Red’s Badge of Courage

On the morning of March 14, 2007, members of the Opelousas Police Department SWAT team arrived at a small home on Planters Street in order to serve a no-knock search warrant on suspicion of drug activity.

The search didn’t take too long and also didn’t turn up any contraband or illegal drugs. As members of the team cleared the home, Red Richard pulled up in his red car and parked on the street outside the home’s front entrance.

It was around 8:30. Red had woken up only a few minutes before; he hadn’t showered yet. But as he made his way back to his home, he saw the commotion outside of his cousin’s house and decided to find out what all the fuss was about.

There were three or four police officers standing out front. His cousin, as it turned out, wasn’t home. Red approached the officers. One of them asked if it was his residence. “Nope,” he said. “It’s my cousin’s. I just happened to be passing through.”

At this point, the neighbors are all awake and watching the whole production. The white cop with the green bandana and another white officer, Chautin, start peering into Red’s car windows. Then, the guy in the bandana, Higgins, opens Red’s driver door. Red knows his rights. He hadn’t consented to a search.

When he tries closing the door, Chautin grabs him by the neck and pummels him to the ground. They violently force handcuffs on him. Higgins grabs him by the hair and twists his neck. One of the neighbors thinks he’s putting Red into a chokehold.

“Go call your backyard lawyer now, motherfucker,” Higgins snarled.

He and Chautin began tearing through Red’s car, but they come up empty-handed. They get Red up from the ground. Higgins asks someone for a key to the handcuffs. Red mutters something about how he figured he’d have to die somehow and how everyone will eventually have to answer to God. It pisses off Higgins.

“Are you making death threats against me?”

After he gets the first cuff off, Higgins grabs Red by the neck again, strikes him in the jaw, and then throws him into the hood of his car.

“Pussy,” he says.

The neighbors can’t believe what they’re witnessing.

Damian Mouton and his mother decide to go outside; they want Higgins to know they are watching him, and as soon as Higgins sees them, he eases up on Red, who is understandably frazzled right now. Red digs for a cigarette. Higgins turns back toward the home.

As Red lights up, Higgins turns back, knocks the cigarette from his mouth, and smacks him in the face. “Who told you that you could smoke?” he says.

Red wants to file a report. He makes that abundantly clear to Higgins and the other members of the SWAT team.

But first, he needs to get checked out by a doctor, which gives Higgins and Chautin the time to get their stories straight. They claim that Red breached the “SWAT perimeter” when he pulled up in his car, that it had appeared to them he may have been carrying a weapon or something suspicious, and that when they asked him about searching his vehicle, it was Red who struck at Higgins, not the other way around.

There were some obvious problems with the story they concocted. The search was over by the time Red arrived, so there wasn’t any perimeter he could have breached. And if Red had struck a police officer, why on earth hadn’t they charged him with battery and hauled him into jail?

At 11 that night. Higgins called his Commanding Officer. He admitted he’d lied earlier, which meant that Chautin had also lied, and he agreed to come in the next morning to write a retraction.

“Officer Higgins did commit use (sic) unnecessary force and committed several batteries upon Mr. Richard,” wrote Captain Craig Thomas in a report to Police Chief Perry Gallow. “Officer Higgins also failed to tell the truth by saying that Mr. Richard committed a battery upon Officer Higgins prior to their scuffle and tried to deceive the investigation by plotting and staging facts that did not take place in this incident. It was also determined that Officer Higgins only told the truth about this incident after speaking with Sgt. Ortego and learned that Sgt. Ortego did not go along with the original story that Higgins and Chautin told to Capt. Thomas.”

Remember, all of this occurred post-redemption. Higgins’s second chance occurred when he joined the Opelousas Police Department, not when he resigned from it. And because he resigned before any discipline had been officially recommended against him, it didn’t become a part of any personnel file that could have made its way onto Sheriff Bobby Guidroz’s desk, and Higgins certainly had no desire to tell anyone about the time he committed “several batteries” against an unarmed, innocent bystander.

Guidroz says that if he had learned about the incident, he would have never hired Higgins in the first place. And Higgins, for his part, claims, absurdly, that he resigned over the investigation into him buying beer in uniform and minimizes his behavior with some phony macho claim about the fog of war that “street cops” in a town of 16,000 people have to confront.

