Archive for the ‘Lincoln Parish Sheriff’ Category

Local Government Layoffs Soon?

03/17/2020

Unlike the Federal Government, The State of Louisiana and local governments cannot print money. They must rely on current revenues to meet expenses.

Lincoln Parish local budgets, with which we are intimately familiar, rely on sales taxes for a large percentage of revenue. The City of Ruston, in particular, funds all of the new 1.5% tax on restaurants and hotels.

With Gov. John Bel Edwards order shuttering restaurants all across the Bayou State, he has vaporized a huge revenue stream for local and state governments. Tourism will go away in the blink of an eye.

The largest expense component for government is payroll, in some cases making up 85% of expenses.

Many teachers probably thought closing the schools would amount to a month-long paid vacation. They perhaps should spend their time updating their resumes.

Used to be, having a government job was seen as having a lifetime guarantee of employment. You had to really mess up to get fired. Great retirement and medical benefits, too.

That hayride is about to end.

Testimony Begins in Drone Trial

02/13/2020

Testimony from witnesses began yesterday afternoon in the “Drone Trial” of a Lincoln Parish man accused of criminal trespass for flying an unmanned aerial drone over neighbor’s property without permission. The bench trial is being held in Third Judicial District Court in Ruston.

Division C Judge Bruce Hampton first had to rule on three motions filed earlier in the day.

A motion by defense attorney Jordan Bird asking the court to allow expert testimony via skype was denied by Hampton. The ruling was likely damaging to defendant James Benson’s case, as case law for drones is a relatively new field.

Bird argued that the expert lived in Michigan, and they couldn’t afford the expense of flying the witness to Louisiana, and there are no similar experts in the local region. He added that the judge had discretion to allow the unconventional method of testimony, he thought, as the defendant was entitled to have an expert witness on his behalf.

Prosecutor Michelle Thompson countered that there was no statutory authority or court precedent that would allow that method of testimony. Hampton agreed.

Another motion, this one by Thompson, that new evidence of “crimes or other acts” be allowed at trial also went against the defendant.

In August, 2017, it was alleged, a drone was flown over the then under construction home of Erin and Matt Henderson, in the Spur/Rock Shop Road area northwest of Vienna.

Erin testified that the drone was about at tree-top level, hovered and that several other people who were working on the house saw it.

She said that within the next few days, at a chance encounter at an area convenience store, she overheard Benson, who they knew, discussing drone flying with another customer standing in the checkout line. She asked if the one she had seen over her house belonged to him, to which he gave a non-committal answer.

Erin then testified, “If Matt sees it, he’ll shoot it down.”

Erin said she then phoned her husband Matt and told him of the conversation. Immediately afterward, she said, Benson called her husband and they had a conversation about the issue.

On cross-examination, defense attorney bird asked Erin to describe the drone and the height that it flew. He also asked if Benson ever directly admitted that it was his craft, to which she replied, “He didn’t deny it.”

Next up, Matt Henderson testified to the same observations as his wife concerning the drone overflight of his property, and recounted his conversations with Benson. He said he also met with Benson.

At this point, it was revealed that Benson is a local builder/contractor and cabinet maker. Apparently, he has bid on several home construction jobs in the area and has done work on some of them.

Matt said that he and Benson discussed the ongoing construction at his home, but that Benson did no work on it.

Matt testified that Benson never explicitly admitted the drone flight, but that he took it to be his equipment since he promised “not to do it again.”

At this point Benson took the stand, and while not admitting that particular overflight of the Henderson property, he said that it was likely that he had overflown it at one time or another.

He also denied any low level surveillance, as it the drone would likely encounter trees, powerlines, and other obstacles during flight. He explained that a drone camera can only look in one direction and cannot “see” to the side, or up and down. The only way to fly at low levels with obstructions nearby is to stay within line-of-sight of the aircraft, he said. Flying at low levels with only the drone camera as guidance is not safe to do, Benson said.

