Federal judge rules against ex-police chief accused of coercing drunk woman into sex

© Reuters
A former police chief of a small town in Louisiana has been found guilty of violating a woman’s rights by sexually assaulting her in his office while she was inebriated. The police department was abolished due to mismanagement associated with the chief.

US District Judge Shelly Dick concluded on Monday evening that the woman was legally incapable of consenting to sex with former Sorrento police chief Earl Theriot. Dick has not specified what penalties, if any, Theriot faces in the civil suit.

On November 2013, Theriot responded to a 911 call about an unconscious woman at a gas station. The police chief allegedly put her in the front seat of his cruiser and took her to his office at the Sorrento Police Department instead of taking her home, and subsequently engaged in sexual contact with her.

In the daylong case, the woman testified that she was heavily intoxicated before the encounter, and that Theriot purchased more alcohol for her before driving back to her office.

She alleged Theriot encouraged her to trade sexual favors for a 'get out of jail free card,' while Theriot’s attorneys said the woman initiated sexual contact in an effort to avoid being locked up.

However, that point of contention was moot in the judge’s ruling. Theriot, the town's police chief for 12 years, was found liable because he “knew or should have known” that the woman was too drunk to give consent. Dick didn't say when she would issue a written decision on damages and on any liability that the town of Sorrento might face.

Theriot was previously sentenced to two years probation in 2014, when he pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI about his sexual encounters with the woman. He also had to resign from his post as police chief and pay $2,400 in fines.

Mayor Mike Lambert, who took office in 2013, said that Sorrento’s police department spiraled out of control under Theriot, according AP. While the department only had six officers, it was hit with so many lawsuits over misconduct that an insurance company ceased to cover it, according to Lambert.

The town of about 1,500 residents voted to abolish its police department in 2014 due to its perennial mismanagement. Policing duties are now contracted out to a sheriff’s office run by the parish, which is the county equivalent in Louisana.  

"The people of Sorrento were scared of the police department," Lambert said, according to AP. "We had to make some drastic changes."