There was nothing courageous or patriotic about Higgins’s assault of Red Richards that morning in March. It was Red who suddenly found himself in a war zone, not Higgins. And despite being repeatedly assaulted, Red never struck back. He asserted his Constitutional rights. He attempted to remind Higgins of his shared Christian values and the omnipresence of a just and righteous God. And then, he filed a report with the hope that Officer Higgins would never be able to use his badge as a license to trample over the rights and the body of another innocent bystander.

St. Landry Parish Sheriff Bobby Guidroz

Earlier, I mentioned the letter that Sheriff Guidroz wrote to the public following Higgins’s resignation from his department in 2016. It’s worth our collective reconsideration. He writes, in part:

I reined Higgins in, knowing there would be resistance. His experience and former occupation as a car salesman has given him the gift of a silver tongue. His gifted ability to speak is making him appear as a ‘Fierce Crime Fighter.’ Let’s not mistake the fact that I have the highest regard for car salesmen.

Whether I was great, decent, or imperfect, I knew people were going to have a strong reaction because of his ability to portray something he is not. I took phone calls from all over the country regarding Higgins’s perceived ability to fight crime. They were fooled by the message(s). Callers said they like him because they thought he was a crime fighter. Higgins’s five or six years as a patrolman (not supervisor) doesn’t give him the inherent right to claim to be a crime fighter. Doing that is a slap in the face to all law-enforcement officers that risk their lives on the street doing the things he talks about doing.

His crime fighting experience consists of patrolling the parish on the night shift as a deputy. Higgins was not in the trenches doing working undercover, making drug buys, or executing arrests warrants and search warrants, nor was he involved in any physical street work. His twelve (12) weeks of academy and 5-6 years in law enforcement pales by comparison to the training and crime fighting experience I and many other fine officers have in the law-enforcement field.

I say to those on social media that support Higgins’s stance and want to give him another chance: Ask your local Chief of Police or Sheriff to give him the job and the opportunity to ‘go unbridled with no bit in his mouth,’ as self-proclaimed in his press release. Ask your Sheriff or Chief to allow Higgins to say and do whatever he wants publicly in the media outlets. If any of his social media supporters think that he would be allowed to do that with any other law enforcement agency or business, please let me know!

Higgins needed to take the advice that he sometimes gave criminals on our crime stoppers program: ‘Don’t be disrespectful. Follow the law. (In his case, follow department policy). Don’t be resistant to what is right.’

If Higgins continues to belittle people, continues name-calling, and expressly admits a hate message is the right message, then his Christian values are not the same as mine and yours.

As Sheriff, it is my duty and responsibility that the message going out to the public be professional, on point, and truthful. The citizens need to remember the department public information officer is a spokesperson for the sheriff, the sheriff employees, and the department as a whole.

A few months later, with Higgins’s campaign for Congress now in high-gear, Guidroz sat down for an extended interview with Wally Pierce of The Independent. Among other things, they spoke about Higgins’s decision to campaign while wearing a badge.

“I notice that the badge on his belt is not the [Lafayette] city marshal badge. And if it’s a St. Landry Parish sheriff’s badge, he’s gonna get arrested for impersonating a police officer, a sheriff’s deputy,” Guidroz said. “Now that’s strong words from a strong man that can tell you, I don’t play. And he’s not gonna parade around with a St. Landry Parish sheriff’s badge on his belt convincing people he’s a street cop or law enforcement officer when he’s not.”

Maybe his advice to The Advocate reporter was offered sincerely. Maybe he believes all one needs is a badge to play the role of “street cop.”

Today, with Lafayette City Marshal Brian Pope having finally been ousted in disgrace, Higgins found a new benefactor and a different dubious law enforcement commission: Louisiana state Attorney General Jeff Landry named him a reserve officer for his office.

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Lamar White, Jr.
Lamar writes about the people, the politics, and the magic of Louisiana. He is the founder and publisher of the Bayou Brief and a contributing writer for the Daily Beast. Lamar is best known for his investigative reporting on public corruption, racism, and civil rights. He has appeared as a guest on CNN, MSNBC, and the BBC, and he's been the subject of profiles in The Washington Post, The Advocate, and Huffington Post. Before launching the Bayou Brief, he published CenLamar, a popular blog that initially covered the drama of City Hall in his hometown of Alexandria. Lamar is a graduate of Rice University in Houston and the Dedman School of Law at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Today he lives in New Orleans and is currently writing a book about the life of reputed New Orleans Mafia boss Carlos Marcello. Support Lamar's work on Patreon.