He always operates the equipment at elevations near 400′, he claimed, as that is the upper flight level that the Federal Aviation Administration has placed on drones.

In arguing against admitting this “other act” as evidence, Bird noted that there was no arrest or conviction regarding the alleged incident, and that no police report was ever filed.

Hampton ruled that the testimony would be allowed at trial, because it might affect the overall weight of the evidence.

The third motion, a motion in limine by Thompson to exclude computer flight logs of the drone flights, was denied by Hampton.

Thompson argued that the logs hadn’t been authenticated, and might be flawed. Bird noted that the prosecution could have subpoenaed the data prior to the trial but never did so.

Hampton ruled that the prosecution would have ample time at trial to attack the accuracy of the evidence.

With the motions ruled upon, at about 4:15 PM, the state called its first witness, neighbor Regina Johnson.

She testified, in rather dramatic fashion, of a February, 2018 drone overflight of her recently occupied home in the neighborhood. She said the aircraft came down to second story roof level of home and hovered.

“Who’s watching me?” she thought at the time.

Several photos of the home and property were introduced as exhibits, with notations as to where on the property she was standing when the alleged overflight occurred.

Several days later, she said, another overflight occurred at tree-top level, and she noted that the craft headed into the direction of Benson’s home.

Johnson said she contacted Matt Henderson, who is a Lincoln Parish Sheriff’s Office (LPSO) deputy and told him of the incidents.

Thompson led Johnson through several pages of a text message group chat among the neighbors that included Benson.

On cross-examination, Bird asked Johnson about the relationship between Benson and her family, and she said they weren’t particularly cordial.

Benson had visited with the Johnson’s when they first moved in, as the Johnson home wasn’t completely finished, and Benson apparently was interested in work.

The last witness of the day was another neighbor at the time, Joni Baillo, who has since moved away.

Baillo recounted the group text discussion and that she had initiated the discussion. She said she knew Benson and considered him a friend.

She recalled a visit from Benson around the time of alleged February, 2018 incident, and him becoming agitated saying, “Nobody’s gonna shoot down my drone,” and “nobody can tell me what to do” with it.

At that time, Baillo asked him to leave, she said.

At about 5:30 PM, Hampton recessed the trial and took the two attorneys into the jury room to discuss another date to continue the trial, as it was evident that several more witnesses would be called, and the trial might take another day or more to complete.

Thursday, March 12, 10:30 AM was agreed upon by the parties.

One other notable item was the presence of several LPSO deputies in court, in addition to the regular courtroom bailiffs with whom we are familiar.

There were several other plainclothes law enforcement officers there, possibly investigators with the Attorney General’s Office.

Drone Trial Delayed to Afternoon

02/12/2020

The Lincoln Parish “Drone Trial” that was set to begin at 9:00 AM this morning in Third Judicial District Division C Judge Bruce Hampton’s Ruston courtroom was delayed until 2:30 PM this afternoon, due to a lengthy misdemeanor docket.

The prosecutor, Louisiana Assistant Attorney General Michelle Thompson of Monroe and defense attorney Jordan Bird of Shreveport could be seen retiring to the court’s jury room early on, presumably to discuss logistics.

At their brief appearance at the bench, they said there were three motions for Hampton to consider prior to trial, two for the prosecution and one for the defense.

One of the prosecution motions is a request to introduce evidence of other “related crimes” that allegedly took place at another time, and the other is a motion in limine to exclude expert testimony by the defense.

The defense motion is a motion to introduce expert testimony via skype and have it projected upon a screen in the courtroom.

James Benson is accused of criminal trespass for overflying a neighbors property with his unmanned drone.

Aerial Drone Trespassing Trial Wednesday

02/10/2020

We got this press release yesterday. Looks to be an interesting case that could create groundbreaking case law. We’ll be covering it.

