Following is an excerpt from a chapter on Higgins included in my manuscript for Louisiana’s Rogue Sheriffs: A Culture of Corruption, a book about corrupt sheriffs and law enforcement officers of Louisiana that puts that law enforcement record in perspective:
If ever there was a living caricature of the Barney Fife character from the old Andy Griffith Show, it would have to be Clay Higgins, aka the self-anointed “Cajun John Wayne,” a Dirty Harry wannabe.
Originally a patrolman and a member of the Opelousas Police Department’s SWAT team, Higgins, a former used car salesman, resigned from the OPD on May 18, 2007, in lieu of accepting disciplinary action from Police Chief Perry Gallow.
“Pfc. Clay Higgins used unnecessary force on a subject during the execution of a warrant and later gave false statements during an internal investigation. Although he later recanted his story and admitted to striking a suspect in handcuffs and later releasing him …” read the minutes of the Opelousas Police Department’s Discipline Review Board concerning the March 14, 2007, incident.
Among the actions that had been recommended by the review board:
- Demotion from Patrolman First Class to Patrolman;
- Reassignment to a patrol shift for more direct supervision and training;
- Immediate removal from the SWAT Team;
- 160 hours suspension from duty without pay.
Rather than be subjected to the disciplinary action, Higgins turned in his equipment and resigned, although his version of events varies somewhat with the official account.
The incident in question occurred, he said, when he and fellow SWAT Team members were guarding the perimeter of a drug bust and a car breached the perimeter. The driver claimed to have cash in the suspected drug house and wanted to retrieve it, according to Higgins. The man was detained and handcuffed, Higgins claimed, and threatened the officers and Higgins slapped a cigarette out of the man’s mouth.
The man, who was subsequently released, filed a complaint and Higgins admittedly lied about slapping the man but later confessed to slapping him. While awaiting a determination of his punishment, he said he jokingly referred to Gallow as a peacock. “I decided right then, on that day, that my career was over at OPD—that I would never, ever recover from this peacock thing. He was infuriated by it. So, because of that I went into the chief’s office the following week and I turned in my badge and my gear and I resigned.”
That’s not the way it happened, according to Captain Craig Thomas, who headed up Internal Affairs for the OPD. He said Higgins lied in saying that the driver of the vehicle, Andre Richard, committed a battery upon Higgins and that Higgins only came forward to tell the truth after learning that Sergeant Bill Ortego did not go along with the story told by Higgins and another officer. Ortego said that he, Higgins and a third officer were standing outside the home where the warrant was being executed when a young black man pulled up in a red vehicle, got out and approached the three officers, but did not breach a perimeter as claimed by Higgins because “there was no perimeter set up for Richard to see,” Thomas said. “He was parked in the street.”
When Higgins walked to the driver’s side of the vehicle and started looking in the car through the open door, Richard attempted to close the door while Higgins was still standing in the doorway, at which time Higgins and the second officer threw Richard to the ground, Ortego wrote in his statement. Ortego made it clear that the driver had not placed his hands on Higgins before trying to close his car door.
Once the man was on the ground, Higgins asked for handcuffs and when the cuffs were on, Higgins grabbed him by the hair and told him to contact his lawyer, Ortego said, adding that the two officers began searching Richard’s vehicle, which they did not have permission to do, and noted that Ortego himself and Lieutenant Craig Leblanc, who was also present, helped the man off the ground, at which time Richard told Higgins, “It’s all right, everybody got to die someday.” Higgins took it as an implied threat and it really pissed Higgins off, prompting him to remove the cuffs and push the man onto the car, then put his hand around his neck before slapping him in the face and telling him to leave, according to Ortego’s statement. Higgins then pulled the cigarette out of Richard’s mouth and pushed him toward his vehicle, Ortego said.
Following his departure from the OPD, Higgins next showed up as a public information officer for the St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Office. His career there took an even more bizarre turn and established him as something of a pseudo folk hero in what he perceived as the mold of some kind of super cop, or better yet, the reincarnation of John Wayne himself. But his blatant—and oddly comical—self-parody bathed him more in the light of Deputy Fife than the Duke.
