West Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Deputies were told to hold their course despite criticism and alleged “bizarre” behavior from 18th Judicial District Court Judge Robin Free, who has been suspended from the bench for nearly a year.
In a memo sent out on Saturday, May 13, WBRSO spokesman and District Attorney liaison Col. Richie Johnson told deputies to continue their work in the Local Agency Compensated Enforcement program (otherwise known as LACE), a statewide enforcement program that focuses on speeding violations. Free was not named specifically in the memo, but was later identified.
According to the memo, Free questioned deputies conducting LACE operations and threatened them with investigations and said he would shut the program down when he returns from suspension next month. Free, who is a West Baton Rouge Parish resident, was also reportedly filming deputies at the traffic stops with his phone and flashing his vehicle lights to oncoming vehicles to warn them of the LACE program, the memo stated.
“If any of you are approached by this citizen, please attempt to be professional and courteous, as you have in the past,” Johnson wrote.
Johnson also defended the LACE program in the memo, saying that it bolstered the local police presence and had a positive impact on reducing speeding fatalities across Louisiana.
“The duties you perform on behalf of this office for your parish and its citizens are not unconstitutional,” Johnson wrote.
The confrontation began after a relative of Free received a citation as a result of LACE, Johnson said.
Johnson plans to ask District Attorney Richard Ward to consider requesting the judge recuse himself.
Free contacted Johnson via text message on May 15 saying, “he’s good with us,” Johnson said.
“I hope the confrontations with the officers cease,” Johnson said. “They have a hard enough job to do.”
The judge was suspended last summer for one year without pay after the state’s highest court found him in violation of the Louisiana Constitution’s code of judicial conduct. Free’s misconduct was considered “not isolated” and his comments and behavior deemed “injudicious.”
The judge was also suspended for 30 days in 2014 for accepting an all-expenses paid trip from a Texas attorney whose client was awarded $1.2 million in a suit tried in Free’s court.