Deputy Says Sheriff Secretly Taped Attorneys
NEW ORLEANS (CN) - A Louisiana sheriff fired his chief deputy - who is an attorney - for objecting to the sheriff's secretly recording conversations between criminal suspects and their attorneys, the former deputy claims in court.
Tregg Wilson sued St. John the Baptist Parish and its Sheriff Mike Tregre, in Federal Court.
St. John the Baptist Parish is just west of New Orleans. A parish is Louisiana's version of a county.
Wilson claims he confronted Tregre after he learned of secret cameras on loop in the interview room at the sheriff's office, where criminal suspects meet for private conversations with their attorneys.
Wilson is licensed to practice law in Louisiana and has been a member of the Louisiana Bar Association since 2001. He says Tregre hired him as chief deputy in July 2011.
Wilson claims that on or about May 14 this year, he "was informed that the employees of CID [the sheriff's Criminal Investigation Division] had discovered that there was a second set of cameras installed in the interview rooms at CID. The second set of cameras was set on a continuous loop and recorded the conversations of individuals in the interview rooms, including conversations between persons charged or suspected of a crime and their attorneys.
"Plaintiff Wilson, an attorney licensed to practice law in the state of Louisiana, advised Sheriff Mike Tregre on or about May 20, 2013, that this practice of secretly recording conversations between a suspect and his attorney at the St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff's Office was a violation of the suspect's Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure. He further advised the defendant Tregre that the suspects were entitled to a reasonable expectation of privacy, which was violated when suspects and their attorneys were recorded while utilizing the interview room without telling them that they were being secretly recorded. There were also no posted notices about such recordings which violated the attorney-client privilege under Louisiana law.
"Plaintiff Wilson further advised Defendant Tregre that this practice of secretly recording conversations between a suspect and his attorney violated Louisiana Criminal Statute 15:403, and that all of the information that was being taped was legally discoverable to suspects under the United States Supreme Court Decision in Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963).
"Finally, plaintiff Wilson advised defendant Tregre that this practice of secretly recording conversations between a suspect and his attorney in the interview rooms would potentially jeopardize criminal prosecutions in St. John the Baptist Parish. ...
Plaintiff Wilson refused to participate in this prohibited practice."
Wilson says he was fired on June 10, and that Sheriff Tregre told his staff, falsely, that he had resigned.
"Later, in response to Louisiana Department of Unemployment, the reason for termination given by defendant Tregre was Wilson's 'inability to perform the job.' This is a pretextual and false statement. Plaintiff Wilson was terminated in retaliation of exposing the unlawful practice of secretly recording conversations between a criminal defendant and his attorney in the interview rooms," Wilson says in the complaint.
He says he reported Tregre's violations of law and the Constitution to the St. John the Baptist Parish District Attorney and Louisiana State Police.
"Both have opened investigations. The Louisiana State Police took statements from multiple persons, all of which were believed to be recorded," Wilson says in the lawsuit.
He claims that Tregre told him he would not stop the "secret videotaping."
he "brought this matter to the attention of the Internal Affairs department of St. John the Baptist Sheriff's Department."
Wilson seeks damages for wrongful termination, retaliation, whistleblower violations and constitutional violations.
He also wants the sheriff enjoined from "destroying any and all audio and/or video recordings made between criminal defendants and their counsel of attorney-client conversations in the St. John the Baptist Sheriff's Office," and from destroying any material in Wilson's personnel file.
He is represented by Todd Slack, with Huber, Slack, Houghtaling, Pandit & Thomas, of New Orleans.