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After botched child sex case in Livingston, sheriff's office says public has no right to know about other internal problems

1 year 8 months 4 weeks ago Friday, June 03 2022 Jun 3, 2022 June 03, 2022 3:55 PM June 03, 2022 in News
Source: WBRZ

LIVINGSTON – The Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office said Friday it will keep details surrounding its internal investigation of a deputy’s failed attempt at investigating a child sex crime secret and won’t release to the public information about the deputy’s re-assignment.

The WBRZ Investigative Unit has spent the last two weeks asking for a clearer picture of Sheriff Jason Ard’s recent realization his department fumbled a complaint about a 2019 assault.  The sheriff said two weeks ago, the case was not “pursued as diligently as it should have been.”  It was re-opened and an arrest was made.

In the case, Patricia Fore, the co-owner of Tiki Tubing, was charged with sexual battery.  The victim’s mother said it wasn’t battery, but worse: “[Patricia Fore] raped her,” the mother said of the attack on her daughter in a recent interview with WBRZ.

The family filed a complaint immediately but was ignored.

“…[The Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office] had nothing to say to me.  That was the response every time I called for at least a year,” the victim’s mother said.  WBRZ agreed to not identify the family.

Click HERE to read or watch the initial story with the victim's family - May 20, 2022.

After repeated questions by WBRZ about how the case was mishandled, the sheriff’s office acknowledged the deputy involved was re-assigned and was disciplined.

Sheriff Jason Ard and his spokesperson, Lori Steele, then stopped offering any other information.

“We don’t release the names,” the sheriff’s office said in a cloaked response from a newly-created, generic email address reporters were told to use after a recent policy change.

Previously, Steele – who makes $74,400 a year as the public information officer for the sheriff’s office – would respond to reporters’ questions.  As WBRZ continued to ask for specific information about concerns that other sex crimes cases may also have been improperly investigated, the sheriff’s office abruptly required news outlets stop corresponding directly with Steele.  Instead, reporters were told to send messages to a group email and a response would be generated.

It took two days to get a response from the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office about whether it would be transparent about the deputy’s discipline.  The agency finally said no.

Many calls, emails and text messages to Steele were ignored or were responded to with vague information.

In what appeared to be another policy change, the sheriff’s office said it would only accept public records requests through the mail.  Most agencies have a straightforward, digital request system that streamlines the process of asking for public documents.  Open governments use digital requests as a way to keep records accessible.  The Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office said it will no longer accept electronic public records requests as of June 2022.

WBRZ has filed three public records requests tied to its investigation into the LPSO sex crimes unit. 

Revelations that the agency would not elaborate on if there were concerns with any other cases came in an email chain where WBRZ asked a series of other questions.  Read the email and the sheriff’s office response here.

Among the inquiries from WBRZ, was a question about the timeline of the disciplined deputy's work.  Specifically, when the deputy was re-assigned.  The agency said it does not release "deputy specific assignments." Steele argued the deputy's re-assignment was clear, referring to a previous note from the sheriff's office claiming the deputy was re-assigned at some point after the initial complaint in 2019 and before Fore's arrest in May 2022 - a three-year span.

In a phone call earlier this week, Steele said it was her “job to protect the sheriff” and not to help clear up public understanding of concerning behavior of the sheriff’s employees.

Steele did not answer phone calls Friday.

The sheriff refused to answer questions when a WBRZ reporter talked with him at a Livingston Parish Chamber of Commerce country club luncheon earlier this week.

“We already sent you the information.  It’s in your email,” the sheriff said as he walked away from a WBRZ news crew.

Emails from the sheriff’s office repeatedly suggested it was not going to share details on mismanaged child sex crimes cases and whether other cases were being re-opened.

Patricia Fore, the case that brought the inadequate detective work to light, was arrested days after her husband was arrested in a similar, unrelated case.  John Fore was arrested after complaints he molested a young boy.

The botched 2019 sex crimes investigation came the same year that Livingston Parish Sheriff’s deputy Dennis Perkins was arrested with his schoolteacher wife Cynthia Perkins on dozens of sex crimes, many involving children.  WBRZ previously reported Ard said Dennis Perkins was a close friend and found the agency failed to investigate a complaint by a Baton Rouge Police officer made directly to Ard that Perkins was inappropriate with the police officer’s stepdaughter.

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