Captain Clay Higgins quickly rose to fame during his tenure at the St Landry Parish Sheriff’s Office, but it didn’t come without controversy. Higgins is known to use colorful language and doesn’t hold back when he has something to say. He’s now running for the Third Congressional District Seat and we’re looking into his history.
KLAF’s Chris Welty is investigating after he received a tip that Captain Higgins was possibly double dipping and ripping off taxpayers. He filed a public records request with the St Landry Parish Sheriff’s Office and received hundreds of pages of Higgin’s emails. What he found has attorney’s questioning his ethics and whether he broke the law.
Reality TV-show deals, wage garnishments, public speaking fees, commercial shoots and setting up Higgins Gear LLC are just a few things we uncovered in Captain Clay Higgins’ work emails at the St Landry Parish Sheriff’s Office. Emails sent from his department account on sheriff’s department time. We took our investigation to criminal defense attorney Kevin Stockstill.
“If it is clearly personal and you’re clearly engaged in personal activity and charging the public entity during the time you’re supposed to be doing public work, you’re basically double dipping,” said Stockstill.
On Higgins’ campaign website he says he’s a strong advocate of “the sacred oath of the badge.” But on department time, Higgins was taking time out of his duties as public information officer and CrimeStoppers spokesman.to email about landing a reality TV show. In a message to a TV producer, Higgins said, “I’m not really money driven, I have a soul…but I’m a capitalist so let’s kick this thing in the expletive, cut a few corners and make a TV show shall we?”
Stockstill said, “In the State of Louisiana, there is a statute on the books called public payroll fraud.” This statute prohibits public officials or anyone working for a public official from being paid private money on public time. Stockstill says public payroll fraud is a very serious charge and it is a felony offense in the State of Louisiana.
In emails obtained by KLAF news, Higgins hired an agent to help book speeches and TV deals including local advertisements. Higgins would charge anywhere from 500 to more than $3,000 for appearances.
In an email dated February 18, 2016, Higgins said, “I handle all law enforcement bookings for a greatly reduced fee as compared to what my agent charges through my LLC. 3250 may sound like a lot, but it’s really not. My agent charges much, much more.”
“You can get into a gray area when what is considered private activity could be activity on behalf of the public agency they are working for. CrimeStoppers could be an example,” said Stockstill. “Although maybe not doing this on behalf of the public agency, they are performing some of the responsibilities and duties that they have when they’re fulfilling their public employment.”
Sometimes, Higgins would speak at events in his sheriff’s department uniform while off duty and occasionally request to be paid in cash. “There needs to be a clear cut line drawn for working for the public agency and working for the private entity,” said Stockstill.
On March 2, 2016, Sheriff Bobby Guidroz sent a message to the department saying, “Higgins needed to take the advice that he sometimes gave criminals on our crime stoppers program, ‘don’t be disrespectful, follow the law—in his case, follow department policy— don’t be resistant to what is right. If Higgins continues to belittle people, continues name calling and expressly admits a hate message is the right message, then his Christian values are not the same as yours and mine.”
But, did Higgins do anything unethical?
“If you are making money and profiting from an enterprise that is beyond the scope and roll of your mission as a public institute, you would possibly be found for a conflict of interests,” said Dr. Bill Davie, a UL law and ethics professor. “However, that all depends on at what point you made money and for what activity and did you report that supplemental income.”
Sheriff Guidroz says Higgins did not report any supplemental income and he would appear in commercials in full uniform without the sheriff’s approval. Guidroz says this is all against his department policy.
“A conflict of interest requires a secondary interest to undermine the primary interest,” said Davie.
Now, for the big question, could Higgins face any charges? The statue of limitations is four years. Formal charges would have to be filed before March of 2020. Higgins could face two years in prison and a fine of up to $1,000, if found guilty.
As far as ethics charges, Dr. Davie said, “Typically it does not require the vetting that a criminal act or a civil act would. These are virtues. It really is encouraged, but in more discrete ways than a criminal act.”
We checked with the St Landry District Attorney’s Office and as of now, there is no open investigation into Captain Higgins. KLAF also reached out to St Landry Parish Sheriff Bobby Guidroz for comment. He declined an on camera interview, but says Higgins was planning his departure from the sheriff’s office since he took the CrimeStoppers gig in 2015
We’ve reached out to Captain Higgins for comment, but he hasn’t responded. His attorney reached out to KLAF saying “I’ve taken a look at it and it all looks fine to me.”