead them on and based on the information you have in this poll it certainly appears to be that the voters are speaking," said Fortunato.

Lopinto issued a statement that said:

"I'm focused on doing my job as sheriff, keeping the people of Jefferson Parish safe. As far as the campaign, I have raised over $600,000 to date because of the broad base of strong support for my candidacy in this community. I look forward to continuing to show that I have the right combination of qualifications and demeanor to keep the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office operating at the high standard of excellence our citizens expect and deserve."

December 4, 2017: Scalise endorse Lopinto

In a campaign advertisement for Joseph Lopinto, Majority Whip Steve Scalise endorses Lopinto for the Jefferson parish sheriff saying:

""When you look at the qualities needed for a quality sheriff, we have those in our current sheriff Joe Lopinto."

January 3, 2018 Lopinto, Fortunato qualify, denigrating begins

The race for Jefferson Parish sheriff officially began when qualifying for the contest kicked off, and Lopinto and Fortunato signed up right away.

"I've represented law enforcement in all three branches of government. This is civics, and I've represented them from the deputy on the street, from the black shirt and silver badge, answering alarms to the murders. I've represented them as the attorney for the department," said Lopinto.

"I want the people of Jefferson Parish to have the utmost confidence in the men and women of the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office to do what's best to keep their community safe," said Fortunato.

Lopinto believes he is ready for a four-year term. The department has 1,500 departments and various responsibilities.

"We have a tax division. We collect $800 million in taxes. This is a big business, you know? That's why Harry Lee understood that Newell Normand was probably that person, he was the person behind the scenes doing the work over those years. That's why Newell Normand asked me to be chief deputy. He asked me to be chief deputy because he's worked with me over the years," Lopinto stated.

Fortunato's emphasized his experience when talking about why he should be elected.

"Once again my opponent was anointed chief deputy, deputy chief of operations and sheriff in two short months. No…it's time for all the people of Jefferson Parish to decide who they want to be their chief law enforcement officer," Fortunato said.

Before his death, the colorful and longtime Sheriff Harry Lee made it clear his then-Chief Dep. Newell Normand would be his successor.

"When there is a vacancy, whether it's by retirement or whether it's by a death, the chief criminal deputy becomes the sheriff. I wasn't anointed. By law I became the sheriff. Now does it help me? Don't know. We'll find that out on March 24th," Lopinto said.

Fortunato answered this way when asked if Normand's appointment of Lopinto will hurt his odds of winning: "Well, first of all, I'm glad you asked the question, and I do not believe the people of Jefferson Parish are ready to accept a politician's hand-picked sheriff."

Fortunato also boasts of years of street police work. And though he joined the department of then-Sheriff Al Cronvich he referred to the late Sheriff Harry Lee as a mentor.

"I believe that my 46 years of experience with the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office speaks volumes for what I've done as an officer serving the people of Jefferson Parish, and also believe that working shoulder-to-shoulder with Harry Lee," said Fortunato.

Fortunato did not like it when Normand was quoted in the New Orleans Advocate newspaper as saying, " I don't know that Johnny has a college degree."

"I think it was a cheap shot on his part, actually as a parting shot as he walked away from this organization for whatever reason," said Fortunato.

"I don't think it's a cheap shot…I have people on this department that work on our motor pool that I'm not qualified to do their job," Lopinto stated.

Fortunato likes community policing and said if elected he would create an Elder Abuse Unit and make sure the department has the best training and equipment for officers.

Lopinto said as sheriff he is making needed changes every day, and that while he has Normand's backing, he is his own man.  He said he has made some changes at the parish jail, among other small steps.

Physicist Anthony Bloise of Westwego also qualified for the race. He said he has run for office before.

February 5, 2018: Campaign for JP sheriff intensifies after Mardi Gras

With early voting a little over a month away, campaigns for both Fortunato and Lopinto began ramping up.

"Hello, I'm Sheriff Joe Lopinto. I'm running for sheriff for one simple reason: because the right experience matters," a Lopinto campaign ad states.

"Over 40 years ago putting on this uniform for the first time was one of the proudest days of my life. I've served under three sheriffs, was shot in the line of duty," says an add by Fortunato.

Both believe they are best suited to keep residents safe.

"I think the citizens of Jefferson Parish will look at me and look at my qualification and elect me to the future," said Lopinto.