Lincoln Parish Man Facing Charges of Aerial Trespass
Louisiana Seeks Jurisdiction of Airspace in Spite of FAA Warning and Lack of Statue

Ruston, LA, February 9, 2020: The Lincoln Parish courthouse in Ruston, Louisiana will be the focus of drone operators from across the state on Wednesday, February 12th, 2020 at 9:00am.

Mr. James Benson of Dubach, Louisiana has been charged with trespassing after flying a small drone in his back yard and briefly flying over a neighboring property at a height of 400 feet. The FAA, who was provided sole jurisdiction of airspace by Congress through the passage of the Federal Aviation Act of 1958, allows drones to be flown recreationally up to height of 400 feet so long as they do not interfere with manned aircraft.

The neighbor, Mr. Matt Henderson, a sheriff deputy with Lincoln Parish, and his wife Erin Henderson took offense to the drone’s flight. Henderson’s colleague subsequently made an arrest and Benson was jailed for 12 hours. The alleged incident took place on April, 11th, 2018 while the arrest was not made until four days later. It is only now being heard by the Honorable Bruce Hampton as multiple prosecutors refused the case in over the past 21 months.

This case has significance in the budding drone industry as a verdict against Mr. Benson could negatively impact commercial drone operations around the state with the threat of aerial trespassing. It would also put Louisiana at odds with the FAA over jurisdiction of airspace and flight regulations. As drones are classified in the same realm as kites, weather balloons, and model rockets, there are potential consequences for those enthusiasts as well.

In 2015 the Chief Legal Counsel for the FAA warned against states or local governments creating or enforcing their own drone ordinances in an UAS fact sheet arguing that doing so creates a “‘patchwork quilt’ of differing restrictions could severely limit the flexibility of FAA in controlling the airspace and flight patterns, and ensuring safety and an efficient air traffic flow.” Similarly a case in federal court, Singer v. Newton City, MA, was decided in September of 2017 and struck down a local government’s attempts at preempting the FAA’s control of airspace.

While 17 states have passed laws over the last three years to specifically disallow local governments from attempting to usurp FAA authority over flight, this case sees Louisiana as the first state to challenge the Congressional Act that regulation of airspace resides with the federal government.

Louisiana’s trespassing law was recently modified to include drones. It states: “No person shall enter upon immovable property owned by another without express, legal, or implied authorization.” “For purposes of this Subsection, the phrase ‘enter upon immovable property’ as used in this Subsection, in addition to its common meaning, signification, and connotation, shall include the operation of an unmanned aircraft system as defined by in the air space over immovable property owned by another with the intent to conduct surveillance of the property or of any individual lawfully on the property.”

The incident and arrest took place four months before the state law changed to add unmanned aircraft systems. Mr. Benson claims there was no surveillance, but instead was purely recreational in intent and had no interest in his neighbor’s property or any persons on the land.

Attorney Jordan Bird is counsel for Mr. James Benson: https://www.cookyancey.com/attorney-profiles/jordan-b-bird/

Sumlin Pleads Guilty to Obscenity

12/17/2019

A Former Louisiana House of Representatives member this evening plead guilty to one charge of Obscenity with a Juvenile in Third Judicial (Lincoln, Union Parishes) District Court in Ruston.

William Sumlin, 76, of Simsboro was sentenced to three years hard labor, suspended, three years supervised probation, and a $1 thousand fine.

Sumlin told Division B Judge Tommy Rogers “Yessir” when asked by the judge did you on or about September 18, 2015 “exhibit sexually violent material to a juvenile who was 16?”

After sentencing, Sumlin said “I’m sorry this happened.”

He served in the Louisiana House from 1983 to 1988.

The charge of obscenity is defined thus:

LA RS §106:A(6)

Advertisement, exhibition, electronic communication, or display of sexually violent material. “Violent material” is any tangible work or thing which the trier of facts determines depicts actual or simulated patently offensive acts of violence, including but not limited to, acts depicting sadistic conduct, whippings, beatings, torture, and mutilation of the human body, as described in Item (2)(b)(iii) of this Subsection.

