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'Credibility' leads sheriff to hire Matis

The Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), Main Edition, B; Pg. 04
BYLINE: DAVID J. MITCHELL; RIVER PARISHES BUREAU

Assumption Parish, LA

Assumption Parish Sheriff Mike Waguespack said Wednesday he has hired a retired Louisiana State Police officer as his lead evidence custodian after the sheriff put his former custodian on leave in April over mishandled drug evidence.

The sheriff said in a statement that retired State Police Lt. Thane Matis would help him re-establish his office's credibility within the criminal justice system.

Matis, who has 28 years of law enforcement experience and is a former Marine sergeant, started work Monday to reorganize the sheriff's property and evidence operations, the sheriff said.

Matis was executive officer at State Police Troop C in Gray, where he retired with the rank of lieutenant in 2005, said Trooper Bryan Zeringue, Troop C spokesman.

As executive officer, Matis was assistant to the Troop C captain, ran the troop when the captain was away, and was designated as troop evidence custodian. In 2003, Matis' peers presented him with the Professional Excellence Award, Waguespack said.

"Thane is a disciplined law enforcement professional who has the work ethic, integrity and respect to assist me with re-establishing the credibility of this office with our partners in the criminal justice system," Waguespack said in the statement.

"He will assist me in the development and implementation of the most modern procedures that will be used to ensure that the evidence is handled in a secure and efficient manner with additional safeguards in place."

Waguespack said Matis, who has the rank of lieuten-ant, would develop and implement property and evidence policies and procedures.

Matis also will install a recently purchased property and evidence software and bar coding system and convert all evidence data to that system, Waguespack said.

In early April, Waguespack announced that then-evidence custodian Lt. Louis Lambert was placed on paid administrative leave after an initial investigation by the Lafourche Parish Sheriff's Internal Affairs Division into the evidence allegations.

Twenty-third Judicial District Attorney Ricky Babin wrote in a subsequent April letter to judges and defense attorneys that drugs seized in a single case did not match those received by the State Police Crime Laboratory.

He wrote that potentially hundreds of drug cases could be affected, however, and asked to put the cases on hold.

Waguespack said Wednesday an internal audit by an Indianapolis-based third-party vendor he hired and an external investigation by State Police are both under way.

Sgt. Markus Smith, State Police spokesman, said troopers are in midcourse in their investigation.

Lambert remains on leave pending the State Police investigation, Waguespack said.

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