Deputy resigns after DWI arrest; was 3 times above legal limit
A veteran Terrebonne Parish deputy arrested Sunday on a first-offense DWI has submitted her resignation, an official at the agency confirmed.
Tara Whitney, a juvenile detective at the Terrebonne Parish Sheriff’s Office, was driving her personal vehicle, a 2007 Jeep Wrangler, Sunday at around 6:22 p.m. when a state trooper pulled her over because she was allegedly not wearing a seat belt. The stop was made at Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and West Main Street, a state police spokesman, Trooper First Class Jesse LaGrange, said. A field sobriety test was conducted and the trooper determined that Whitney was intoxicated. Whitney was taken to the Troop C barracks in Gray where she submitted to a breathalyzer. State Police confirmed that her blood alcohol count was .26, or three times the legal limit defining intoxication.
That Whitney, a detective with a reputation among her peers for tirelessly working with the children her division handles, was released with a summons rather than booked into the Terrebonne jail has caused a local stir; Maj. Doug Cain, a State Police spokesman, retrieved records on the number of summonses given in lieu of jail bookings for 2016 for Troop C. While statistically unusual, the numbers Cain provided indicate, release on summonses is not unheard of.
From Jan. 1 through June 29, troopers handled 373 DWI cases. Out of those cases 346 people were booked into jails. In 27 cases summonses were issued, meaning individuals were able to leave without posting a bond. Out of those cases, Cain said, 19 were in Terrebonne Parish.
“She was released to me,” said the detective’s father, retired state trooper and former coroner’s investigator Gregory Whitney. “I have a good reputation with the court system. There was no favoritism shown at Troop C because of my past employment. The young lady that arrested her, I thanked her, I thanked her for doing her job.”
Law enforcement officials noted that in Terrebonne Parish, the jail has in general not accepted misdemeanor arrests – other than DWI cases and domestic violence – in most instances, due to overcrowding. Officers do have discretion in determining whether to jail or issue summonses in all misdemeanor cases.
The effective difference is that with a summons and no initial jailing, no bond is required. Had Whitney been booked she would have remained, likely in a holding cell, until a pre-set bond was posted. A check with local bail bondsmen indicated that the pre-set bonds in Whitney’s case would have likely been $1,500 cash, or likely less than $200 paid out up-front to a bondsman.
Officials said that in accordance with general practice, Whitney will likely have to be booked and possibly post a bond after her initial court appearance. At that time she will also be able to enter a plea. In DWI cases as in all others courts presume innocence prior to trial or guilty plea, and as with all other defendants Whitney will have an opportunity to make the state prove its case if she wishes.
As a first-time offender she will the same opportunity for whatever diversion programs are available through the Terrebonne Parish District Attorney’s Office.
Sheriff Jerry Larpenter said he would not comment on the State Police decision to issue a summons, but he did address the issue of his detective’s resignation, suggesting that it would be better for all in the long run.
“I don’t make judgments on other agencies,” Larpenter said. “She did good work but like anything else you are a police officer, you are held to a higher standard and if she has a drinking problem she can go and get it corrected,” Larpenter said, indicating that questions had arisen before but not supplying details. “I thought it was corrected but apparently it wasn’t. Look at all the scenarios that could have happened.”