Ouachita Parish sheriff’s detectives are investigating a complaint against Sterlington Police Chief Barry Bonner, The Ouachita Citizen has learned.
The newspaper obtained information recently that Bonner was under investigation for requiring his police officers to meet an illegal ticket quota and also for statements he made about his officers and the ticket quota while under oath in an unrelated criminal proceeding.
When asked, the Sheriff’s Office confirmed an investigation was underway but declined to comment further.
“OPSO did receive a complaint concerning Chief Barry Bonner, however as you know, we do not comment on open investigations,” said Glenn Springfield, the sheriff’s public information officer.
In December 2017, Fourth Judicial District Attorney Steve Tew told The Ouachita Citizen his office was looking into Bonner’s use of an illegal ticket quota among other questionable practices by town officials. The matter could be brought before a grand jury, Tew said.
Bonner’s use of a ticket quota was first reported by this newspaper in a February 2017 news report in which Bonner admitted to implementing an illegal ticket quota. Former Sterlington police officers have said Bonner required them to meet the ticket quota as a condition of their employment.
In Louisiana, state law forbids police departments from instructing, suggesting or implying that law enforcement officers are required or expected to issue a specified number of traffic citations.
Bonner’s ticket quota system resulted in a finding in an audit of the town of Sterlington’s finances during the 2017 fiscal year.
During the February trial of a Tracy Govan, of Monroe, who was convicted of killing Sterlington police officer David Elahi, Bonner took the witness stand and denied that he pressured officers to issue a certain number of traffic citations.
Bonner told The Ouachita Citizen on Tuesday he believed the Sheriff’s Office received the complaint from Mike Hodges, a former Sterlington police officer, who criticized Bonner’s use of a ticket quota among officers. Previously, Hodges showed this newspaper a text message conversation with Bonner about his failure to meet the ticket quota. In the text message conversation, Bonner indicated Hodges would not be kept on as an employee beyond his probationary period unless he met the ticket quota.
“As far as I know, Hodges submitted a complaint with me because I supposedly lied at the trial,” Bonner said. “I don’t know what I said that was supposedly untrue. There was nothing but honesty in my testimony.”
Bonner claimed any complaint against him stemmed from an effort to stir up opposition against him in the Sterlington police chief election later this year. Bonner said he plans to stand for re-election in the Nov. 6 primary election. Qualifying is in late July.
Bonner said he suspected Hodges and Elahi’s business partner, Nick Farrar, were trying to find an opponent in the upcoming election. Farrar’s name cropped up during Govan’s trial, because Farrar was present as a civilian ride-along when Elahi was struck by Govan’s truck and killed.
Hodges was injured in the same collision.
“All they’re trying to do is to cast a shadow against me in this election,” Bonner said. “They can’t find anybody to put up against me, so they’re just trying to destroy my reputation.”
In light of Bonner’s remarks, this newspaper reached out to Hodges and Farrar for comment.
Hodges was unavailable for comment before The Ouachita Citizen went to press Tuesday night.
Farrar told The Ouachita Citizen he had not spoken to the Sheriff’s Office nor had he been contacted by any sheriff’s detectives.
Concerning Bonner’s claims that he was trying to find a candidate to oppose Bonner’s re-election bid, Farrar said, “He sounds paranoid to me.”
“I don’t know who’s running, but I don’t have a candidate, because I don’t live in Sterlington,” said Farrar, of Monroe. “I don’t care if Mary Poppins is a candidate up there.”
According to Bonner, Farrar recently submitted nine or 10 public records requests to the police department for certain communications.
Bonner, who said he was hit up with the requests, described them as part of an “onslaught of attacks” against him by Farrar.
“I am guilty of submitting public records requests, and I have submitted public records requests to several government agencies in the last few weeks,” Farrar said. “I’m entitled to the reasonable (Freedom of Information Act) requests I have made. Public records are public.”
Editor's Note (May 16 at 4:15 p.m.): For the purposes of clarification, Sterlington Police Chief Barry Bonner says his police department has a policy forbidding "ride-alongs," or civilians riding along with police officers.
"We have a policy that has been in place for years stating no one other than POST-certified officers are allowed to ride with SPD and must receive permission from the Chief of Police," Bonner told The Ouachita Citizen on Wednesday.