Litigation continues as innocent Louisiana couple begs for the return of their Bible, Rosary, shotgun and other personal items that were illegally seized by St. Tammany Parish deputies in 2008.
“As a Roman Catholic I find it abominable that tactics that have long-been associated with racist groups such as the Klu Klux Klan are being utilized against citizens by law enforcement officers,” said John D. Aquilino Jr., founding grand knight of St. Jerome Council Knights of Columbus in Hyattsville, Maryland. KOC is the world’s largest Catholic fraternal service organization.
Sherrie Buras-Manton and the Rindge, N.H.-based Independent Firearm Owners Association are in a legal battle against St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Rodney “Jack” Strain and his subordinates for the return of a Bible, The Missal used at Catholic Mass, rosary beads and other religious items belonging to the Manton family and a Remington 870 Youth Model 20-gauge shotgun that was a gift to their late son.
In December 2012 District Court Judge Sarah S. Vance granted Strain’s motion for summary judgment, however it was not a final determination. Plaintiffs are determined to appeal to the Fifth Circuit and if needed the U.S. Supreme Court in order to regain possession of their constitutionally-protected items.
Aquilino who is an officer of the board at IFOA said the refusal of Strain to return the Manton private property is intolerable. “Such behavior both by the sheriff and the judge undermines the confidence of its citizens in the rule of law.”
“It is absolutely contrary to good law enforcement,” said the former director of public education for the National Rifle Association. IFOA offers effective solutions for complex criminal justice problems.
More organizations should become involved in this cause for 1st and 2nd Amendment rights, he said. “The American Civil Liberties Union, every religious denomination, and every law enforcement agency should champion this case.”
Charles M. “Chuck” Hughes Jr. who is the attorney for the sheriff’s office said the assertion that its office is in possession of religious items was fabricated by a deputy. “We never had it in the first place; the deputy was wrong from the beginning.”
As long as the Mantons’ follow the proper procedure as dictated by statute, they can retrieve their shotgun, he said. “We would love to let them have their property after they comply with what state law mandates.”
“I think the Manton’s would rather bitch, moan and complain in frivolous pleadings than come and get their gun,” he said.
Hughes previously confirmed with Human Events that the firearm was in their possession and available to Manton. Hughes also confirmed the model and serial number of the shotgun.
“After being falsely charged with crimes I did not commit, I spent 120-days in jail until all charges were dropped in April 2008,” said plaintiff’s husband Norman J. Manton Jr.
“I was told by the evidence custodian, that high ranking members of the sheriff’s office told him to hide the items, which included the religious materials and the shotgun,” said the former St. Tammany Parish deputy.
“I was also told by a senior deputy that my items were locked-up,” he said.
Buras-Manton said sheriff deputies executed a search warrant on their home looking for evidence in the disappearance of Albert Bloch, a 61-year old Metairie man missing since 2007. “We were told by the deputies they were looking for the DNA of Bloch.”
She said that at least one of the deputies admitted at deposition that the religious materials were removed from the Manton home. “It seemed odd to me to remove religious items, but the deputies said they needed it to check for remnants of Bloch’s DNA.”
Former St. Tammany narcotics detective Mark Hebert of Covington was indicted by a federal grand jury in June on 60 counts including the murder of Bloch. Strain attempted to charge Manton with crimes that Hebert has been charged with, she said. “My husband and counsel met with the Department of Justice to secure Hebert’s indictment.”
Failure at numerous attempts to retrieve the items from the sheriff’s office preempted the lawsuit, said Buras-Manton. “I promised my son David I would get his gun back.”
The 2nd-grade school teacher said all of the items were of sentimental value. “The rosary beads were a First Communion gift to David.”
The night-stand drawer that contained the Manton family religious items was broken and her bedroom ransacked, she said. “They were going through my underwear drawers tossing my personal things on the bed.”
After the raid, she said she realized there was a brand-new denim bag with an American flag inscription on the outside – missing. “I think they put our religious items in the bag and removed them for evidence.”
“Why else would the denim bag – with the tags still on – be missing?” asked Buras-Manton.
“On one level it’s a mystery and on another level it’s intimidation,” said Richard Feldman, co counsel for plaintiffs and president and chief executive officer of IFOA.
He said St. Tammany officials do it because they can get away with it. “Who is going to stop them? The police?” he asked.
Someone is lying and someone is telling the truth, said the author of Ricochet: Confessions of a Gun Lobbyist. “That’s why we have trials to examine the evidence and make determinations.”
St. Tammany officials are protecting each-other; from the insurance company to the district attorney, said the former police officer. “It’s an unbelievable cesspool of corruption.”
Probative of this conduct, unsavory conditions at the St. Tammany jailhouse led the Dept. of Justice DOJ to launch an investigation that resulted in an embarrassing consent decree, said Feldman. “Strain was forced to sign an agreement that permits the DOJ to monitor the activities of the sheriff’s office.”
Elected into office in 2008, Gov. Bobby Jindal (R.-La.) has some explaining to do if he wants to run for president, he said. “If we can’t trust Jindal to get a hold of a county that isn’t functioning properly, how do we trust him to handle an entire nation?”
“I will make sure to gather voters across the Granite state to ask Jindal that very question,” he said. “The governor’s lack of concern will not cut-it in early primary states New Hampshire or Iowa.”
The citizens are supposed to control the officials they elect into office, he said. “Otherwise we can’t call ourselves a democracy – we are a dictatorship.”