The original charge was Indecent Behavior with a Juvenile, and carries a maximum penalty of seven years and a maximum $5 thousand fine.

See here the original indictment.

Sumlin was arrested in October, 2015.

Sumlin was defended by Monroe attorney LaValle Salomon and prosecuted by Assistant District Attorney Lewis Jones.

The guilty plea followed an hour-long recess where the prosecutor and defense attorney presumably hammered out the details of the deal. Also, Salomon could be seen huddled in discussion several times with Sumlin both in and out of the courtroom.

Detention Center Budgets Proposed

11/19/2019

An amended 2019 and proposed 2020 budget for the Lincoln Parish Detention Center were introduced and discussed in this morning’s meeting of the Detention Center Commission at the Lincoln Parish Court House.

The largest change in the 2019 amendment was the removal of revenues (and corresponding expenditures) for the construction of a 100 bed addition to the center.

Originally, the plan was to begin construction this year, but delays have forced the timetable over into 2020.

The addition will allow prisoners who are housed out of parish at extra expense to be housed locally. Considerable savings is expected.

Notable also is the reduction in the jail’s fund balance, a result of the higher construction cost of the new addition.

About $2.8 million of the construction cost is paid for by borrowed money, and the balance of the $3.7 million cost is paid from the jail’s fund balance. Warden Jim Tuten said the new building is expected to be occupied by next November.

Also significant was the estimated sales tax collections for 2019 were about $100 thousand less than projected.

A December 17, 10 AM meeting and public hearing was set for final approval of the budgets.

Jail Cost Overruns to be Funded by Budget Surplus

10/22/2019

Lincoln Parish Detention Center expansion construction costs that are greater than estimated will be funded by surplus funds in the jail’s operating funds, the commission that operates the jail voted this morning.

The action came after Warden Jim Tuten said that the architect’s estimate was short almost $900 thousand for the 96-bed addition to the jail. The estimate was about $2.7 million, including furniture and fixtures.

“We were about $880 thousand short of what we needed to be able to completely finance the addition. I would like to get a recommendation from the jail commission that we transfer that additional $880 thousand that’s necessary to completely fund the new building,” Tuten said.

He noted that the jail’s operating budget had a $2.5 million surplus as of September 30.

The new addition has been under discussion for the last few years.

An average of about 30 of the jail’s inmates are housed in other area jails, at a cost of about $1 thousand/day, Tuten said.

Once the money is transferred into the jail construction fund, the balance of the cost will be borrowed from the US Department of Agriculture.

The Lincoln Parish Police Jury will have to approve the winning bid and authorize construction after funding is secured.

Mann’s Construction of West Monroe had the lowest responsive bid.

In other action, the commission set meetings for November and December to review and adopt next year’s budget.

Sumlin Trial Delayed until Next Year

10/16/2019

Former State Representative William Sumlin’s trial was late yesterday afternoon delayed until next February. Sumlin’s attorney, LaValle Salomon, said that he already has a trial scheduled for next week in another jurisdiction.

The trial was originally scheduled for next week in Third Judicial District Court in Ruston.

The new trial date is Monday, February 24, 2020. Pretrial motions will be heard on 2/17, and a pretrial conference set for Friday, 2/21.

Presiding was Division B Judge Tommy Rogers.

Stephen Williams Elected Sheriff

10/12/2019

Sheriff
57 of 57 precincts reporting – 100%
absentee reporting – 100%

3,594 – Randal Hermes 31%
2,153 – George Webb 18%
5,893 – Stephen Williams 51%

Total: 11,640
Unofficial Turnout: 43.9%

McBride Wins Assessor Race

10/12/2019

Assessor
47 of 57 precincts reporting – 82%
absentee reporting – 100%

6,686 – Billy Mac McBride 63%
3,996 – Walter Pullen 37%