I don't think the people of Jefferson Parish, like I've said from day one, are ready to accept a politician's hand-picked sheriff," said Fortunato.

Campaign finance reports for the 90th day prior to the election show Lopinto's campaign had total receipts of $470,688.89, disbursements of $311,550.66 and funds on hand at the close of the reporting period of $529,057.36.

Fortunato had total contributions of $269, 001.64, disbursements of $112, 691.54 and $149, 788.07 on hand at the close of the reporting period.

"The early momentum with regard to polling and name recognition went to Fortunato, but the early momentum with fundraising goes to Joe Lopinto…The next fundraising reporting period is going to tell us a lot about who has the war chest going into the final 30 days," said FOX 8 political analyst Mike Sherman.

Both were confident in their momentum following Mardi Gras.

"I was a police officer on the street longer than Mr. Fortunato. Mr. Fortunato has been an employee of the sheriff's office for 40 years and a good employee of the sheriff's office for 40 years," Lopinto said. "That's not to take anything away from him, but the job of the sheriff is not to show up on a murder scene and give the two-paragraph press release. The job of the sheriff is to review the contracts, the memorandums, the budgets, the lawsuits that come to this office on an everyday basis. We collect $800 million of taxes that we have to distribute."

"I've sat in meetings with our tax collector. Discussed situations that when we prepared news releases that I had to know what we were talking about, issues that may have come up that the media may question, the public may question. You know, with a $128 million operating budget, I'm ready to accept the fact that I know that the majority of our budget is used for salary and personnel but I'm also smart enough to know there are federal grants out there that I look forward to working with my staff to make sure that we can procure," said Fortunato.

"Whether it's going to school at night, on weekends, being the policeman out there on the street, but also being the legislator, I've never shied away from hard work, and I believe the people of Jefferson Parish are noticing that. You have people that want to contribute to my campaign," said Lopinto.

"I went from a cadet, to deputy, to a detective, to a sergeant, to a lieutenant, to a captain, to a major and then to a colonel, which is the position I had when I decided to run for sheriff. My opponent doesn't have those same qualifications. He hasn't been through the ranks of the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office.  This is not a coronation, it's an election," Fortunato said.

February 7, 2018: JPSO Sheriff Joe Lopinto comments on surveillance video report, John Fortunato fires back

Jefferson Parish Sheriff Joe Lopinto commented on an internal sheriff's office investigative report that said Lopinto asked a deputy to get a coffee shop's surveillance video of a meeting involving his campaign opponent John Fortunato.

Lopinto insisted he did not order any surveillance and has never seen the video.

FOX 8 obtained the complaint form and internal affairs case report Jan. 22 because of a public records request.

Lopinto requested the JPSO investigation, and according to the case report, in mid-October, Sergeant Rodney Naumann was off-duty when he spotted Fortunato and two former JPSO deputy chiefs at PJ's coffee in Elmwood.

The investigator's report said Naumann told Lopinto a few days later what he saw and that Lopinto asked for a photo of the meeting.

Naumann said he knew the coffee shop's owner and would inquire about the video.

Eventually, the report said two detectives took an early lunch break to help Naumann work through technical issues to get the video.

The investigator who signed off on the report's findings concluded that no one was ordered by the sheriff to obtain a video or photo and that no one intentionally violated the code of conduct.

Fortunato responded to Lopinto's claims on Wednesday, calling Lopinto "a deceitful politician who will lie to the public for his own personal gain."

Fortunato said he would fire Lopinto for lying to the public if he were sheriff. He said the internal affairs memo disproves statements that Lapinto made about the deputies working on their own without his consent.

Lopinto said the officers who were at the coffee shop would undergo counseling. He also said he did not know the officers, although the internal affairs report contradicts his statement.

Fortunato said the sheriff "threw his own deputies under the bus" and lied to cover up his tracks.

February 7, 2018: In sheriff's race, Fortunato accuses Lopinto of lying; Lopinto says Fortunato is desperate

Former JPSO spokesman Col. John Fortunato accused Sheriff Joe Lopinto of lying about surveillance video of a meeting Fortunato had in a coffee shop. Lopinto firmly denies that and calls Fortunato desperate.

"I think that this interim sheriff has lied repeatedly to the citizens of Jefferson Parish, to civic organizations and business groups like the ones that are here today, and he can't be trusted, plain and simple," Fortunato told FOX 8 News Wednesday afternoon outside a venue where both he and the sheriff appeared to address Republican women.

