The six candidates for Iberia Parish Sheriff were on the dais Wednesday before the New Iberia Optimist Club to explain how they each would be a better choice than the other five contenders.
Current Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal began hinting in 2017 that he would not run for a fourth term, leaving the position open.
Five of the candidates for the job — former Iberia Parish Jail Warden and current liaison officer for the Vermilion Parish Police Jury Roberta Boudreaux, former Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office Deputy Joe LeBlanc, Jeanerette City Marshal and acting Jeanerette Police Chief Fernest “Pac-Man” Martin, former IPSO Deputy and retired Louisiana State Police Trooper Murphy Meyers, and former IPSO Deputy and State Trooper Tommy Romero — all tout decades of service in the law enforcement community. The sixth candidate, oilfield service company manager Clinton “Bubba” Sweeney, pushed his lack of traditional law enforcement experience as a plus.
But when asked what three things they saw as necessary to detecting and prosecuting crime in Iberia Parish, the answers fell largely in the “more training” category, although several candidates had issues with the question.
“The question is flawed in that we don’t prosecute cases,” Meyers said. “We need training to make sure when we send a case to the district attorney, it is ready to go.”
Romero expanded on Meyer’s answer, adding specifically training on evidence and report handling were essential.
Another question, about how the IPSO would address traffic enforcement on U.S. Highway 90, brought some differentiation in responses. Sweeney said he planned to be very tough on DWI cases. Boudreaux pointed to legislation recently passed increasing fine for cell phone use while driving.
Martin touched on the financial aspect of traffic enforcement (“We brought in $275,000 in Jeanerette,” he said), but also said that traffic enforcement is not just about generating revenue.
“It’s not about writing tickets,” Martin said. “It’s about saving lives.”
“It’s better to enforce laws against hazardous practices, not just speeding,” he said.
The candidates also differed on what they saw as the most critical issue facing the incoming sheriff.
LeBlanc’s meandering answer touched on everything, from budget to drug abatement to training.
Martin said fighting teen crime, and reaching out to the young people of the parish, was critical to making headway not only on the public safety front but also in helping the parish economy grow.
Meyers said restoring the public’s confidence in the office after Ackal’s trial on federal civil rights violations and the sentencing of nine IPSO officers for their part in abuses in the department is essential for the next sheriff. Sweeney’s response was similar, focused on growing trust in the office.
Romero said the budget issues facing the incoming sheriff will be intense, not only due to sluggish oil exploration in the region but also because of the expense of operating the parish’s aging jail.
Boudreaux said leadership was the most critical issue at stake, expounding on her time as the warden at the Iberia Parish Jail and her work at the Vermilion Parish Law Enforcement Center.