A Louisiana couple, demanding the return of their constitutionally-protected property for six years, asks a federal judge to transfer their case out of its jurisdiction due to ongoing impropriety by St. Tammany Parish officials.
“Why would a federal court not order the Sheriff to return somebody’s Holy Bible, Rosary and their Missal and their son’s firearm?” asked Daniel G. Abel, counsel for the Manton family. “Are they covering-up for the insurance company and for each other?”
Abel said until now, St. Tammany Sheriff Rodney “Jack” Strain refused to release items illegally seized from Manton’s home which included a Holy Bible, rosary beads and other religious materials belonging to the Manton family and a Remington 870 Youth Model 20-gauge shotgun that was a gift to their late son.
There was an agreement made between the parties last week to return the shotgun to the Mantons within ten days, he said. “We believe the shotgun will be returned as agreed.”
This small concession does not change the status of their dismissed lawsuit, said Abel. In the pleadings filed last week, plaintiffs describe the actions of Strain and his attorneys as attacks not just on Catholics but on persons of all faiths.
The Mantons were denied an opportunity to appeal the final judgment to the U.S. Fifth Circuit of Appeals since Chief Judge Sarah S. Vance did not file one, even though it was repeatedly requested of her, said Abel.
The pleadings assert that the Court issued an order awarding fees to the Sheriff for reasons unknown until the relationships between certain persons including St. Tammany District Attorney Walter P. Reed, Sheriff Strain and their attorneys and the Court are understood.
In April Judge Vance recused herself from a civil rights action against Reed when she admitted nine months after the case was dismissed that her husband, Patrick Vance, who is an attorney, represented Reed’s co-defendants Jared Riecke and his insurance company in violation of ethical rules, said Abel. “Vance never vacated her orders – Reed still gets to get out.”
As in the Buras-Manton action, as well as other civil rights matters involving the district attorney or the sheriff, the cases are routinely assigned to Judge Vance and routinely dismissed, said Abel in the pleading.
“The really bad cases against Reed and Strain continuously end up with Vance.” Abel argued in light of this information together with the criminal investigations in progress by the Department of Justice and the F.B.I. into alleged unlawful practices inside the D.A.’s office and the sheriff’s office, the Mantons are at least entitled to an impartial court with an impartial jury.
“We have been through enough,” said Norman J. Manton Jr. “Give us our stuff back and just move on.” Manton’s wife Sherrie Buras-Manton and the Rindge, N.H.-based Independent Firearm Owners Association are plaintiffs in the matter against Strain and his subordinates. Once federal investigations are complete, Manton said he believes Reed and Strain will be charged with RICO violations.
“They are calling St. Tammany officials the North Shore Mafia.” RICO is a federal law that provides for extended criminal penalties and a civil cause of action for acts performed as part of an ongoing criminal organization. Manton said he is disillusioned with the entire system. “After being falsely imprisoned for 120-days, authorities taking my gun, my Bible, and my wife’s prayer boxes, we wonder what America has become.”
Strain, who at one time commissioned Manton as a sheriff deputy, has over the course of six years refused to return items unlawfully taken from the Manton home, and has even denied some of those items exist, he said.
“We are in possession of a search warrant return receipt that lists a Smith & Wesson .38 caliber revolver box, a speed loader, a bible, several miscellaneous wooden boxes and a blue denim bag,” said Manton. “There are deputies who confirmed to me that Strain has all of our property.”
Richard Feldman, who is president of IFOA and co-counsel in Buras-Manton’s action against Strain, said after the charges were dropped against Manton in 2008, there was no issue about the property to address but the Court made it an issue.
“The property should have been returned without the court’s involvement whether the seizure was lawful or unlawful.” The Court should have ordered that the sheriff return the constitutionally-protected property to its rightful owners, he said.
“The Court could have just done what it is supposed to do in the first place. We are cautiously pleased to expect the return of the 20-gauge shotgun by the end of the week,” said the former police officer and author of Ricochet: Confessions of a Gun Lobbyist. ”
Feldman said St. Tammany Parish officials have continued to operate in this manner without scrutiny because they can. “They are never called on the carpet for anything – they run their own little Central American despotic republic in St. Tammany.”
There is a pattern of criminal behavior that shows a cavalier attitude towards the law, said Terry M. King, member of Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany an organization that champion’s transparent and good governance.
King was involved in exposing a corrupt parish coroner who took unwarranted and excessive salary payments from tax payer funds. The former environmental auditor said Article 5 of the Louisiana Constitution that regulates justice agencies within the state government which includes the corona, sheriff, D.A., clerk of the court, and the court’s themselves have no official oversight apparatus or an inspector general to turn to.
“No one knows what is actually going on.” Gathering information via investigation and public record access, local civil rights groups have ascertained evidence of a direct collusion between public officials to defraud the people occurring in the Manton case as well as many others, he said.
King said Reed’s mother is the sister of Clerk of Court Malise Prieto’s grandmother making them second cousins. “We have this whole overlay of familial control and an atmosphere that offers way too much latitude in whatever their professional duties are.”
This is why people do not trust government anymore, said Feldman. “There is no one to go to in the government there that you can trust with integrity and honesty to say “I’ve been wronged.”