Lopinto chocks up Fortunato's claim to dirty politics.

"This is in October. He talks about it now because his message of experience isn't resonating because he doesn't have any. You know, you get whatever free press you can get," said Lopinto, who became interim sheriff when Newell Normand retired last year and named Lopinto, his chief deputy, to the post.

The war of words involves an investigation Lopinto requested after Fortunato had a meeting at PJ's Coffee in Elmwood with some former high-ranking JPSO staffers just hours before Fortunato was to announce he was entering the sheriff's race.

According to the internal report, an off-duty JPSO deputy, Sgt. Rodney Naumann, spotted Fortunato at the business and informed Lopinto a few days later.

The report's synopsis states that Lopinto requested a picture of the meeting and that Naumaan told the sheriff he knew the coffee shop's owner and manager and could inquire about getting the video or a photo. It further states that the next day, Lopinto called his chief deputy, and during a casual conversation mentioned the video and said that he would like to have a copy of it.

The report said the chief deputy called Sgt. Naumaan and asked if he could get it during one of his breaks.

The report said eventually two detectives volunteered to help Naumaan during their break, because there had been some technical challenges initially in securing the video from the business surveillance system.

FOX 8 asked the sheriff if the deputies obtained the video on his behalf.

"Well, put it this way. It is a friend of mine that works on the department. He offered to go get it, I told him sure. Now did I order him to go get it? No. Did not happen. Did he offer to go get it and I told him yes? Yes, absolutely. But the reality of it is I didn't order him to get a video. I didn't order anybody to go get a video, and when they got it, they didn't even tell me about," said the sheriff.

Weeks ago, Lopinto told the media that if the deputies went to the coffee house to help his campaign, they shouldn't have.

Fortunato said the sheriff is throwing the deputies under the bus.

"For the interim sheriff to say over and over again that he didn't know about this incident at the coffee shop until he received the public records request from FOX 8 is a bald-faced lie. I know for a fact, based on the people I interviewed and the investigation I conducted - by the way, he should have had an independent organization conduct it. But based on what I learned, their accounts were accurate," Fortunato said.

When asked by FOX 8 News if he was lying as Fortunato alleges, Lopinto said, "No. And to be honest with you, I still haven't seen the video. I could care less about the video."

And while Lopinto said he had no prior knowledge that his deputy was at the same coffee shop with Fortunato that October day, he also said as the campaign wears on, he is being followed and videotaped.

"His campaign follows me and videotapes me at every forum. Guess what? It's expected," said Lopinto.

The JPSO investigator who signed the report, Maj. William Boudreax, said the investigation revealed that no one was "ordered" by the sheriff to obtain a video or photograph from the business; that no one was asked to participate during work hours by the sheriff; that Naumaan was a personal friend of the owner and his request was of a personal nature, and that no department equipment was used. Boudreaux also wrote that no one intentionally violated the Code of Conduct.

"They all belong to the same fraternity. He's going to say all the things that he's supposed to be told to say," said Fortunato.

"You know, our officers went out of their way to make sure that they weren't on duty…that they didn't use a JPSO flash-drive, you know, to download it. You know what? Everybody makes mistakes," said Lopinto.

February 28, 2018 Campaign Promises:

In a NOLA.com report, Lopinto and Fortunato outlined their campaign promises during a town hall.

Despite the contentious tone the race has taken, the forum remained civil as Fortunato and Lopinto explained their positions to a crowd of about 100 people gathered in the gym at Oakdale Playground.

According to the report, the candidates fielded a range of questions on race, crime prevention and experience during the event, hosted by the West Jefferson Civic Coalition and the NAACP's West Jefferson Parish Branch.

The following answers to the Town Hall Q&A are direct quotes from a NOLA.com report

Arming teachers:

Neither candidate supported the proposal that educators carry guns, an idea that has been debated in wake of the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School during which 17 students and staff were killed.

"Am I opposed to it? No," Lopinto said. "Do I think that's the answer, that every teacher should carry a gun? That answer is no."

Lopinto said he believed it was a decision the school board would have to make, but cautioned that the community can't let situations like the Parkland, Fla., shooting control their lives.

"Are we willing to put our kids through that?" he asked. "I don't think we need to lock down our schools every single day because that's not the environment we want for our children."

Fortunato said there were better ways to protect students, including working with law enforcement officials and using police officers on campus.

