The sheriff who has served Terrebonne parish for the 26 of the past 30 years said Saturday that he will not seek a new term of office.
Sheriff Jerry Joseph Larpenter’s announcement came amid rampant speculation that he would not seek re-election. So far three candidates have formally announced their intentions to seek the office, and announcements from at least two other candidates are expected this coming week.
“It is time for me to enjoy fully my family, that being my wife, Priscilla, our children, and now our grandchildren,” Larpenter said. “Although I shall not be seeking re-election, I wish to assure all people in Terrebonne Parish that I shall continue providing the type of service our citizens have come to expect, and which they so rightfully deserve, from now through the end of my term in June of 2020.”
Often outspoken and always colorfully quotable, Larpenter began his law enforcement career as a road patrol deputy in 1976 under the late Sheriff Charlton P. Rozands, after four years of military police service to the Air Force. Larpenter was appointed chief deputy by Rozands in 1987, the year of Rozands death, and finished out the sheriff’s unexpired term as his designated successor. Larpenter won election on his own later that year for the term and then had to run again to keep it. Another election was required for Larpenter to hold the seat totally on his own, and he was successful in every election through the term that ended in 2007. He left the Sheriff’s Office at that time to run for Terrebonne Parish president.
Larpenter’s successor, Vernon Bourgeois, did not seek another term in 2012 and Larpenter ran unopposed, reclaiming the seat for that and one more term, which is now coming to a close.
A registered Republican who sees good and evil in unabashedly stark terms, Larpenter has sermonized on both, with the vigor and energy of a Chautauqua Tent preacher.
Despite his personal popularity as sheriff, Larpenter was unable to win voter approval last year for a ½ sales tax to shore up escalating budget woes at his office, which also carried the promise of a uniformed resource officer in all Terrebonne Parish schools, something critics said was the writing on the wall that foreshadowed Saturday’s announcement.
Larpenter’s closest associates, however, have said he was already mulling the potential of not running before the tax issue surfaced. At that time Larpenter had landed in a different controversy, related to a Houma blogger and her city police officer husband. The “ExposeDat” webpage and related Facebook page contained accusations of corruption against Larpenter concerning his wife’s involvement in an insurance business as well as Parish President Gordon Dove, and insurance broker Anthony Alford.
On the basis of a criminal defamation complaint filed by Alford, Larpenter’s detectives executed search warrants at the home of Jennifer and Wayne Anderson that were signed by District Judge Randall Bethancourt, seizing electronic equipment allegedly connected to the blog.
The judge’s authorization was overturned by an appeals court and no criminal charges against the Andersons nor anyone else resulted. Larpenter was accused of heavy-handed tactics and was sued, as was Dove. In separate agreements Dove and Larpenter settled with the Andersons, admitting no guilt of the torts alleged.
But in the court of public opinion Larpenter suffered.
Houma attorney William F. Dodd has represented Larpenter’s office throughout the sheriff’s tenure, and says he has never doubted that in every matter he knows of, Larpenter’s decisions were based on what he believed was the best thing for the sheriff’s office and the people of the parish.
“I have never represented anyone I believe was as honest in his beliefs, whatever the lawsuit or the case was,” Dodd said. “He is an unbelievable client to represent in terms of honesty and decency, a client who knew as much about a case as the lawyers did. He was not one that did not look into everything that happened with regard to the Sheriff’s office. He knew it, he stayed on top of it and it is a pleasure to work for him. I don’t think there will ever be another sheriff like him. If someone had done wrong he could work with them to resolve the issue, he would never throw anyone under the bus. He has always been first a law enforcement officer, never a politician.”
Jerome Boykin, long-time president of the Terrebonne Parish NAACP, said that while the two didn’t always agree, he always felt that Larpenter dealt with him fairly.
“I like his straight-forwardness,” Boykins said. “He has always been a straight shooter. When he tells you something you can take it to the bank. He was fair in situations with the community. He would tell you what he thought, not what he thought you wanted to hear, like most politicians. I can honestly say I am going to miss him as sheriff.”
In his statement Larpenter acknowledged the contribution Rozands played in his career, and thanked citizens of the parish for their support over the years.
“During that time, I have always tried my best to do what I believed to be in the best interest of the people of this parish and of course, the Sheriff’s Office,” Larpenter said, reviewing the accomplishments he is proudest of and which he maintains built a legacy in which he and others can take great pride.
Among the firsts Larpenter cited under his administration are the full-time narcotics unit, full-time water patrol, and a full-time training academy with accredited certification.
“I was also able to build a firing range for our officers and SWAT training to coincide with the training academy,” Larpenter said. “I fully moved the Sheriff’s Office forward with a full-time K-9 team, state of the art communications systems, body cameras and bullet proof vests for out officers.”
Larpenter was instrumental in helping prior parish government administrations to build and maintain the parish’s jail, which has recently undergone renovation. Throughout his career, he has perhaps been proudest of the implementation of inmates for clean-up, painting and maintenance of public buildings and grounds both for government and private non-profit agencies. He has spoken of millions of dollars saved on behalf of local government; This past year, because of the department’s budget crisis, Larpenter reluctantly asked the Terrebonne Parish Consolidated Government to kick in for the cost of trash pickup, especially during Carnival, as well as the salaries of corrections officers who nearly were laid off their jobs.
“Although our parish suffered through economic times in the past as well as presently during my tenure as sheriff, I have never made cuts to this office that would affect the safety and protection of all our citizens and businesses in this parish,” Larpenter said. “Our hard-working and dedicated employees continue to serve and protect all of you every day in every way possible.”
Two of the announced candidates seeking the job Larpenter will leave are former ranking officials in his administration, both of whom left their posts to pursue the position.
Mike Solet, who was Larpenter’s administrative deputy, was the first to announce. Tim Soignet, who has also announced, had been Larpenter’s chief of patrol and director the training academy. Blayne Bergeron was a career officer with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for this region who often worked closely with deputies on customs projects and related matters.
Two other candidates are expected to announce this week.
Terrebonne Parish District Attorney’s Office investigator Mark Pitre has expressed plans to run within his circle of acquaintances. Col. Terry Daigre, Larpenter’s chief deputy and former head of the sheriff’s narcotics division, is expected to announce his candidacy as well.
“It has truly been my honor to serve all of you,” Larpenter said in the closing statement of his announcement, wishing to thank the public at large for his tenure. “May God bless each and every one of you, our parish, our state and our country.”