The gist: Lafayette City Marshal Mike Hill has winnowed down the number of his office’s reserve deputies — which had swelled to about 60 under his predecessor — to but a handful. Hill has called in the commissions of nearly 50 reserves who appear to have been deputized for no other reason than political patronage.
Higgins, Shaq were suspended City Marshal Brian Pope’s most high-profile reserve, or volunteer, deputies. U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins went by the marshal’s office a few months ago to turn in his card, badge and weapon before Hill began the process of revoking the commissions. “He came in and surrendered his,” Hill says. “I did not call that one in; he called us.” Hill says Higgins’ reasons for doing so should come from the congressman himself. Higgins’ press office did not respond to an emailed message seeking comment for this story.
“The Cajun John Wayne” was deputized in March 2016, before he became a congressman and within a month of being pushed out of the St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Office amid the airing of a controversial video about Gremlins gang members. At the time, a spokesman for the marshal’s office told KATC-TV3 that Higgins would assist in the office’s daily duties and participate in all training exercises deputies are required to have.
“He didn’t do any work for us that I’m aware of,” Hill says.
Higgins is now a reserve officer for Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, according to Bob Wertz, the law enforcement training manager for the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement.
Higgins became a reserve officer with the Louisiana Department of Justice on Dec. 18. “We show him as the only reserve officer with that office,” Wertz says, also noting that Higgins is currently certified, and his firearms qualifications are current.
The Lafayette city marshal’s office also recently retrieved the commission card of Shaquille O’Neal, who earlier this year became an auxiliary deputy with the Broward County Sheriff's Office in Florida (his law enforcement career is chronicled in part on his Wikipedia page). But the weapon issued to the former NBA superstar will have to be returned in person. “He cannot legally return it except by hand because of ATF regs,” Hill says. “Weapons can only be sent in interstate commerce from registered firearms dealers to registered firearm dealers.” O’Neal was first deputized under Pope’s predecessor, longtime City Marshal Nickey Picard; when he was recommissioned by Pope in January 2015, Clerk of Court Louis Perret called the ceremony “the coolest swearing in” he’d ever done.
O’Neal is scheduled to return the weapon when he comes to Lafayette this summer. He and Higgins were the only two reserves with weapons issued by the office, Hill says.
Pope v. Picard: When he left office in January 2015, Picard had 15 active commissions for non-employee reserve deputies, all of whom had to undergo the required training and work at least 16 hours per month. Reserves can earn pay for off-duty work like security at a mall or football game but don’t get a paycheck from the marshal.
Hill, a former federal magistrate judge and himself an ex-cop, was tapped to serve as interim city marshal after Pope’s malfeasance and perjury convictions last year. Hill’s never been a fan of the honorary, or political patronage, commissions. “I didn’t like them when I was doing street work in Baton Rouge,” he tells me. “What these things were typically used for was to try to get themselves out of traffic tickets.”
Hill had initially planned to wait until after Pope was sentenced to call in the commissions. But when the April sentencing was delayed until June 19, he shifted gears. “I didn’t want the potential liability for it,” he says. The office began contacting the reserves on the roster, and the commission cards and badges paid for by the office (some bought their own badges) have been trickling in since. In some instances, the staff is personally retrieving cards and badges from the individual reserve deputies.
In theory, once deputized, reserves have the same responsibilities and authority as a regularly employed deputy marshal. Reserves are supposed to complete the same yearly in-service training as a full-time deputy marshal and are typically utilized for special events, like traffic and crowd control, but can ride a regular shift. They are also supposed to be available in emergency situations, or at any other time deemed necessary by the marshal. Hill, however, discovered that only five reserve deputies — Brandon Briscoe, Bobby Rhyne, Oren Haydel, Mike DiBenedetto and Tommy Caillier — were actively continuing their training and willing to meet the obligations of the post. “I don’t want to have commissions issued to people who are not trained and functioning as real deputies. I just think that’s bad policy,” Hill tells me.
“They are asked to serve 16 duty hours per month; however, at this time we have not had the need to utilize them for the full 16 hours,” Hill says. “A more accurate description would probably be to serve at least 16 duty hours per month as requested.”
There’s a bit of irony here. It’s not only the majority of Pope’s reserve deputies who have lost their status as peace officers. Pope’s own certification was revoked by the Louisiana Peace Officer Standards and Training Council on Dec. 6 because of his malfeasance conviction, Wertz says. That means at least for now — as he appeals his October convictions and faces 19 more malfeasance charges — Brian Pope is no longer a certified police officer.