"I don't think arming school teachers is a good thing because it takes a lot of training to know when you pull out a gun, as a law enforcement officer, as a civilian, as a school teacher, you have to know what the consequences are when you fire that weapon," Fortunato said.

"Arming teachers and putting them in the predicament where they have to protect the children comes with a huge liability," Fortunato continued.

Top priorities for controlling crime:

Fortunato touted proactive policing as his number one priority and concern.

"We need to make sure the men and women of the Sheriff's Office are out on the streets to do the best they can to protect you and your family," he said.

Fortunato also backed the idea of a return to community policing, like the department's S.T.A.R. program (Survey, Target, Arrest, and Rejuvenate), which identified and focused on the parish's most violent and troubled neighborhoods.

"We need to rebuild the trust in those neighborhoods," Fortunato said, pointing out that residents will be more willing to share information if they trust law enforcement. "We need to find out what's going on in the neighborhood, today, more so than we did 20 years ago."

Lopinto prioritized rapidly solving cases to get criminals off the street faster.

"In Jefferson Parish, we do a great job of solving crime quickly. A burglar is going to continue to burglarize until they get caught," he said.

Deputies aren't always able to catch a suspect in the act. That's where investigators' ability to quickly identify suspects by use of the department's in-house crime lab becomes important, he said.

"The big needs are making sure we have the tools in place and the personnel to solve crime quickly," Lopinto said.

Diversity training and policing people of different ethnic backgrounds:

The Sheriff's Office already provides diversity training for its staffers, Lopinto said, in fielding a question from NAACP West Jefferson President Gaylor Spiller. African-Americans account for about 30 percent of the total department, including patrol deputies, the corrections center and support staff, he said.

Lopinto pointed out that the numbers are comparable to Jefferson Parish's African-American population, which is at about 27.5 percent, according to census data. Though he did not break out the percentages for patrol deputies, Lopinto told the crowd the last five academy classes were 23 to 24 percent African-American.

"Do things need to go forward? Of course they do. I need people of every race working on the street," Lopinto said.

But it shouldn't make a difference what race a deputy is, he said. "We need to make sure we treat everybody fairly," Lopinto said, stressing the need to be professional.

Fortunato quoted a sign he said used to hang in his mother's grocery store: "Do unto others as you'd have others do unto you."

Part of his platform, he said, has been inclusion, treating people fairly.

"This will be the first time in a long time that the African-American community will play an integral role in choosing who the next sheriff of Jefferson Parish is," Fortunato said. "I have an open-door policy. I want to give everyone a seat at the table."

In a later question, Fortunato said he'd like to have liaisons from each of the parish's ethnic groups to make sure that everyone's voice is heard.

Body cameras for deputies:

Neither candidate seemed to support body cameras for Sheriff's Office deputies. The department has spent the last few years testing various versions of law enforcement body cameras with patrol deputies. But no decisions were made to move forward with the technology.

Body cameras "don't give you an accurate depiction," Fortunato said, explaining that the camera is pointed forward and doesn't capture any action or threat that may be on the deputy's periphery or behind them.

"It's tunnel vision," he said.

The department has more work to do in determining how the videos would be used in the court system and how long the Sheriff's Office would have to maintain the records.

"There's a lot of things we need to look at before we just put them on people's bodies," Fortunato said.

The problem, according to Lopinto, is the cost. The equipment itself would cost about $500,000. But the Sheriff's Office would also have to pay for computer equipment and manpower to monitor and maintain the video. There's also questions about how the state's public records laws would affect video distribution.

Out of 400,000 calls to service in a year, Lopinto said only about 55 calls involved the use of force such as pepper spray, Tasers or firearms.

"I don't think we're ready (for body cameras), nor can we afford them," Lopinto said.

Possibility of raising property tax millage:

A panelist asked whether Lopinto or Fortunato had plans to "raise the millage," as allowed, and for what reason. The Sheriff's Office collects the maximum 8.28 mills of property tax, which generates about $29.6 million in property taxes toward $127 million in revenue, according to the department.

State law requires agencies to roll back their millages to remain revenue-neutral in years when property assessments increase. But the policy of former Sheriffs Normand and Harry Lee was to roll the millage forward again to take advantage of the increased tax revenue as a way to keep up with inflation.

It wasn't clear whether the question was referring to the roll forward, which is allowed, or a new, additional millage, which would require the approval of voters.

