Posting critical blogs is now a crime in Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana, where sheriff’s deputies raided a blogger’s home and seized two computers and five cell phones.
The deputies were trying to identify the person behind a blog called ExposeDAT.
ExposeDAT accused a number of local officials, including Sheriff Jerry Larpenter, Parish President Gordon Dove and District Attorney Joe Waitz, of various forms of corruption, according to WWL-TV.
One of the last entries on the blog, dated July 31, accused officials of helping a company called Baby Oil and Environmental Equipment Inc. avoid paying $400,000 in taxes to the parish.
On August 2, Larpenter’s deputies went to the home of Houma, Louisiana, Police Officer Wayne Anderson and executed a search warrant. The deputies seized computers and Facebook information in an attempt to determine who is behind ExposeDAT. The warrant is part of Waitz’s attempt to prosecute Anderson for a crime called criminal defamation.
Legal experts say the raid probably was unconstitutional.
Attorney Mary Ellen Roy told WWL that the U.S. Supreme Court found the law unconstitutional when it is used “…to punish public expression and publication concerning public officials, public figures and private individuals who are engaged in public affairs.”
But that hasn’t stopped the sheriff.
“If you’re gonna lie about me and make it under a fictitious name, I’m gonna come after you,” Larpenter told the TV station.
Said Loyola Law Professor Dane Ciolino, “When we’re talking about speech directed at matters of public interest questioning the activities of a public official, that is constitutionally protected speech of the highest order, and prosecutions for that sort of public comment are extraordinary.”
Anderson is a former Terrebonne Parish sheriff’s deputy who has also worked as a New Orleans police officer. He was suspended from his job after the raid on his home.
“I’m not sure if they believe Mr. Anderson is actually the author of such work,” Anderson’s attorney, Matthew Ory, told WWL.
A chart outlining the alleged relationship between officials and business people is the first thing visitors to ExposeDAT see.
Before the raid, ExposeDAT made this promise to its readers: “In coming weeks and months, ExposeDAT will introduce articles that explore the relationship between certain Public Officials and the flow of money in South Louisiana.”
No new articles have been posted since July 31, two days prior to the raid on Anderson’s home.