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SMPD officer sentenced

The Daily Iberian,
Link to Article

St. Martinville, LA

ST. MARTINVILLE — A former St. Martinville Police officer convicted of stealing guns, drugs and cash from the police department’s evidence room to support her gambling addiction was sentenced Thursday to three years in prison at hard labor.

Charlotte Durand, 57, a police officer with more than 20 years on the job, received a five-year sentence for one count of felony theft, with two years suspended, and three years at hard labor for one count of malfeasance in office. District Judge Charles Porter ordered the sentences to run concurrently for a total of three years in prison and five years of probation upon her release.

Durand was working as the department’s evidence custodian when she was arrested in April 2009, said Chester Cedars, an assistant district attorney for the 16th Judicial District Attorney’s Office.

The string of thefts began in December 2007 when she pawned her department-issued duty gun, Cedars said, and continued for more than a year with Durand lifting guns, cash and cocaine from the evidence room she was charged with overseeing.

Durand originally was charged with three counts of malfeasance in office and two counts of felony theft. She pleaded guilty in March to one count of malfeasance in office and one count of felony theft as part of a plea agreement.

“We have a very severe case of breaching public trust,” Cedars said during the sentencing hearing. “These are the very people we rely on to testify and help to ensure justice is served. The misconduct of this experienced police officer cast an onerous shadow upon the criminal justice system.”

Cedars said the “infection of evidence” resulted in the dismissal of numerous felony cases that were pending when Durand was arrested. The tainting of evidence also forced the district attorney’s office to refuse charges on major felony drug cases that materialized around the time of her arrest, he said.

“Her misconduct caused the erosion of public perception of competence and fairness,” Cedars said. “We should be able to go out on the streets and say, ‘Son, you’re selling cocaine. You’re going to jail.’ This wasn’t one momentary lapse in judgment. This was a cold, calculated pattern of misconduct.”

Claudia Hall, an addiction counselor hired by the defense to evaluate Durand, said in her testimony that the former peace officer suffers from a pathological gambling disorder and needs continued outpatient treatment, not jail time. Durand independently sought help for her addiction after her arrest, Hall said.

Hall was among six people who spoke on behalf of Durand during her sentencing. St. Martinville City Councilman Arthur Champ Jr., former longtime St. Martin Parish School Board member Paulma Johnson, family members and a St. Martinville police officer who worked under Durand for several years also testified in support of the former officer.

“I have the utmost respect for her,” Champ said. “She served the public well for many years, and I, like others, miss her presence with the St. Martinville Police Department. How can the bad outweigh the good she’s done in the community through law enforcement?”

Cedars countered that a gambling addiction does not justify the serious crimes Durand committed and does not give comfort to the victims of crimes that were never prosecuted because of Durand’s actions.

He said after the hearing it was “disturbing” to see public officials testify on her behalf.

Durand gave a brief and tearful statement in court Thursday, publicly apologizing to the city of St. Martinville, her co-workers, the chief of police, the court and her family. She asked Porter to consider her daughter and grandson who rely on her support.

“I did wrong, and I’m not trying to minimize it,” she said. “But I know in my heart that none of this would’ve ever happened if I didn’t have an addiction.”

Porter said the state Department of Corrections can, at its discretion, substitute Durand’s prison sentence with one of the inpatient treatment programs offered by the state to persons convicted of offenses related to a gambling addiction.

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