Fortunato said he doesn't want Jefferson Parish residents to think that he'd raise taxes to buy equipment or technology for the department.

"There are a lot of federal grants out there," he said. "There are a lot of ways we can get money from the federal government instead of asking the citizens of Jefferson Parish to pay more tax dollars."

Lopinto pointed out that a large portion of the department's budget comes from commissions for collecting sales taxes for other agencies. (About $40.4 million, according to the 2017 budget figures).

The Sheriff's Office has a tight but strong budget with a healthy surplus, he said. If things continue that way, then the department can make adjustments as needed.

"I don't foresee any time in the near future that I would be asking the people of Jefferson Parish for anything. But things could change. We always have to be flexible," Lopinto said.

Supervision and leadership experience:

Fortunato and Lopinto have traded barbs during the race, attacking the other's experience when it comes to law enforcement and leading the department. Fortunato has accused Lopinto of not coming up through the ranks, as he did, and being anointed at the last minute by Normand.

Lopinto touts his education and experience as an attorney, legislator and former deputy as the "right" experience.

An audience question asked the candidates to elaborate on the additional duties they've had and how many people they've supervised.

Lopinto said he was a supervisor while working for the Sheriff's Office and then while leading his own law firm. He mentioned his time as chair of the Criminal Justice Committee in the state House of Representatives. He also pointed to his tenure as Chief Deputy in charge of operations at the Sheriff's Office, a role he took over in 2016, as well his service as interim sheriff since Sept. 1.

"Supervision means something because you have people that actually have to follow your lead," he said. "You have to have the experience to supervise people."

Fortunato started with the Sheriff's Office in 1970 and worked as a patrol deputy and detective before he was put in charge of the Community Relations and Crime Prevention unit with several people under his command, he said. Fortunato was eventually made a spokesman for the department and worked in the public information office.

"I know that all of my years of involvement, my years of experience that I have working in that capacity... I have more than my share of experiences of telling people what we needed to do, of directing people," he said, making note of his time coordinating manpower and resources during Hurricane Katrina.

Early voting begins:

Early voting began March 10 and ended March 17. Both candidates mobilized  their supporters for early voting.

Both maintain they are well-suited to keep the community safe and enhance the department.

"I've represented law enforcement in all three branches of government, and I've represented them in different ways - as the policeman on the streets, just 13 years ago writing up reports, handling the calls for service and being what an actual policeman does on the street, not just an employee of the Sheriff's Office, but as a person who has gone out there and done the work. I'm been the chairman of the Criminal Justice Committee," said Lopinto said before early voting.

"I've worked throughout my entire career, 40-plus years, the institutional knowledge, when I captured the phrase of what I wanted to say, where 'experience matters' means a lot. Those years of experience can't be taught in a classroom," Fortunato said.

March 10, 2018 Voters must decide whose experience matters most

The Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office enjoys an enviable $127 million budget, record-low crime rates, cutting-edge crime fighting technology and a solid reputation for responding quickly and closing cases, according to a report by our partners NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune.

Now, Jefferson Parish voters must decide whose experience matters most for arguably one of the most powerful political positions in Louisiana.

Fortunato ran on a campaign declaring that "Experience Matters." He touts his 46 years with the department throughout his campaign.

"I got an opportunity throughout my career, standing shoulder to shoulder with Harry Lee, to watch a man who had a heart of gold and a spine of steel. I believe I could emulate Harry Lee better than anyone because I was with Harry Lee every day," said Fortunato, who has taken shots at what he calls his opponent's last-minute "anointing" by Normand," Fortunato said in a NOLA.com report.

Lopinto's campaign shot back at Fortunado's slogan, claiming that "The Right Experience" matters when it comes to the position.

He also referenced his background as a Jefferson Parish deputy, attorney and state representative as well as his six months at the head of the department. He believes this made him better qualified to run the department.

"It makes a difference what experience you have," Lopinto said. "I have the qualifications. I've represented law enforcement in all three branches of government: legislative, judicial and executive."

Thus far, the lion's share of endorsements and money has gone to Lopinto, who has the backing of several elected officials, including U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, Jefferson Parish Councilwoman Cynthia Lee Sheng - Harry Lee's daughter, Jefferson Parish Councilman Chris Roberts and Gretna Police Chief Arthur Lawson. Lopinto has raised just over $1 million and spent $722,329, according to a NOLA.com report.

