The Washington Post has an incredible report on the arbitrary, jury-rigged, apparently subject-to-interpretation nature of law enforcement in Marksville, Louisiana, and how this state of affairs may have led to the fatal shooting of six-year-old Jeremy Mardis.
The players in this absurd, nigh-unbelievable play are Marksville mayor John Lemoine, City Judge Angelo Piazza III, and local marshal Floyd Voinche Sr. It’s important to know who these people are, because you read words like “mayor” and “marshal” and “judge” and you think of, you know, distinguished, accomplished local dignitaries, uniquely qualified for their offices.
Lemoine, 63, is an auto mechanic and auto parts shop owner, and was elected mayor of Marksville in 2010. Piazza, 57, is a Civil War buff “known for hauling authentic cannons to reenactments,” and has “reigned over the Marksville city court for more than two decades.” Voinche is a local bus driver, and his public office is an elected position “with no police training or experience required.”
The marshal’s job has been to serve warrants. Marksville is a small town—5,500 residents, give or take—and so this is not a big job. Voinche reportedly fulfilled the duties of the position for some time with just one full-time employee and one part-timer.
When Lemoine was elected mayor in 2010, he reportedly made it his mission to tighten spending.
“Lemoine put a microscope on City Court,” Piazza told the local paper, the Avoyelles Journal, last year. Piazza said the scrutiny added new costs and bureaucracy, even as Marksville police started issuing fewer tickets, dramatically reducing his court’s income.
So, there’s friction between the cannon-wielding City Judge and the auto mechanic mayor over the town’s budget. Things seem to have come to a head in 2015, when Lemoine reportedly “sharply cut the court’s budget — including the judge’s salary,” prompting Piazza to file suit. The town is tightening its belt, at least in part due to less revenue being generated via tickets. A judge’s personal income is slashed, and he’s not happy. And over here to the side is this marshal’s office, with no police experience and a really small job.
A. The marshal is the executive officer of the court; he shall execute the orders and mandates of the court and in the execution thereof, and in making arrests and preserving the peace, he has the same powers and authority of a sheriff.
In practical terms, this means the marshal can—you guessed it—issue tickets.
So, here’s where we are: a judge is feuding with a mayor who wants to cut municipal spending, and this summer the feud escalated into a lawsuit. In a possibly related story, late this summer, Voinche’s office reportedly “bought two used police cruisers, hired several part-time deputies and started patrolling the streets and issuing tickets like regular city police.”
According to several current and former city officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of violating the gag order, Marksville’s marshal began issuing traffic tickets to generate money for the city court.
Among those brought in to execute the marshal’s office’s newly expanded authority were Derrick Stafford and Norris Greenhouse Jr., the two officers since charged in the shooting of Chris Few and Jeremy Mardis.
Did I mention Voinche had no police experience when he became marshal? His hiring standards are hot garbage:
Stafford has been charged twice with aggravated rape in nearby Rapides Parish. According to the indictment, one 15-year-old victim said Stafford committed rape on the victim’s birthday in 2004. In a separate incident, a second victim said Stafford committed rape in 2011.
Stafford has also been accused in civil court of using excessive force; at least five lawsuits are currently pending against him. The accusations include throwing an already handcuffed woman into a back seat and using a stun gun on her, breaking the arm of a 15-year-old girl, and arresting a man in retribution for filing a formal complaint against Stafford for yelling at his family.
Greenhouse was accused alongside Stafford in two of those excessive force cases. And, as has been reported, Greenhouse apparently may have had some sort of pre-existing personal feud with Chris Few, involving Few’s girlfriend, Megan Dixon.
But Marksville law enforcement is even screwier than you think! Stafford’s defense attorney in one of the rape cases was Piazza! What the hell?
And? Greenhouse’s father “works for the local district attorney, who had to recuse himself from prosecuting Stafford and Greenhouse in the shooting.”
The judge presiding over the shooting case—well, first of all, he’s not City Judge Piazza, thank God—has issued a gag order on all participants. The body camera footage—from body cameras worn not by Stafford and Greenhouse, but by one of two officers “who work for the mayor [and] arrived during the shooting”—has not yet been released.
While almost nothing about this case is remotely clear, we can state the following with total confidence: Marksville’s law enforcement and court systems are a big tangled disaster, and there’s absolutely no way anyone in that town can have confidence that police actions are motivated by any genuine notions of protecting the peace.