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Police chief stifles info on Guillory’s security team

Chief Judith Estorge and Josh Guillory
Mayor-President Josh Guillory named Judith Estorge police chief in October, making her the sixth chief to serve during his three years in office. Photo courtesy The Acadiana Advocate

Responding to press scrutiny about the mayor-president’s use of law enforcement for his personal security, currently under investigation, Lafayette’s new police chief has moved to gag further reporting about the security detail. 

Issuing a “formal decree” in a letter sent to The Current last week, Chief Judith Estorge says she will not release any “information, comments, or statements” about what she now calls the “Executive Protection Unit.” She further asks that this news organization refrain from publishing any story that “jeopardizes the Lafayette Police Department’s strategies and tactics.” 

Potential abuses of the unit are under investigation by an independent auditing firm hired by the Lafayette City Council in late October

“The concern is that he’s using the Lafayette Police Department as his personal and private Uber service,” City Council member Glenn Lazard, now the Council chairman, told The Acadiana Advocate in December. “We already know we’re paying at a minimum a Lafayette police officer $40-$50 an hour to sit outside in his car while Josh teaches his class at UL. What else is he using them for?”

The Current last reported on Jan. 20 that the officers who had been providing the mayor-president’s security were informed the full-time detail would be discontinued. The Current’s sources did not know who made that call.  

While specifying that she is not seeking retractions or corrections, Estorge also challenged the accuracy of The Current’s reporting on the protective unit over the past year, calling it “grossly irresponsible” and “riddled with false information.” She goes on to say the stories “presented information and details that endanger the lives of many.”

We take safety seriously. We have a responsibility to consider whether what we publish will do more harm than good. That’s embedded in the code of ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists, which we adhere to. The use of security by a public official, how it’s funded and whether it’s appropriate are matters of public interest, particularly when there’s a question of abuse of public resources. 

What we’ve reported does not reveal security strategies and tactics beyond what the Lafayette Police Department and the mayor-president himself have represented publicly.

The chief did not respond to requests for information supporting her claim that The Current’s reporting was erroneous. It’s unclear who, outside of this media outlet, the decree covers. 

In October, The Current reported on a potential abuse of the dignitary unit, after UL Lafayette confirmed that officers accompany the mayor-president to his side teaching job.

This news organization also questioned why Lafayette Police vehicles were stationed in front of the mayor-president’s home when he was said to be out of state seeking treatment for alcohol abuse and PTSD (he served in the military), and reported last month that two officers were with Guillory for City Court Judge Jules Edwards’ investiture ceremony at the courthouse, where there is already security. 

LPD general orders dating back to the 1990s explain the purpose of the dignitary unit — primarily escorting dignitaries and providing security at council meetings. The Current’s prior reporting cited current and former law enforcement and local government officials to corroborate the traditional use of the detail and the extent to which Guillory has strayed from his predecessors. 

It’s not clear that the police department general orders defining the dignitary detail would permit its use as a de facto security team for the mayor-president, especially outside the normal course of his duties. 

City Council member Glenn Lazard
After he failed to get answers about the cost of the Dignitary Protection Unit for the mayor-president’s security, City Councilman Glenn Lazard turned the matter over to investigators.

“There’s nothing in this policy that gives the mayor the right or the authority to order protection,” says Dr. Robert Collins, a political analyst at Dillard University in New Orleans, who reviewed the general orders for The Current in November. “Now, whether or not there’s some gray area that he can request it and get it, that’s a different discussion. I don’t think anybody in the mayor’s office can say the policy grants the mayor these police officers. It appears that he just decided, at his discretion, that he was gonna have [a security team], or the chief of police allowed him to have one. I think that’s really the issue that the taxpayers are gonna be concerned about.”

In challenging The Current’s reporting, Estorge, named to the post by Guillory in October — the sixth chief to serve during the current administration — is using a new name for the dignitary protection unit that has long been part of LPD’s operations or is referencing a newly created security team.

In a story about the City Council’s decision to investigate potential abuses of the detail, The Current described the unique structure under Guillory, quoting directly former interim Chief Monte Potier’s address to the City Council during the August budget review process. Along with a group of volunteer officers, according to Potier, the dignitary detail has two full-time officers (at one time it was three). “They are housed here at City Hall; they not only do dignitary protection, but they also are in charge of security at the building,” Potier said during the hearing. 

LCG has contract security working the entrance at City Hall, and Potier confirmed that other members of the dignitary detail are assigned to provide security during council meetings. It was the first time since Guillory took office that the detail was addressed publicly to the Council; the administration has provided little information about the mayor-president’s use of it for his personal security. 

Although the two full-time officers are listed in the department’s criminal investigation division, they have not been doing any of that work. “Their day-to-day operations are given by the administration,” Potier said at the time, also telling the council the department remained short-staffed with 26 vacancies. (View Potier’s explanation here. His comments start at about the 17-minute mark.)

“I made a request last year [to the administration] for some information that I still haven’t received to this date,” Council member Lazard said at that same August budget hearing. “The bottom line is the individuals we are referring to … they are normally only here when the mayor is here,” noted Lazard, who has pressed for the officers’ overtime pay records.

In its engagement letter with the council, Baton Rouge-based Faulk & Winkler says it is seeking the department’s policy on the dignitary protection unit and compensation paid to officers dating back to Guillory’s swearing in three years ago. It is also asking for the officers’ mileage records. 

City Council member Nanette Cook, who along with Lazard called for an investigation of the administration, could not be reached for comment Wednesday morning. 

Estorge did not respond to our request for evidence that the detail was not disbanded. 

Estorge named chief press conference
Chief Judith Estorge did not respond to questions about when the “executive protective unit” was created and how it differs from the official dignitary protection unit; who has been made aware of the formal decree; and whether the administration will try to use the decree to shield information from investigators. Image courtesy The Acadiana Advocate

Other questions to Estorge that went unanswered include when the “executive protective unit” was created and how it differs from the official dignitary protection unit; who has been made aware of the formal decree; and whether the administration will try to use the decree to shield information from investigators. 

The breadth of the legislative auditor’s probe, beyond drainage projects, is not known. If the legislative auditor asks for records about the security detail, state law requires LCG to turn them over.  

“I’m totally confident in the legislative auditor’s office to get whatever information they need to conduct a complete and thorough investigation,” says Lazard.