Among those supporting Fortunato, a Marrero resident, are Jefferson Parish Council members Mark Spears and Jennifer Van Vrancken, Kenner Mayor Ben Zahn and Westwego Police Chief Dwayne "Poncho" Munch. Fortunato has raised  $394,400 since September and has spent $162,939, the report said.

The race has been dicey up until this point. Fortunato called Lopinto a "deceitful politician" who lied about his involvement after Sheriff's Office personnel retrieved surveillance video from an Elmwood coffee shop where Fortunato met with two former commanders of the department last fall.

Lopinto has taken aim at Fortunato's lack of college education, as well as his campaign ethics, following a flap over a food giveaway at a Kenner school that one of Fortunato's supporters organized, according to the report.

Fortunato has blasted Lopinto, who rejoined the Sheriff's Office in June 2016 as legal counsel. Normand named Lopinto chief deputy in June 2017, clearing the way for him to assume the role of interim sheriff after Normand's retirement two months later. Lopinto's candidacy is about power, Fortunato said, and making sure that those who've always had it always will.

"This is not a coronation. This is an election," Fortunato has said throughout his campaign.

Fortunato strongly advocated a return to proactive, community policing, building relationships with residents and repairing trust in neighborhoods where crime is a real concern, according to the report.

"I believe that community policing today is paramount to the safety and well-being of the citizens of Jefferson Parish," he said.

Fortunato said he wants to strengthen the sheriff's office's relationship with the Jefferson Parish district attorney's office.

He also wants to continue to upgrade the department's technology, including facial recognition software, predictive analytic software and three-dimensional crime scene scans, according to the report.

Fortunato vowed to remove politics from all forms of policing. Unlike Lee, Fortunato said he would not require or ask his employees to campaign for him or engage in any political activities on his behalf.

"There will be no Fais do-do ticket selling," Fortunato said in a NOLA.com report, referring to Lee's annual $100-a-ticket fundraiser. Deputies were aware that selling the tickets curried favor with Lee.

Fortunato also said he would keep the promotional testing system introduced under Normand to decide advancement for sergeants and lieutenants.  He said he would make a few changes to the procedure, he claims has flaws. Fortunato suggested having an independent group review applicants to provide an objective opinion, according to the report.

"It's pretty simple. I want to build a department that has quick response times and zero tolerance for crime," Fortunato said. "My goal is to make Jefferson Parish the safest parish in Louisiana."

If elected, Lopinto would make some changes to the promotional testing process based on input from employees. He said most deputies like the system, but want to see some tweaks made.

Lopinto said in the NOLA.com report that he wants to find ways to reduce employee turnover at the Jefferson Parish Correctional Center, where officials are forced to pay overtime to cover staffing shortages. He'd like to create an academy just for corrections officers to provide training that allows them to advance.

The biggest change would involve the department's antiquated ARMS records management system, which is about 28 years old. The system is badly in need of an upgrade, but that would cost millions, Lopinto said in the report.

Lopinto also said he would continuing investing in the crime lab and keep the department up to date with the latest technology.

The Sheriff's Office handles its own ballistics testing, DNA analysis, forensic testing and fingerprint examination, meaning its detectives don't have to send out evidence for processing, according to the report.

"If we solve crimes quickly, we can prevent the next crime from occurring," Lopinto said in the NOLA.com article.

Lopinto also wants to add deputies to the traffic division to increase enforcement around the parish in hopes of strengthening relationships in the parish.

"We want deputies on the street to be professional and well-trained," Lopinto said. "They're looking for who's going to lead them into the future."

March 14: New poll shows Lopinto with narrow lead

A poll commissioned by a New Orleans businessman showed interim Jefferson Parish Sheriff Joseph Lopinto with a narrow lead over his opponent John Fortunato ten days before the election.

JMC Analytics and Polling was commissioned to conduct the poll for Henry Shane and was independent from the candidates.

The poll, which was conducted on March 10, randomly surveyed households in Jefferson Parish on two races, the sheriff's race and the constable race between Allen Leone and Jack Rizzuto.

There were 880 responses to the four poll questions.

In the Sheriff's race, Lopinto has a narrow two-percent lead over Fortunato.

According to the poll, Lopinto has the lead regardless of whether or not undecided "leaners" are included. The poll also said Lopinto has leads across most racial and party demographic groups.