While employed by the SLP Sheriff’s Office, Higgins took it upon himself to make a series of macho videos of himself in full battle garb and armed to the teeth. With a full contingent of law enforcement personnel, armaments and a police dog standing alertly in the background, Higgins embarked on a rant against thugs, gang members, and assorted criminals, promising them there was no safe haven for them as long as he was on the job.
The videos gained him instant notoriety on YouTube, garnering thousands of hits. That only encouraged Higgins to branch out and to begin offering commemorative cups, caps and T-shirts to an adoring public. Soon, he was appearing as a paid guest on talk shows, giving paid speeches and doing paid advertisements, all of which naturally, in today’s media-dominated society, morphed into a TV reality show. Saying he had his reasons for preferring payment in cash, he charged $1500 for a television production, a thousand dollars for a radio production and one hundred fifty dollars an hour in travel time and another thousand for a photo session.
It also prompted swift action on the part of St. Landry Parish Sheriff Bobby Guidroz. After Higgins’s forced resignation, Guidroz said, “Clay Higgins formed a personal business venture to raise money by selling mugs, T-shirts and other trinkets using department badge and uniform.” Explaining that using the sheriff’s office to promote his businesses was against departmental policy, Guidroz said, “I reined Higgins in.” He said that Higgins needed to take his own advice to not be disrespectful and to “follow the law.” Guidroz said he never authorized Higgins to appear on mugs, T-shirts or any other paraphernalia.
The personal business to which Guidroz referred, Captain Higgins Gear Company, LLC, was incorporated on October 15, 2015.
Guidroz related an incident in which Higgins requested extra body armor and an AR-15. He also asked to take the sheriff’s department decals off his car because, Higgins said, “My wife is home alone a lot and I don’t want them (those he had targeted in his videos) to see that I’m a policeman living in this area with the decals on my car.”
Guidroz said he told Higgins, “No, and I’ll tell you why: You put a target on fifty-five other deputies in this parish that have marked units. By calling these guys (gang members) out on the street, claiming to be a bad-ass, you put that target on them. Why should I grant you that request to unmark your car?”
As his supersized ego continued to grow, so, too, did his dream of a TV reality show in which he would out-Seagal actor Steven Seagal who at one time had his own TV reality cop show in which he did ride-alongs with the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Department. Higgins, expanding on that theme, actually envisioned himself popping in on various police department SWAT teams around the country and inviting himself to raids where he would personally arrest perps and then exact confessions from them during on-camera interrogations. Left unexplained was just how he intended to convince local police departments to allow him to swoop in and claim the glory after what may have been months of investigation and surveillance on their part.
Only after he left the St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Office was it learned that Higgins had not paid federal income taxes for several years, and his salary there was being garnished by the IRS. Moreover, it was also learned belatedly that Higgins was being sued by one of his ex-wives for one hundred thousand dollars after falling behind on child support payments a decade earlier.
Higgins, who denied an accusation by another ex-wife (not the one who sued him for child support) that he put a gun to her head during an argument in 1991, landed on his feet, this time as a reserve deputy for Lafayette City Marshal Brian Pope who was himself indicted by a grand jury in August of 2016.
Meanwhile, Higgins was seeking the seat previously held by Rep. Charles Boustany who ran and lost in his race for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by the retiring David Vitter. Higgins, running as an unabashed supporter of Donald Trump, was pitted in the runoff against Scott Angelle, a member of the Louisiana Public Service Commission who finished third in a four-man race for Louisiana Governor in 2015. In the November primary, Angelle led with 29 percent of the vote to Higgins’s 26 percent. But in the December 10 runoff, Higgins, with 77,671 votes (56 percent), swamped Angelle, who pulled but 60,762 (44 percent). After having lost two major races within a year’s time, Angelle was likely through running for elective office though Trump later hired him to head up the federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.
Days before his runoff victory, Higgins was taped by ex-wife Rosemary Rothkamm-Hambrice as they discussed his delinquent child support payments. “…I really don’t know how much we should talk about this on the phone,” Higgins said. “I’m just learning really about campaign laws but there’s going to be a lot of money floating around…”