Sorrento police, council spar over state money, reserve officer’s status

Wade McIntyre
Sorrento reserve police officer Michael R. Liker’s department issued Crown Victoria with license plate SP - 2 was parked in front of his Garyville residence at 7:35 a.m. Oct. 22. Some town council members have questioned whether an auxiliary officer should have free use of a department vehicle.

SORRENTO – When the Town Council voiced approval of a Police Department grant application Oct. 7 for the purchase of three new vehicles, councilmen had no idea Police Chief Earl Theriot planned to make one of the units a sport utility vehicle.

Council members now say the “grant” Theriot asked to be approved that night is actually an appropriation from the state for $40,000 to be used in conjunction with co-payments by the town.

Council members Randy Anny and Troy Braud say they learned Thursday that Theriot gave two town checks related to the appropriation to Mayor Brenda Melancon for her signature, which the mayor refused to sign.

One check for $24,483 was to be used to purchase a new, black Ford Expedition from Baton Rouge’s Robinson Brothers dealership.

The second check, for $10,517, was made out to Ford Motor Credit company for use to lease two standard issue Crown Victoria police cars.

Anny said Friday Theriot was attempting to enter the town into an agreement the council did not know about, and that he asked Melancon to not sign the checks.

Monday morning Theriot said a grant and an appropriation are basically the same thing, and he was not 100 percent sure whether he called the application a grant or appropriation at the Oct. 7 meeting. “You have to fill out an application for both of them,” he said.

Theriot said he did plan to buy an SUV for the department to use, but not for himself.

“We don’t have a truck,” he said. “In a car (police), you have a cage in the back seat.”

The department needs the SUV to haul equipment, such as a light plant and cones for use at DWI checkpoints, he said.

The price of the SUV is about $2,000 more than a Crown Victoria, Theriot said, because the SUV is to be purchased on sale.

The Weekly Citizen obtained a copy of the Co-op Agreement with the State of Louisiana which says the “three vehicles will be purchased from Robinson Brothers Ford as per State Contact Price Agreement.”

According to that agreement, the new vehicles will replace Crown Victoria units 2, 3 and 5 in the police fleet. Theriot currently drives a new 2008 Crown Victoria which is designated SP -1, or Sorrento Police Unit 1.

The agreement further states the total price of the three vehicles to be an estimated $68,146, paid for on a 3-year purchase agreement.

Sorrento is required to pay $10,517 in October 2009 and $17,630 in October 2010, or an estimated $28,147 in the agreement. Yet, the checks Theriot wanted Melancon to sign Friday totaled $35,000.

Article XI of the line item cooperative endeavor agreement between Sorrento and the State Department of the Treasury states that alteration, variation, or modification to the co-op agreement between the two parties must be presented in writing for approval prior to making any changes.

A letter enclosed with the agreement from Shelly King, audit and compliance interim supervisor with the state, is addressed to an unpaid Sorrento reserve officer named Michael R. Liker, whom Theriot told councilmen was handling the “grant.”

The letter begins, “Hi Captain Liker.”

According to sources in town government, reserve officer Liker operates as second in command in the police department, works a full-time schedule and goes out alone on patrol even though he is a reservist. Liker is in charge of the department when Theriot is out of town, wears a Sorrento detective badge and has his own vehicle, SP-2, or Sorrento Police Unit 2.

Councilmen say Liker’s promotion to captain was never brought before the council by Theriot for approval, which would be a violation of the state’s Lawrason Act. Nor can a reserve police officer hold an administrative policy position because, as an unpaid employee, the reserve officer would not be under control of the council.

“He is an advisor,” Theriot said of Liker. “We let him do detective work. He’s experienced and he’s a commissioned officer.”

Liker also handles grant and appropriation applications for the department, arranges maintenance work and scheduling of department vehicles, and looks cases over before turning them over to Theriot.

“He’s a captain, I just gave him the title,” the chief said. “He’s got to have a title.”

Liker has not received a promotion, according to Theriot.

Liker has been driving the SP - 2 vehicle issued to him out of the parish to his Garyville residence in St. John the Baptist Parish. A record obtained by The Weekly Citizen shows that Liker did not pay the $35 weekly vehicle fee Sorrento charges its paid officers who drive units to a residence outside the parish.

The model year 2000 SP - 2 Crown Victoria has racked up 191,000 miles, but it is one of the cars listed for replacement with a new vehicle, according to the co-op agreement. Theriot said Monday “we took back” the vehicle from Liker after complaints from council members. He said Liker has not had the car for “at least two weeks.”

However, The Weekly Citizen photographed the car parked in the driveway of Liker’s Garyville residence less than a week ago, Oct. 22 at 7:35 a.m.

With Liker in charge of where the department purchases parts and has its vehicles repaired, much of that business formerly done in the parish is now performed outside Sorrento and Ascension Parish.

According to public documents dated between March 5 and Oct. 7 of this year, Sorrento spent $7,138.23 on repairs and parts at businesses outside the parish in Reserve, Gramercy and LaPlace. The amount is nearly half of the $15,044.68 total spent by the department during that time.

One of the out-of-parish businesses Sorrento began utilizing after Liker started handling vehicle maintenance is Glenn Harrilal Racing in Reserve. The mechanic shop received $6,742.96 of repair work from Sorrento during March 5 - Oct. 7 time frame.

A check by The Weekly Citizen with the St. John the Baptist Parish licensing office revealed that Glenn Harrilal Racing, which is unlisted in the phone book under the name it billed its work to Sorrento, does not have an occupational license with the parish.

Without an occupational license, a business cannot obtain a tax identification number. A source in St. John Parish tax collecting circles, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed Glenn Harrilal Racing is not in parish tax records.

The Sorrento Council on Friday hastily arranged a special meeting for Monday night to discuss appropriations for town police vehicles and the use of police vehicles outside the town limits.

Liker did not return a message left Monday morning at the police department requesting comment for this story.