There are three demographic groups where results are substantially different.

According to the poll, women voters are noticeably more likely to prefer Lopinto over Fortunato, with a 14 point gender gap with leaners included.

Women favor Lopinto 48 percent and Fortunato 39 percent. Men favor Fortunato 46 percent to Lopinto's 41 percent

Candidate preferences also vary substantially depending on whether the respondent is from the Eastbank or the Westbank.

With leaners included, Westbankers favor Fortunato 50 percent to Fortunato's 38 percent, while those in the Eastbank favor Lopinto 48 percent to Fortunato's 39 percent.

The demographic breakdown of the respondents was 79 percent white, 17 percent black. The party registration of those respondents was 43 percent Democratic to 42 percent Republican with 15 percent of those respondents being Independents.

The geographic breakdown of the respondents:

  • 14 percent from Parish Council District 1,
  • 23 percent from Parish Council District 2,
  • 15 percent from Parish Council District 3,
  • 22 percent from Parish Council District 4,
  • 25 percent from Parish Council District 5

March 20: Candidates accuse one another of ethics violations

Just four days before the election, Fortunato and Lopinto accused one another of ethics violations.

On March 19 Fortunato accused Lopinto of defying ethics laws when he failed to report his income as a member of the Louisiana House of Representatives on his 2014 personal finance disclosure form, according to a report by our partners NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune.

Fortunato said in the report  Lopinto's salary and per diem for that year was listed at $0, when he earned a total of $27,652.

Lopinto said that the omission was a mistake and he wasn't hiding any money.

"It's just a typo. It's not like I'm trying to hide income," he said, explaining that he likely typed in zero while awaiting his W-2 and forgot to fill in the correct amount.

Lopinto called Fortunato hypocritical after a report claimed Fortunato's involvement with security details for the Mercedes Benz Superdome and The Smoothie King Center led to him being demoted.

The report claimed that Fortunato wasn't administering the off-duty assignments through the department's detail office.

Fortunato has said that every penny of the money related to those security details has been accounted for, and he was never told to coordinate details through the department office, according to the NOLA.com article.

SMG, the company that manages the Superdome and the Smoothie King Center, separately employs the deputies to work details and pays them directly, according to the report.

Lopinto's campaign also accused Fortunato of not properly reporting his income from SMG.

According to the report, SMG is not listed as an employer on Fortunato's personal disclosure statement filed Jan. 5. His only listed income is his Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office pension and Fortunato Productions, a media and public relations company he owns with his wife, Kriss Fairbairn Fortunato.

Fortunato was also accused of violating election laws by having his campaign signs produced by his son.

Fortunato paid $10,095 to Wrapstars, the Spring, Texas, vehicle wrapping and electric sign company owned by his son, according to the report.

State law prohibits candidates from giving campaign money to immediate family unless the payment is made for a legitimate campaign purpose of reasonable value to a "bona fide business" that has been operating in Louisiana for at least 12 months.

According to the report, Wrapstars isn't registered with the secretary of state and Fortunato's son doesn't have a company under that name.

FOX 8 political analyst Mike Sherman said this race was never about a gap in policies between the two candidates.

With three days left before the election, both candidates said they feel good heading into Saturday's elections, and both hope voter turnout will be higher than expected.

"I've been a police officer all my life. I'm not a politician, and I just think I have all the right qualifications," Fortunato said.

"I have to go out there and not only campaign and meet people, but also do my job, come here to the office and do the things that we have to do as a department and what I have to do as a sheriff," Lopinto said.

Fox 8 Political Analyst Mike Sherman said experience aside, voters will determine who will be sheriff based off their character.

"This is all about integrity and character and who voters think will keep them safe in Jefferson Parish," Sherman said.

It's been a heated campaign that became even more heated in the last couple of weeks.

"Politics do get dirty sometimes, but the reality is, did I expect it? No," Lopinto said.

"You know, I've sat and watched being with Harry Lee for all those years, and I watched how the game is played, but I'll tell you, since I've been on the playing field, I've seen a side of people that I never knew existed," Fortunato said.

"So, there are two issues here for voters. One is what is their vision for a sheriff, and which candidate meets that vision? Is it a career lawman, or is it that attorney who wants to manage that organization? There is a very different profile for these two candidates," Sherman said.

March 24: Election Night

The special election for Jefferson Parish sheriff is set for March 24.

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