Surprised sheriff goes into hall of fame

Wade McIntyre
Sheriff Jeff Wiley, center, was informed Wednesday in a surprise ceremony at the Donaldsonville Probation and Parole District office that he had been named to the Louisiana Justice Hall of Fame. District Adminstrator Tony Simon, right, presented Wiley his notification information. At left is James “Chile” Russo, a supervisor at the district office.

Ascension Parish Sheriff Jeff Wiley drove over the Sunshine Bridge Wednesday morning to the Donaldsonville Probation and Parole District Office expecting to attend an award ceremony for a friend.

Instead, the four-term sheriff uncovered a secret ruse: It was he who was to be the honoree during a surprise formal announcement ceremony.

When Wiley stepped into a room with two newspapers, a television station and employees of the district office, District Adminstrator Tony Simon informed the sheriff of his acceptance into the Louisiana Justice Hall of Fame sponsored by the Louisiana State Penitentiary Museum at Angola.

“I don’t know what to say,” Wiley said at one point. “I’m flattered by this.” He said he came to Donaldsonville because his long-time friend and Department of Corrections supervisor James “Chile” Russo was supposed to be getting an award. When he saw reporters and WAFB Channel 9 in the room he wondered “what the heck” he and his office had done.

Wiley was chosen from other worthy nominees based on his many hears of public service in Ascension Parish, and for his career-spanning innovations in the law enforcement field, Simon said.

The sheriff and eight other nominees will be inducted in a formal ceremony during the summer of 2009.

The Donaldsonville district was honored to “spill the beans” on Wiley’s upcoming induction, Simon said.

Wiley said the key to being a successful sheriff is to go find a lot of people smarter than yourself to work for you. Then, “you can be a pretty good sheriff,” he said.

The sheriff did not start on a law enforcement career path, planning instead to be a teacher and a coach. He said Wednesday he found over time he utilizes the skills of teaching and coaching in his job as sheriff.

The Donaldsonville Probation and Parole District opened in May of 2005 and serves the parishes of Ascension, Assumption, St. James and St. John in the 23rd and 40th Judicial Districts.

The 25-person office has 18 probation officers who handle 2,200 offenders, including 1,100 in Ascension Parish alone, according to Simon.

Parole officers maintain contact with victims as well as offenders, he said.

Before the Donaldsonville office opened, the four-parish area was served out of the office in Thibodaux. The new office eliminates the 2-hour round trip from there to Ascension Parish, freeing up agent man-hours, according to Simon.