By Raymond Legendre, Staff Writer
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THIBODAUX — An Assumption sheriff’s deputy in charge of storing and maintaining the agency’s criminal evidence has been suspended over allegations he “mishandled” drugs that were evidence in a pending drug-distribution case, Sheriff Mike Waguespack said Friday.
Waguespack refused to say how Lt. Louis Lambert, a 17-year veteran who has served as evidence custodian more than seven years, mishandled the drugs or what type of drugs were involved.
“We’ve got problems with evidence that hasn’t been handled properly,” Waguespack said. “I can’t get into details.”
Waguespack suspended Lambert with pay last Saturday, shortly after learning of potential problems involving evidence needed for a drug case.
The deputy’s job status will be decided after a private firm, the Police Agency Training Council, completes its audit of the Sheriff’s Office’s evidence room.
Lambert, a 47-year-old from Labadieville, is not charged with a crime. That could also change once the investigation is finished, Waguespack said.
The agency’s evidence room will be closed to all Assumption sheriff’s employees until the audit is complete, Waguespack added.
Evidence custodians are vital to law-enforcement agencies because they ensure the integrity of evidence from the time it is collected to the time it is brought to trial. They often testify at trial, making their credibility on the witness stand essential.
Questions about Lambert’s credibility have already affected one case.
The drug-distribution trial at the center of the allegations against Lambert was delayed pending the investigation’s completion, said Ricky Babin, the district attorney for the 23rd Judicial District, which includes Assumption, Ascension and St. James parishes.
Neither Babin nor Waguespack knew the name of the defendant in the drug-distribution case.
If Lambert destroyed or tampered evidence in the case, his actions could affect other pending cases in Assumption Parish, where he was in charge of evidence, Babin said. Under such a scenario, defense attorneys could key on concerns about Lambert’s credibility to create doubt in jurors’ minds about whether the evidence was tampered with.
Babin stressed he knew few details about the investigation into Lambert’s treatment of evidence and did not know whether he committed a crime.
The investigation into Lambert’s actions is not expected to have an impact on completed cases unless there is proof he damaged or tampered with evidence.
“We’re not going to dismiss every drug prosecution in Assumption Parish because of this,” Babin said.
Attempts to contact Lambert, whose phone rang without going to voicemail, were unsuccessful. Phone calls made to members of the 23rd Judicial District’s Indigent Defenders Board, including Timothy Barbier and Al Robert, were not returned.
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