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Ouachita Parish Sheriff's Office and Metro Narcotics Illeagly Detains Photojournalist

by Keith Skinner Monday, Feb. 19, 2007 at 9:13 PM
keith@keithskinner.com Ouachita Parish - Louisiana

Corruption in the Ouachita Parish Sheriff's Department has taken on a new twist. A freelance photojournalist was illegally detained and held for over two hours being questioned about his sources. Rogue Narcotics Officer Lt. Mike Rowlan allowed to trample the rights of many without fear of liability for his actions.

I am a freelance photojournalist for several regional publications. My main topics of investigation are environmental issues. I was contacted by a Law Enforcement Officer recently to investigate major corruption allegations within the Ouachita Parish Sheriff's Department and Metro Narcotics. At that time the information was being posted on a website http://www.copwatch.net forum under the thread Corruption in NE Louisiana. I registered a screen name and began posting trying to gain the trust of many people who claimed to have documented proof that the corruption existed. The mainstream media was not reporting any of the allegations and when they started reporting it, there was a distinct alliance with the powers that be.

The initial information that piqued my interest was a handwritten confession from Lt. Mike Rowlan who is employed by the Ouachita Parish Sheriff's Office assigned to the Metro Narcotics Unit. The PDF can be downloaded here

Metro Narcotics is a multi agency task force that employs agents from Monroe Louisiana Police Department, West Monroe Police Department, Ouachita Parish Sheriff's Department and the Louisiana Army National Guard. The structure of the unit has a board of directors that the Police Chiefs of the Monroe City Police Department, West Monroe City Police Department, Ouachita Parish Sheriff and the Fourth Judicial District District Attorney sit on.

The contents of this handwritten confession by Lt. Mike Rowlan were blatant disregards of the law, including, but not limited to, snorting cocaine, Driving Under the Influence of both drugs and alcohol and Distribution of Cocaine while on duty. The incident took place about twenty years ago, and from the available information, was never presented to the DA for possible investigation of criminal charges.

A twenty-year-old crime is not juicy enough news for any journalist, with an open mind; I began to dig further to find out if this was an ongoing problem. What I found was appalling to say the least. Lt. Mike Rowlan has continued to break the law and the Sheriff has continued to protect him from any disciplinary / criminal actions concerning his inability to conform and operate within the bounds of the law. Examples of Rowlan’s continuing rogue tactics can be found in the following PDF files: - Rowlan conducted an IA investigation into this matter resulting in no criminal charges being filed. This deputy clearly took $10K while conducting a search warrant by the SCAT Team. He was eventually fired for violating a restraining order. The administration was aware this man had no High School Diploma, clearly indicated in the audio file. - This was an attempted illegal seizure of deputy Stan Felts’ home and computer by Rowlan. - Documentation that the administration attempted to have Rowlan disciplined concerning the attempted illegal seizure of Deputy Stan Felts’ home and computer. Chief Joe Davis and Sheriff Fewell rewarded Rowlan with no action, stating this was merely a miscommunication.

After Lt. Mike Rowlan’s picture was posted on the above mentioned website along with a copy of this handwritten confession, Sheriff Richard Fewell, Sr. began what amounted to a witch hunt to find the people responsible for the posting, claiming the posting "outed" an undercover narcotics officer. This quasi investigation resulted in the termination of two Law Enforcement Officers, the demotion and resignation of a third Law Enforcement Officer as well as causing a fourth officer to resign his position with the FBI.

I found the purported "outing" was anything but what it was being presented as. Lt. Mike Rowlan appeared on a local morning cooking show on KNOE TV without the benefit of disguise, openly stating his name, as well as his employment with the Ouachita Parish Sheriff's Department. At this point I knew there was more to this story than met the eye and began an in-depth investigation as a freelance journalist, with emphasis on compiling a story that I would attempt to get published.

