HPD officer accused of theft in civil lawsuit
A former Terrebonne Parish deputy who now works as a Houma police officer is accused of coming up short after a seizure of money in connection with a 2015 search of a Montegut home, according to papers filed in federal court.
A Louisiana State Police spokesman acknowledged last week that the agency’s detectives are conducting an investigation, although information was not provided as to whether the officer is a specific target.
Terrebonne District Attorney Joe Waitz Jr. is aware of the complaint against the officer, identified in court papers as Dallas Bookenberger. He is still gathering information and has a meeting planned with Sheriff Jerry Larpenter to discuss how any criminal aspect of the allegation should be handled, and by whom. The District Attorney’s office often recuses itself from criminal cases involving local police officers because the agencies work so closely together. The matter could be referred to Attorney General Jeff Landry for prosecution, depending on the State Police determination.
“Some money went somewhere that is gone. It is supposed to be signed over and put into evidence and whoever seized it is supposed to sign it into the chain of custody,” Waitz said. “An investigation will be opened.”
The suit, filed on behalf of Woody Prosperie and Beth Couvillier, names Bookenberger individually and Sheriff Jerry Larpenter, as his employer at the time the offense allegedly occurred. The Sheriff’s Office itself is named as a separate entity.
According to the suit Bookenberger knocked at the home of Prosperie and Couvillier, 124 Old Oak Drive, while in uniform. He allegedly told Couvillier that he was investigating a report from an anonymous source of drug activity, and that if she did not sign a consent to search form he would have her children taken away from her.
A total of $4,531 was allegedly seized during the search but no arrests were made, nor civil forfeiture attempted. A Sheriff’s Office report allegedly shows a little more than $2,000 was seized. But that amount was never indicated in the type of paperwork that normally goes with seizures.
“We have checked and the money is not there,” Sheriff Larpenter said. “The money was never put into any account.”
An attempt to contact Bookenberger through Facebook Messenger was not successful.
Both Prosperie and Couvillier, court records show, were arrested on warrants relating to drug distribution in January.
Jerome Boykin, president of the Terrebonne Parish branch of the NAACP, said he is well aware of complaints against Bookenberger brought to him by Terrebonne Parish residents, including allegations that the drug agent had used language that included racial epithets.
“I have always told those people to go the Sheriff’s Office and file complaints,” said Boykin, who is not aware of whether complaints brought to him were followed through by people alleging ill treatment, including seizure of cash. “Our office has talked to more people in reference to him than any other officer who wore the badge. There were complaints of him taking their money, beating people, stopping people. All it takes is a walk through black communities here and it won’t be hard to find people who will tell you about it.”
Complaints indicating problems identifying Bookenberger by name, some officials recall, were aired at a Mechanicville community meeting in 2012.
Last week Houma Police Chief Dana Coleman said Bookenberger was still performing his regular duties as a police officer. Coleman was not aware of the lawsuit. However, he said department policy is for police officers who are accused of a crime to be placed on administrative leave pending outcome.
At the time of Bookenberger’s hire, Coleman said, a background investigation was done, which contained no information preventing his hire by the city.
In the court papers, a representation is made that the cash seized came from the sale of shrimp caught by the couple directly to consumers, a common practice among local shrimpers with dockside prices being extremely low.
Houma attorney Timothy C. Ellender Jr., who represents Prosperie and Couvillier, and filed the suit on their behalf, said that since the filing he has been in communication with Larpenter’s office.
“I am encouraged by the communication between my office and the Sheriff’s Office and their attorney,” Ellender said. “We are all working toward getting to the bottom of this.” •