Fault Lines
18 November 2017

Sheriff Louis Ackal: “Police Have Rights; I’m Innocent Until Proven Guilty”

July 25, 2016 (Fault Lines) — Indicted earlier this year, Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal implores the judge to return his gun due to the recent blue vs. black national mêlée. Having been indicted for his role in the abuse of multiple inmates and accused of threatening a federal prosecutor, the judge prohibited Ackal from carrying a firearm, despite his position as the elected Sheriff.

Ackal is a 50-year veteran of law enforcement. He’s only been accused and indicted, not convicted. And he claims he’s a sitting duck without his gun.

“It’s a right that a police officer has,” he said. “I’ve only been indicted. I’m supposed to be ‘innocent until proven guilty.’ In federal court, it feels like I’m guilty until proven innocent.”

Besides, the threat wasn’t real and the denial of his right to a gun wasn’t even supposed to be a real court order.

That prohibition, Ackal said, was supposed to be merely an understanding and not to be announced in open court.

“I have no intention of doing something dumb like attacking a prosecutor,” he said. “I’ve been working closely with prosecutors in the courts for years.”

Despite the way most defendants are treated, Ackal wants better. After all, he is innocent until proven guilty. He is a police officer. He has a right to carry a weapon. He has worked closely with prosecutors in the courts for years. He doesn’t understand why this is happening to him. He is the good guy, right? He is supposed to receive the preferential treatment afforded to all law enforcement.

Yes, we realize law enforcement is used to receiving special treatment. Most are never charged or indicted for their misdeeds. Even those who are rarely experience the ever-popular perp walk into jail while awaiting arraignment and determination of bail. Most work a deal with the prosecutor to surrender peacefully at a designated day and time on a no-arrest bond without the pomp and circumstance surrounding the jump out boys at 4 a.m. Even those who are physically arrested are quickly diverted on personal bonds.

But, here in the real world, defendants are denied the right to possess or carry firearms while under indictment, especially when accused of threatening to shoot a prosecutor. Defendants are perceived guilty. Defendants lose their rights and their dignity. Treated with disrespect, the accused is routinely brought before the courts to suffer socially acceptable consequences.

Many are removed from their homes and placed under protective orders forbidding them from uninhibited movement. The accused is sometimes denied the opportunity to exercise visitation with his own kids, especially when he’s alleged to have made violent threats. It’s all in the name of justice, so don’t worry. We are keeping everyone safe and maintaining the status quo despite the inconvenience to the accused. After all, when this is all over, those “inconveniences” will be a small price to pay. After all, conditions of release just ensure safety and are not punitive.

Welcome to the real world Sheriff Ackal. Accusations and indictments have consequences. We politely refer to them as “collateral consequences” and “pretrial conditions of release.” Of course you are innocent unless proven guilty, but in the meantime, sit back and appreciate the finer qualities of our criminal justice system. You never seemed to mind these types of consequences and inconveniences for the accused until now. Wonder why that changed?

In their request to have Ackal prohibited from possessing a weapon, prosecutors described this ban as reasonable and the least restrictive to ensure the safety of others. See, they just want to ensure safety. It’s not a punishment. It’s a pretrial condition. It’s a minor inconvenience, and of course the least restrictive, while presuming you innocent. It’s not meant to infringe upon Sheriff Ackal’s performance of his job. And in fact, it has hardly impacted his job.

Luckily, Ackal is his own boss and has been able to maintain his job and with pay, and even sought and won a recent re-election bid. Many defendants are fired for their accusations. Employers don’t want to risk retaining an accused. They are not kept on the payroll with the uncertainty of missing work due to jailing, court appearances, and the possibility of conviction. Most employers simply move on and hire someone else.

Ackal should be elated his badge and gun aren’t particularly attractive assets for forfeiture, which, even for the innocent, can be a real eye-opener. The government could literally seize it, hold it, and make him fight to get it back. After all, the badge is how he was able to carry out the acts that lead to his indictment. Much like driving a nice expensive car to a drug deal, that badge (assuming it had some sales appeal and value) facilitated the commission of the alleged offenses. That would be just another unfortunate collateral consequence.

Yeah, Sheriff Ackal is innocent unless proven guilty. These are just minor inconveniences. Little bumps in the road to justice.

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