Tillman suit against sheriff draws strong responses

Attorneys for Terrebonne Parish Sheriff Jerry Larpenter say they are prepared to vigorously defend against a lawsuit brought in connection with the shooting last year of a Houma teen by a deputy who was cleared of wrongdoing by a grand jury and vindicated by a State Police investigation of the case.

A State Police report says evidence from the scene of the Sept. 14, 2014 shooting, an abandoned house at 51 Kirkglen Loop in the Village East subdivision, was consistent with statements made by Deputy Preston Norman that 14-year-old Cameron Tillman emerged from a door in the house’s carport with what appeared to be a .45 caliber pistol in his hand.

The weapon was later determined to be a replica of a SigSauer pistol that fires pellets.

A suit filed last week at U.S. District Court in New Orleans on behalf of Tillman’s parents, his older brother and the parents of three other teens who were at the house alleges that their civil rights were violated and that psychological damage to the survivors of the incident occurred. Another deputy, Andrew Lewis, was also named in the suit as was Sheriff Jerry Larpenter.

“The independent investigations done by the State Police and the Grand Jury speak for themselves,” Larpenter said, when asked for comment after the suit was filed.

Bill Dodd, the attorney who represents the sheriff’s office, said the entire incident is distressing, given the fact that a young life was taken. He intends to take aggressive steps, he said, to defend the deputies and Larpenter.

“Our general rule and the way we have handled things for 32 years is that once a suit is filed we don’t comment on the particulars of it,” Dodd said, however he did go a step further during an interview.

“It is now time to distinguish between fact and fiction. The things that will be said

now will be said under oath, in hearings, in depositions or at trial. Innuendos are over with now and we are going to get down to business. I have believed from the initial incident that out officers acted appropriately and believe at the end of the day the facts and circumstances will bear that out.”

Monroe attorney Carol Powell Lexing, whose filing states that Tillman did not have the weapon in his hand when he opened the door in response to a knock from Norman, and disputes a key contention in the State Police report, which states Norman identified himself as a police officer when he knocked. The deputies had responded to the house after a call complaining of “young boys” with guns on the block entering the structure.

“It is important that no other families have to suffer and go through what these families have gone through,” the attorney said. “We want the police to be accountable for mishandling this case. We are seeking justice for the community’s sake.”

The suit alleges that deputies in Larpenter’s department, as a pattern and practice, are ill-trained.

During the State Police investigation the teens that were in the house at the time of the incident gave conflicted accounts, a report provided to the grand jury states. Detective said they encountered other roadblocks as they probed the incident, which sent shock waves through Terrebonne and resulted in non-violent demonstrations.

A formal response to the suit has not yet been filed.