On 02-06-07 I was driving south on Whites Ferry Road to meet with a confidential source that had offered me documents that would outline a major piece to the puzzle. Less than a mile from my home I noticed a marked Ouachita Parish Sheriff's Department car with a uniformed deputy sitting in the parking lot of a convenience store. Immediately upon him recognizing me he pulled in behind me and activated his emergency lights to initiate a traffic stop. I complied.

The deputy approached my vehicle and asked for DL, Registration & Insurance. I stated that my DL was expired and began retrieving the other information he requested. I asked him at this point why I was stopped. He replied, "WE had knowledge that your DL was expired and that gave me PC to pull you over.”

Within less than one minute two undercover Metro Narcotics agents were on the scene. I was asked to exit my vehicle. The first officer I made contact with (Aaron Jay Ellerman) asked if I was PHOTOMAN, referring to a screen name on the above mentioned website. I am not, but did have information as to the identity of this person through private messages on the Copwatch website. He had arranged to buy several images from me to be posted on the website and as a freelance that is one of my sources of income - selling stock images.

I was placed under arrest, read my rights and told that I needed to come with the two agents to Metro Narcotics Office to answer questions. I asked what I was being arrested for and if I needed a lawyer. I was told that they just wanted to talk. I explained that I had over $10K in photography equipment that I was respectfully requesting that I be allowed to secure. I was never frisked or handcuffed and allowed to return to my vehicle to secure it and pull it into a local business off the shoulder of the road. I had a digital recorder and activated it as soon as the stop was made, capturing the entire ordeal.

I was ordered to get into the undercover vehicle with agent Jay Ellerman to be transported to Metro Narcotics Office. As we were in route Mr. Ellerman stated, “Look, Mike Rowlan is not one of my favorite people” and there was small talk concerning the handwritten confession. I was held and questioned concerning no criminal or drug charges / allegations for over two hours, the only topic of discussion was the postings and who was posting under various screen names, and the locations of the 41 page document and the 100 page document mentioned on the web site, and if I had possession of the same. I felt threatened so I made them believe I would cooperate with them to gain my freedom allowing me to get the recording out. Everything I said in this interview was fabricated in a manner that they would not gain any credible information. I was told if I would help them they would “fix” some traffic violations I had. I was not charged with any crime nor was I issued a traffic citation concerning the expired DL.

After I was taken back to my residence, I had my girlfriend pick up my vehicle while I was still being questioned, I realized that they still had possession of the Registration and Insurance papers to my vehicle and phoned Jay Ellerman to bring the paperwork back to my residence. Upon further investigation I was informed that agent Jay Ellerman and Capt. Danny Acree went to my landlords home two weeks prior, and told him that I was being investigated for bringing methamphetamine to this area from the state of Texas. They asked for the layout of my home’s floor plan, and if there were any openings in the area they may be able to rent to run surveillance on me.

I have hired a legal team that consists of an ACLU attorney as well as a lawyer who was the former Sheriff of Ouachita Parish as well as an Assistant District Attorney in the felony section, to pursue a civil rights claim.

More events are transpiring daily in this matter, and on 2-15-07 the Chief Deputy Joe Davis stepped down amid legal documents that were posted proving he had been issued an Order of Protection and was unable to carry a firearm for a period of time while serving as a Law Enforcement Officer. His abrupt retirement came within eight hours of this information being posted on the Internet. During an interview with a local reporter from KNOE TV Sheriff Fewell stated that Joe Davis was above reproach and that 9 out of 10 divorces require an Order of Protection thus minimizing the event as nothing out of the ordinary. Fewell also stated that the posting of this information had no significance regarding the “retirement”. The PDF can be downloaded here

This was a blatant disregard of my civil rights as well as an egregious attempt to discredit me, not only as a journalist but also as a private citizen. I have been involved in pro bono work with many non-profit organizations in the past three years and am a very outspoken critic of pollution, publishing many articles concerning the Ouachita River in the past two years.
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